This week marks the start of the 2018 school year for millions of children and young people around Australia, after Queensland students started last week. As the Courier-Mail said of the new students in its editorial of 22 January “they deserve all the support, patience and understanding we can extend, for before long we will be the ones learning from, and relying on, their life skills.”
As a former teacher, and now as a parent of two students, I see the importance and impact of education firsthand, as well as the challenges faced by those who do not have access to quality education. Sadly, universal education is not a right everywhere and many children around the globe will not complete even a primary school education.
As Australian teachers return to the classroom, Education Ministers from more than 50 countries, as well as the leaders of education agencies and multilateral development organisations, are gathering to commit to extending the opportunity of education to all children in all countries. The Replenishment Conference for the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) is taking place in Dakar, Senegal, with the goal of securing additional funding to support achieving universal education for the poorest countries.
The GPE, established in 2002, is the only global fund dedicated solely to strengthening education systems in the world’s poorest countries. GPE brings together national governments, donor countries, multilateral agencies, international organisation, foundations, the private sector and civil society to allocate resources where they are needed most.
GPE’s partnership model encourages national stakeholders to agree on and develop multiyear nationwide plans to build schools, train teachers, and improve learning. Governments of developing countries also commit funding to the plan, and the GPE and other international donors supplement this funding to ensure the plan is delivered.
GPE and partner countries work together to provide children an opportunity to achieve their full potential and the impact has been amazing. In 2016, the Partnership supported the education of an estimated 13.2 million children, with the following impacts.
- Primary school completion in GPE partner countries increased from 63% in 2002 to 73% in 2014.
- In GPE partner countries, 14 million fewer primary-aged children were out of school in 2014 compared to 2002.
- In the 2008-2014 period, the literacy rate in GPE partner countries was 75 percent compared to 71 percent in 2000-2005.
Over the past 13 years, GPE has provided $US4.7 billion towards the development and implementation of national education plans in the world’s poorest countries, and now allocates an average of US$475 million each year to developing country partners. GPE has grown from supporting 7 developing country partners in 2002 to 65 in 2017, but there is still much to be done. With renewed funding, GPE aims to extend its support to 89 countries by 2020.
At the GPE Replenishment Conference this week, leaders have an opportunity and responsibility to take concrete steps to make quality education available for children living in the world’s poorest countries. GPE is seeking to raise US$3.1 billion to support its work over the 2018-2020 period, which would contribute to the following goals:
- GPE assistance extended to 89 countries and 870 million children and youth.
- Enabling 19 million more children to complete primary school, including 9.4 million girls.
- Enabling 6.6 million more children to complete lower secondary school, including 3.8 million girls.
- Training an extra 1.7 million teachers, building 23,800 classrooms, and distributing 204 million textbooks.
As a Member of Parliament and former teacher, I believe that it is essential that Australia makes a substantial contribution to improving opportunities for children and young people throughout the world. We should expect the Australian Government to have senior Ministerial representation at the Conference, as several of our neighbouring countries such as Papua-New Guinea and East Timor will be doing and to financially support the GPE.
Any investment in the education of the world’s future parents, community leaders and workforce will have significant benefits not only for the countries the GPE supports directly, but for all of us.