Today, at the midpoint of the unanimous commitment of the United Nations to set the world on a course of sustainable development by 2030, those Sustainable Development Goals are almost irretrievably off track.
Goal Four – an inclusive quality education for every student – is an urgent example. Hundreds of millions of the most vulnerable children, young people, and adults remain excluded from education. Millions more are in school but without adequate environments, trained teachers, educational resources and hence, learning opportunities. Predictions are that by 2030, only six in ten young people will be completing secondary education. Meanwhile, in the wake of the worst of Covid globally, the estimated annual financing gap to reach the ambitions of Goal Four has grown to nearly US$200 billion.
Education status is a national bellwether. It tells us most precisely the prospects for children, the health status of the population, the income and civil rights of women, the likelihood of innovation and entrepreneurship, and its ability to respond and adapt to crises including conflict, climate change and natural disaster, what UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed called recently "multiple interconnected, cascading crises” that demand immediate action.
One especially stark example came in a report last month by the US-based Brookings Institution, which said, “Sub-Saharan African countries face twin challenges that are slowing growth and eroding decades of developmental gains: Rising debt levels and an increasing frequency and severity of climate shocks. The compounding nature of these challenges has left countries with deteriorated public finances, poor resilience to climate shocks, and limited capacity to finance adaptation.”
Today, the resources necessary for a functioning public sector to meet the fundamental needs of the people are scarce and declining. Education financing has fallen in 65 percent of low- and middle-income countries and in 33 percent of upper-middle and high-income countries since the start of the pandemic.
One reason is clearly the national debt taken on by many countries. Too often as a condition of borrowing, states are required to starve the public sector, including defunding education, health and other public services. This comes at a time when we know that tens of millions of new teachers need to be hired globally. By deliberately constraining what is called the “teacher wage bill” global financing agencies block teacher recruitment and salaries, further depleting the corps of professional educators.
The solution to the shortage is clear. We need to mobilize ourselves, our colleagues and our communities to connect the crisis in funding to the sustainable world we want to create.
That mobilization is well underway in the Go Public! – Fund Education campaign launched earlier this year by Education International. Our global campaign to fund public education and the teaching profession unites our 383 member organizations in 178 countries and their 32 million members in the fight for publicly funded education and resourcing the public sector to build inclusive, quality public education for all.
The next inflection point of our global fight against budget cuts, austerity, and privatization comes this month at the spring meetings of the World Bank, where unions globally will call upon the Bank and the International Monetary Fund to help fulfill the ambitions of the SDGs through expanded public investment to create decent work – including in the teaching profession – enable equitable growth, and build a more resilient economy.
To get there, the financing decisionmakers will need to align with global democratic demands to begin embracing the new social contract that lays at the heart of our campaign. Large corporations and wealthy individuals can no longer be allowed to leverage the financial system for speculation and short-term profitmaking while raising prices, hiding assets, and undermining state revenue collection.
Billions in uncollected taxes must be marshalled for the extensive investments in the public good like public education and build economies that provide sustainable and broad-based growth.
Our campaign has a special focus on government accountability. In addition to uncovering and recovering the billions in corporate tax avoidance, governments need to take responsibility for a range of predator behavior in the marketplace.
You shouldn’t have to engage in abusive and deceptive practices like New Globe/Bridge as reported in the Intercept to earn effective regulation and monitoring as a private school speculator, even those that, like Bridge, have been lodged in the eminent portfolios of naïve and bloated foundations like Gates and Chan-Zuckerberg. While EI advocated and supported the World Bank’s decision to stop funding private-for-profit schools, we remain concerned about the Bank’s continued investments in privatization, including education technology companies.
Too many of those technology companies have spent their investor monies overwhelming governments and their school systems with pitches and promotions while chalking up underwhelming results and racking up costs to education systems into the billions of dollars.
In fact, as EI President Susan Hopgood said at the UN Secretary General’s Transforming Education Summit last fall, “education technology at scale remains largely untested, unregulated and unproven.” What is proven, she added, is “that where digital tools are put in the hands of teachers as a matter of pedagogical choice and the teacher is the prime decisionmaker in what tool to choose there is a better chance of student success.”
It was that Summit where Secretary General António Guterres prioritized education funding, the UN announced formation of a High-Level Experts Panel to support the teaching profession and nations committed to investing more and more equitably in education.
Our campaign is underway, and our movement is growing. We now have a key opportunity to organize and mobilize at the local, national, regional and global levels so that governments and global institutions are accountable to maintain quality public education as a fundamental human right and a public good.
Our mandate from our members and the teaching profession is clear. But we can’t be successful unless we mobilize and unite with the communities where we work and live. Start here. Together we will build the movement to fund public education.
The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect any official policies or positions of Education International.