Five of Australia’s leading international aid agencies today welcomed the Australian federal government commitment to increase its global funding pledge at the Global Education financing Summit in London – but expressed disappointment that the pledge doesn’t go far enough.
Plan International Australia, Save the Children, UNICEF Australia, ChildFund Australia and Global Citizen, who have all been pushing for an increase in Global Education financing in the wake of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, have expressed disappointment that Australia’s pledge of $36m per year over the next five years won’t meet the challenges posed by the impacts of COVID-19 on children’s education globally.
Australia has, over the past 10 years, fallen far behind comparative donor countries in committing to the GPE. On average, leading donor countries committed A$98m per year from 2018 to 2020. Australia’s commitment was A$30m a year, falling far short of other donors such as the United Kingdom, United States, France and Germany.
UNESCO estimates that more than 1.5 billion students and youth across the world are or have been affected by school and university closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Twenty-four million children are projected to drop out of school, perpetuating intergenerational poverty and inequality.
The UN Secretary-General, in his report on progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals, released in April 2021, described the impact of COVID-19 on education as a “generational catastrophe” noting that the pandemic had devastating consequences for children’s learning and well-being.
The report noted that one year on from the beginning of the pandemic, two-thirds of students globally were still affected by school closures with the most marginalised children at risk of never returning to school and being at higher risk of child marriage or child labour.
UNICEF estimates that at least every seventh girl globally – 222 million in total – was unable to access remote learning programs when schools were closed due to COVID-19. UNICEF Australia CEO Tony Stuart welcomed the funding commitment to global education but said more was needed to meet the unprecedented challenges the world’s children face.
“For at least a third of the world’s school children, remote learning is simply out of reach,” Mr Stuart said. “Across East Asia and the Pacific alone, UNICEF estimates that more than 80 million children did not have access to any distance learning during school closures.
“The reality is the longer children spend out of school, particularly girls, the less likely they are to return to the education system. The school closures we are seeing across the globe are already, and will continue to have, devastating effects on child development in many countries for decades.”
Susanne Legena, CEO of Plan International Australia said: “At this critical time, when COVID-19 has upended the education of so many children, especially girls, it’s encouraging that Australia has shown its commitment to children and inter-generational gender equality.”
“However, in light of the damage that the global pandemic has done to children’s access to education we need to do much, much more. We’ve seen funding to education in Australia’s aid and development budget sustain the biggest cuts over the last decade. Now is the time to redouble efforts and rapidly grow Australia’s investment in education, particularly secondary education, so that children around the world can complete twelve years of quality education” said Ms Legena.
Paul Ronalds, CEO Save the Children: “The global COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on children’s access to education. There are very real fears that up to 16 million children worldwide whose education was disrupted by the pandemic, will never return to school. While we welcome the increase in Australia’s commitments to the GPE, it is disappointing that it has fallen short of our $70 million target, at a time when so many children are facing an abrupt end to their education.”
“With education being one of the most important investments that provides benefits not only to children but to their families and countries’ economies, now more than ever, we must redouble our efforts to get all children and adolescents enrolled in and completing twelve years of education,” he said.
Margaret Sheehan, ChildFund Australia CEO, said: “Education is an investment in the development of children, and critical economic recovery going forward. This year around half of the global school population is still affected by school closures. Increased investment is needed urgently to ensure that we mitigate devastating learning losses for the most vulnerable children. Access is key and requires us to resource connectivity and the digital transformation of our education systems.”
Sarah Meredith, Country Director (Australia), Global Citizen, said: “Critical to a world without extreme poverty is a child’s right to education. That’s why Global Citizen is boldly pursuing increased investments from world leaders to resume learning everywhere as part of our Global Citizen Live campaign. We welcome this strong new contribution from Australia. Given the size of the challenge ahead, we hope to see continued leadership from Australia for global education this year.”