Julia Gillard: invest in education to tackle terror

Julia Gillard Julia Gillard says that without investing in education there is no escape from poverty for developing countries

The international community will be asked for $3.5bn (£2.1bn) next month to help provide access to education for some of the world's poorest children.

The Global Partnership for Education (GPE) is holding a "replenishment" summit in Brussels on 25 June, where it will ask world leaders to provide funds for another four years.

It has become one of the most influential international education organisations - channelling billions of dollars from more than 20 donor countries to support education systems in 59 developing countries.

Julia Gillard, former Prime Minister of Australia and now chairwoman of the GPE, will be pressing the message that it is enlightened self-interest to invest in education.

Her "hard-headed argument" will be that anyone who is serious about wanting to promote economic growth and to tackle extremism should start by building classrooms and training teachers.

There are still tens of millions of children, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa, who do not have any access to primary school education.

Refugee in DR Congo Millions lack school access, including Democratic Republic of Congo refugees

And reports from Unesco show hundreds of millions more who have an education of such poor quality that they leave school more or less illiterate.

Nigerian schoolgirls

"In some ways the argument for getting every child into school speaks for itself, but in our crowded, noisy world, even things that should be obvious have to be spoken for and advocated," says Ms Gillard.

"It is inconceivable that countries will work their way out of poverty without their populations becoming educated," she told BBC News, on a visit to London to lobby support from Foreign Secretary William Hague.

Ms Gillard says the abductions of schoolgirls in Nigeria by Boko Haram militants should act as an alarm bell for the threat of extremism and also a catalyst for protecting education.

Prayer meeting for Nigerian schoolgirls, May 27 2014 A prayer meeting in Abuja for the abducted Nigerian schoolgirls

That it is "the subject of such dedicated assault by terrorists and extremists" shows the potency and importance of education in such communities, she says.

"They obviously believe education is powerful, so powerful that they want to deny it to those girls.

"This truly shocking circumstance in Nigeria has focused world attention on something that is happening more broadly, that education is under attack.

"I hope it not only galvanises the world to come to the aid of the schoolgirls in Nigeria, but it galvanises the world to make sure that the power of education is extended to children even in the most difficult of circumstances."

Broken promises

But why should taxpayers in London, Amsterdam or Madrid believe that this fundraising will really deliver?

It is 24 years since the international community first promised that every child should have a primary education - and the next deadline of 2015 will almost certainly be missed.

Start Quote

It's not donor governments saying here's a big load of cash. We require developing countries to increase their spending”

End Quote Julia Gillard Global Partnership for Education chairwoman

Ms Gillard argues that the GPE approach can really make a difference.

It is about long-term systemic change rather than well-intentioned but short-lived projects, she says.

"Everyone has heard the horror stories - such as the generous donor who sent computers to schools in a developing country where there's no electricity supply or no way of servicing them to keep them working."

And crucially the GPE requires recipient countries to commit to increasing their own investment in education to 20% of government spending.

This responds to the concern that donors are being asked to contribute for shortfalls in basic schooling in countries that seem to have no shortages for their own wealthy elites.

Ms Gillard says: "Developing country governments have to step up - it's an integral part of our model.

"It's not donor governments saying here's a big load of cash. We require developing countries to increase their spending and to sign up to plans to which they can be held accountable.

"We can show from our work that change is possible," she says.

"In a tough environment like Yemen, many other donor organisations stepped away, but GPE stayed engaged," she says, and the result is a sharp rise in girls enrolling in school.

Afghanistan, another partner country, has seen a rapid growth in schools, teachers and pupil enrolment, despite a background of violence and political uncertainty.

Democratic Republic of Congo, another challenging setting, is claimed as another example of improvements in education.

Passing round the hat

So who is likely to respond to the call for more funding?

The UK, the Netherlands, Spain, Denmark, Norway and Australia have up to now been the biggest contributors to the GPE's $3.7bn (£2.2bn) funding.

Addis Ababa, May 2014 Ethiopia now has 22 million young people in its education system

In this international education funding league table, Ireland gives more cash than the United States, and Belgium contributes more than Russia or Japan. Romania makes a donation, but not China or India.

But Ms Gillard is not drawn into pointing the finger, saying: "I would put the argument with the same degree of force to any government with the capacity to contribute."

In terms of how much can be achieved, Ethiopia provides an example of the potential for change and the sheer scale of the challenge.

It has more than doubled investment, now putting 25% of government spending into education. This has put it on track for universal primary education.

Demeke Mekonnen, Ethiopia's Deputy Prime Minister, told BBC News that education is the "centrepiece of all development.

"Our fundamental challenge has been poverty - and to alleviate poverty, education is the tool."

Priorities

In little more than a decade, the number of primary schools has risen from 11,000 to 36,000. The annual intake of students into higher education and vocational training has risen from 5,000 to 130,000.

Creating hundreds of thousands more graduates for its own sake is "meaningless", he says. It has to be linked to jobs.

Mr Mekonnen says science and technology are the priorities - to serve the country's need for engineers, technicians, doctors and health professionals.

Improving education is the engine to pull the economy away from poverty and into becoming a modern, self-sufficient nation.

Start Quote

Our fundamental challenge has been poverty - and to alleviate poverty, education is the tool”

End Quote Demeke Mekonnen Ethiopia's Deputy Prime Minister

In a few years, he says he wants Ethiopia to be sending doctors abroad to help neighbouring countries.

"The key intervention must be a productive workforce… education is fundamental to have a knowledge-based economy."

But the figures are daunting, with a quarter of the entire population enrolled as students. That's 22 million young people.

Mr Mekonnen says the growing size of the school system is a challenge in itself. Building and maintaining schools is capital-intensive and there needs to be a strong system to check the quality of what is being taught.

It means that Ethiopia, with all the fragilities of a developing sub-Saharan economy, has to run a primary school system five times bigger than Germany's.

There are no quick fixes in education - it is like turning around a supertanker rather than a sprint to a finishing line. And donors will have to be patient if they want to see results.

"Education is not about today, but about tomorrow," says Mr Mekonnen.

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