COVID-19: Two-thirds of poorer countries are cutting back on their education budgets at a time when they can least afford it
Education budgets do not adjust proportionally to the challenges that COVID-19 poses, especially in poorer countries. Despite additional funding needs, two-thirds of low- and low-middle-income countries have in fact cut their public education budgets since the outbreak of the pandemic, according to the new joint report from the World Bank and UNESCO. Education Finance Watch (EFW)
In comparison, EFW shows that only one third of upper middle and high income countries have cut their budgets. These cuts have been relatively minor so far, but there is a danger that they will increase as the pandemic continues to take its economic toll and the tax situation worsens. These different trends imply a significant increase in the already large disparities in spending between low and high income countries.
According to the new report, in 2018-19, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, high-income countries spent the equivalent of $ 8,501 annually on education for each child or young person, compared to $ 48 in low-income countries. COVID-19 further magnifies this huge disparity in per capita education expenditure between rich and poor countries.
EFW emphasizes that the challenge for education funding is not just about mobilizing resources, but also about improving the effectiveness of funding. Unfortunately, recent increases in public education expenditure have been associated with relatively small improvements in educational outcomes. While access to education has improved, the learning poverty percentage – the percentage of 10-year-olds who could not read short, age-appropriate text – was 53 percent in low- and middle-income countries before COVID-19, compared to only 9 percent in high-income countries. Due to COVID-19 related school closures, this share will probably increase from 53 percent to as much as 63 percent.
This is a critical time when countries need to reclaim the learning losses caused by the pandemic, invest in remedial education and take this opportunity to build more effective, equitable and resilient systems. The learning poverty crisis that existed before COVID-19 is getting worse, and we’re also concerned about how uneven the impact is. Countries and the international development community need to invest more and better in education systems and strengthen the link between spending and learning and other human capital outcomes. – Mamta Murthi, World Bank Vice President of Human Development
EFW notes that global spending on education has risen over the past decade, but the signs are that the pandemic could interrupt this upward trend. Since 2010, funding for education has grown fastest in low- and low-middle-income countries, where the gap between the funding needed to achieve the internationally agreed 2030 Sustainable Development Goals and current allocations is greatest. The deterioration in public finances in the medium term suggests that without concerted efforts to prioritize education, the prospects for mobilizing the necessary resources for education will deteriorate.
Support for education has increased by 21% in the last 10 years. Payouts had grown rapidly in the 2000s and declined between 2010 and 2014 in the wake of the great financial crisis. However, since 2014, support for education has increased by 30% to the highest recorded level of $ 15.9 billion in 2019. However, fiscal constraints, other sectoral needs and changes in student mobility patterns suggest that external support for education could be fall a time when it is most needed.
External funding is essential to support the educational opportunities of the world’s poorest. Still, donor countries – and some have already started – will shift their budgets from aid to domestic priorities. Health and other emergencies also compete for funds. Overall, we predict a challenging environment for countries relying on educational aid, estimating that the climate could decline by $ 2 billion from its peak in 2020 and not return to 2018 levels in another six years. – Stefania Giannini, UNESCO Deputy Director-General for Education
The EFW is a collaboration between the World Bank and the UNESCO Global Education Monitoring Report team. It will be produced annually after the main release of spending data by UNESCO’s Institute of Statistics. The EFW aims to bring together the best available data on all sources of education funding and to monitor efforts to improve information on the levels and use of education funding. However, timely, good quality information on government, household and education aid expenditure is not available in all countries. This hinders planning and monitoring at a time when countries cannot afford missteps.
Follow the World Bank at: @WBG_Education
Download the full report: Education Finance Watch (EFW)
Follow the GEM report at: @GEMReport
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