As parents, teachers and students got ready for a return to school this autumn, few were thinking of the fact that across the world, education is in deep crisis. This is a slow and often unseen crisis, but its impacts affect us all. At the upcoming UN Summit on Transforming Education, world leaders have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to take decisive action. The United Nations and the European Union now call on all member states to deliver much-needed commitments to ensure that all girls and boys can access, enjoy and benefit from a meaningful, modern, high- quality education. Their rights and our collective futures depend on it.
Education is the most powerful and transformative tool we have to empower girls and boys with hope, skills and opportunity for their future. It also paves the way for solving many of today’s global challenges. However, in many parts, poverty and inequality still have a major influence over school attendance and learning achievement. And right across the world, education systems are struggling to equip learners with the values, skills and knowledge needed to thrive in our rapidly changing world.
The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated a pre-existing crisis and the global funding gap for education has increased significantly. Even before the pandemic, governments were spending less than half of the needed sum on education. Since then, two in three governments have cut their education budgets while some international donors have announced their intention to reduce aid to education.
Collective action on future-oriented learning and education financing is urgent, if we want to recover pandemic-related learning losses and ensure that children and young people everywhere are able to access their right to education as enshrined in Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Investing in education has a transformative impact across the Sustainable Development Goals. It advances gender equality: educated girls are more likely to participate in the decisions that most affect them, to live longer, healthier lives, and to earn higher incomes. It makes a major contribution to national development: every euro spent on education can generate 10–15 euros in economic growth. And by nurturing informed, empowered citizens, it can help countries to tackle major challenges such as climate change, social breakdown, conflict, gender-based violence and more.
The European Union is significantly increasing its investment in education in partner countries. The EU will dedicate more than 10% of its international partnerships budget, representing over 6 billion euros, towards global education.
Now we need others to do likewise. The UN Secretary-General is calling on all government leaders and all actors, including private sector and civil society, as part of a global mobilisation, to make concrete commitments to increase funding for education, from all sources.
At the Transforming Education Summit, the representatives of all countries and partners face a moment of truth: now is the time to collectively fill the investment gap to tackle the global education crisis. Now is the time to invest in learning recovering and help put the SDGs back on track, thereby sowing the seeds for transformation of our education systems, so that education better prepares learners to contribute to a more inclusive, peaceful, sustainable and just future, leaving no one behind.
Amina J. Mohammed Jutta Urpilainen, also EU Commissioner for International Partnerships