Why the GPE Summit is about much more than donor money?

By Hon.  GG Gbovadeh Gbilia-MD Bridge Liberia

GG Gbovadeh Gbilia-MD Bridge Liberia

The Global Partnership for Education (GPE) Financing Summit taking place on July 28th and 29th will focus a spotlight on the gap in education funding around the world.

The GPE’s own estimate is that the annual gap between what is spent now and what needs to be spent to achieve quality education for all stands at nearly $200 billion, a difference made bigger by the devastating impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on countries’ economies.

So, admirable as the goal of raising at least $5 billion over five years in donor pledges to spend on global education may be, the solution to the lack of investment in education will not come from aid. Countries are predominantly going to have to find ways of helping themselves; and quickly. Domestic financing constitutes the lion’s share of resources to education in GPE partner countries: more than two-thirds of education resources from domestic public expenditure.

This has long been recognized by African leaders and is why domestic financing is front and center of the GPE’s Raise Your Hand Campaign.

President Uhuru Kenyatta, who is co-hosting the global Summit, is leading the calls for GPE partner countries to prioritise investing their own money in educating their own youth.

“Protecting domestic education budgets and ensuring that we do not lose education momentum because of the Covid-19 pandemic will enable us to create more prosperous and resilient economies,” explained President Kenyatta.

However, changing learning outcomes for African children requires something even more fundamental than investment such as local leadership.

That is why  in Liberia, President George Weah has prioritised education and placed it at the top of his agenda. The Liberian Government is partnering with the private sector to ensure quality education is provided to all pupils beginning with primary schools.

The World Bank estimates up to one-third of education spending is lost to inefficiencies – such as low levels of learning, high repetition rates, waste in procurement, and poor education workforce management. For decades, progress was measured by inputs not outcomes.

Even where local leaders are galvanised by the need to use their existing education budgets effectively, systemic challenges in low infrastructure, capacity and resource environments are hard.

However, much can be done by making sure that every existing cent already being spent is spent well; but effectively tackling the challenges in many education systems needs more than additional dollars. It needs strong political will and the absolute determination to deliver results by challenging and reforming what is measurably not working.

One example of this is the Liberia Education Advancement Programme (LEAP) ,  an innovative public- private partnership designed to transform the primary public education system. Four education providers-with proven track records in delivering high-quality education including Bridge Liberia were paired with public primary schools across Liberia.

Currently Bridge Liberia is the biggest and main provider, supporting 171 schools in 11 of Liberia’s 15 counties with a total of over 37,000 students.

During a recent visit at one of Bridge Liberia supported schools in Bahn Nimba County, President George Weah underscored the significance of technology in the education sector, pledging his government’s unflinching support to Bridge Liberia after being drilled through how the teachers use technology as a tool in the classroom.

”I know all about technology, it’s my area. I’m happy to see that the Ministry of Education has partnered with you to bring this type of support to our schools.”

Students in Bridge-supported schools effectively achieved 5.5 years of schooling in just 3 years as compared to students in a regular public school, which is according to an independent randomised control trial conducted.

“Liberia needed to adopt a more radical approach. We know that education is a long-term endeavor and more rapid results can only be achieved by departing from traditional structures. For that reason, we adopted the Partnership School System. This system aims at rapid educational transformation. Preliminary results are encouraging. The children and their families are the program’s strongest advocates, and that, to me, says it all. Improving education must remain a priority”., former president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

African leaders are increasingly leading education programmes designed and financed by their own governments and partnerships unlocking new opportunities domestically and internationally through their leadership. It is the recognition of this emerging shift coupled with the huge societal gains from transforming education which is driving President Kenyatta’s clarion call for all African leaders at this forthcoming GPE summit.

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