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World leaders meet to raise $5b for education, lobby govts to do more for schoolgirls

Saturday July 24 2021
Kenyan primary school students attend class.

Kenyan primary school students attend class. African governments need to allocate more funds to the education sector. PHOTO | FILE

By BERNA NAMATA
By JOHNSON KANAMUGIRE
By FAITH NYAMAI

Leaders from across the world will convene in London this week, to fundraise for education and seek political commitment from governments to prioritise financing the sector from domestic resources despite pandemic pressures on public expenditure.

The Global Partnership for Education Summit (GPE) scheduled for July 28 and 29, in London, will be hosted by the UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta. The summit seeks to raise at least $5 billion as a rolling target over the next five years to give at least 175 million children the opportunity to learn.

President Kenyatta, in a pre-summit statement, said he hopes the Heads of State will commit to protect domestic financing for education while urging international actors such as the G7 to extend the debt suspension servicing initiative, reallocation of the IMF’s Special Drawing Rights to lower income countries as well as debt relief to give room for countries to raise the much needed resources.

The summit comes at a time when the Covid-19 pandemic has increased the annual financing gap for education in low and middle-income countries from the estimated $148 billion to almost $200 billion, with many, especially girls likely to drop out of school. 

“The headline outcome is pushing for a $5 billion commitment and partnership for global education. From a domestic financing perspective, we are hoping that recipient countries will pledge to protect the pre-Covid spending on education; and also work on a pathway towards spending 20 percent of domestic financing on education. And more boldly putting the spotlight on education and particularly girls education as a critical priority,” Anna Wilson, development director at the British High Commission Kigali told The EastAfrican ahead of the summit.

The summit will also lobby governments to pay special attention to girl’s education because they have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic, dropping out of school due to early pregnancy and marriage.

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“Even before the pandemic, we were facing a global education crisis. Across sub-Saharan Africa, 33 million girls in primary and lower secondary school level are out of school. This number has risen to over 52 million when taking into account girls in upper secondary school. This has been exacerbated by Covid-19. The knock-on effect to learning is significant so we need to make a change, we need to do something differently,’’ said James Duddridge, UK Minister for Africa in a press briefing ahead of the summit.

Mr Duddridge, whose government has pledged £430 million ($592 million) to GPE said, “We need to see other donor countries dig deeper than ever before for this summit. Multilateral partners like the World Bank and Unesco must also play their part. Philanthropic foundations and the private sector will also need to rise to the challenge.’’

Unesco estimates at least $210 billion will be cut from education budgets this year and pressure to reallocate scarce resources to health and social safety nets, might cut five percent from budgets amounting to a total loss of $337 billion in education spending. There is also concern about the looming debt crisis in Africa that could starve education at a time when billions of young people living in poverty face the prospect of permanent unemployment and destitution.

Forced to hand over

According to UNCTAD, in 2020 and 2021 alone developing countries will be forced to hand over up to $1 trillion in external debt payments, money that is desperately needed for education and other frontline services to avoid massive increases in poverty and inequality.

In Rwanda, analysts say the education ministry’s Rwf422.4 billion budget for the current financial year is not sufficient to address the existing challenges related to learning losses despite the increase of about Rwf10 billion compared with the previous fiscal year and representing 11 per cent of the total national budget. The allocation falls significantly below the Sustainable Development Goals threshold of 20 per cent. According to an umbrella association of human rights organisations (CLADHO), allocation to the sector’s key priority areas did not receive enough funding to address pre-existing challenges, let alone addressing the ills caused by the pandemic such as spikse in teen pregnancies, child labour and dropouts.

Rwandan schools were shut for at least 10 months, affecting at least 3.5 million students, to contain the pandemic. Currently, schools were closed on July 1, as the country battles a third wave. Earlier closures were in March 2020 to November, and then on January 18, as the government locked down the capital to counter a second wave.

A preliminary assessment by the Ministry of Education found that almost 600 candidates did not turn up in three districts of Northern Province alone, while other districts are yet to share their reports, raising concerns on attendance despite facilitation for students to do their final exams in the lockdown.

“The government closed schools and sent learners home for weeks expecting that they would come back to sit for national exams. It did not work for many as the conditions did not allow them to prepare,” said Benson Rukabu, a co-ordinator at the Rwanda Education for all Coalition, a platform of local Civil Society Organisations promoting quality basic education.

Emmanuel Safari, the organisation’s executive secretary told The EastAfrican that the allocation at some levels lacked contingency provisions to cater for emergencies such as those linked to the pandemic.

“For instance we were appalled to find that not even districts allocated a budget towards tackling growing teen pregnancies, no money to address the issue of school dropouts or the issue around out of school learning. And these are glaring gaps,” he said.

“In my view, the new budget does not reflect the need to respond to not only the existing problems but even those linked to the pandemic. It will be worse going forward unless the sector gets some kind of support possibly by bringing in the private sector and other stakeholders,” said Mr Safari.

Officials from the education ministry contacted by The EastAfrican did not comment by press time, but data from the ministry show $9.7 million was allocated towards ensuring that learning resumes under the new normal since last year, among activities in line with the sector’s covid-19 response plan.

School closures have led to an increase in grade repetition and in the long run, to lower educational attainment, lower completion of degrees at higher education levels. Studies show interruptions in education lead to dropping out to pursue income generating activities or some feel too old to return to school.

According to Rwanda’s National Institute of Statistics (NISR), the share of employed students in total employment increased from 3.4 percent in February 2020 to 8.8 percent in August 2020.

In Kenya, in the 2021/2022 education budget, the National Treasury allocated Ksh503.9 billion up from the Ksh487.7 billion allocated in the past financial year. About Ksh12 billion was allocated to the free primary education capitation programme, Ksh2.5 billion for the recruitment of teachers and Ksh62.2 billion for free secondary education, while Ksh1.8 billion was allocated to school feeding programmes.

But this is still far from adequate, and can be felt by parents who have to pay excess monies demanded by schools.

A further Ksh420 million was allocated for digital literacy programmes and ICT integration in secondary schools and Ksh4.2 billion was allocated for infrastructure and development.

Teenage pregnancies

But, Kenya is also grappling with teenage pregnancies. According to data from the education ministry, more than 328,000 girls got pregnant in the first year of the Covid-19 pandemic. Approximately 250,000 girls and 125,000 boys who were in school in March 2020 had not returned by February, primarily due to lack of school fees.

At least one percent of 15-19 years old adolescent girls in Kenya are currently pregnant and three per cent recently have had a baby. A further two-four percent of the same age group were married, translating to over 100,000 early marriages, according to the report. Of these girls, 32 per cent got married after Covid-19, another 44 per cent said they got married because of pregnancy, 16 per cent claimed they would not have got married if there was no pandemic while 24 per cent said that it was not their choice to be married.

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