Education is a human right which unlocks individual potential and benefits all of society, powering sustainable development. Each additional year of schooling typically results in a 10 percent boost in earnings and human capital underpins national growth. Gains in girls’ education deliver large health benefits, as educated women have fewer children, speeding the demographic transition, and their children are healthier.2 Those with more education tend to be more politically engaged and active in seeking improvements to public services.3 Education contributes to stability through building a sense of shared identity and strengthens resilience by helping people adapt to shocks.4 UK investment in education overseas therefore delivers against the UK aid strategy and is firmly in the national interest.
Education systems in developing countries have expanded schooling at an impressive rate in recent decades, but there is now an urgent need to drive up quality and learning. Over 90 percent of primary-age children in low-income countries and 75 percent of children in lower-middle income countries – more than 330 million children – are not expected to read or do basic maths by the end of primary school.5 This is a tragic waste of human potential, holds back development and poses risks to stability. It is also an enormous waste of public resources, with low- and middle-income countries estimated to spend two percent of GDP on education which does not lead to learning.6 In low-income countries this is equivalent to around half of the education budget.7
Education systems in many developing and conflict-affected countries do not incentivise progress on basic literacy and numeracy. Domestic finance is heavily skewed towards higher levels of education. On average, 46 percent of public education resources in low-income countries are allocated to the 10 percent most educated students.8 Often, curricula are aimed at high performers, textbooks are too difficult for most children to read and exams only test higher levels of learning. Schools and teachers are frequently judged on how many children pass these high-level exams, rather than how many children achieve basic literacy and numeracy.9
Pressure on vulnerable education systems is growing. In sub-Saharan Africa, there will be 250 million more primary and secondary school aged children by 2050.10 The dual effort to boost quality while also expanding access will pose formidable delivery and fiscal challenges for these countries.
Business as usual will not deliver the transformational change that is needed. We are calling for a strong and united push by global and national leaders to drive up education quality and learning, focusing on new approaches to fundamental education challenges.
DFID’s response will focus on tackling the learning crisis at its root by supporting children to learn the basics of literacy and numeracy, as well as transferable skills. This will be our main contribution to achieving the vision set out in Sustainable Development Goal 4 of inclusive and equitable quality education and lifelong opportunities for all. We call on all countries facing a shortfall here to take urgent action, ensuring that poor and marginalised children – who face the greatest challenges – are not left behind.