The future of bilateral aid to basic education is at risk, placing the educational opportunities of many of the world’s poorest girls and boys on the line. Some donor governments are reducing overall bilateral assistance, others are phasing out long-standing partnerships with particular developing countries and several are abandoning education as a priority sector altogether.
All of this, it appears, is being carried out with little donor coordination, resulting in the substantial reduction of external education support and technical assistance for countries where it is desperately needed. While there are several donors increasing their aid to basic education, such as the United Kingdom and Australia, the overall picture looks bleak with bilateral aid to basic education stagnating, at best, and, at worst, significantly declining in the coming years. Current and future multilateral contributions to basic education are not expected to fill the financing gap left by donors’ withdrawal from the sector in several countries, barring a major effort to raise funding for the Education for All-Fast Track Initiative’s (EFA FTI) trust fund and a significant increase in World Bank International Development Association (IDA) loans for education. Taken together, this likely spells difficult times ahead for the education systems of many developing countries, some of which are losing basic education support from up to five bilateral donors at once.
These reductions are poorly timed, arriving precisely when many developing countries are most in need of aid to reach the Education for All (EFA) and the education Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015. In 2000, at the World Forum on Education in Dakar, Senegal, over one thousand participants agreed to work cooperatively to help developing nations achieve six education-related goals. The six EFA goals include a call to support early childhood education, universal primary education, basic life skills, adult literacy, gender equality, and education quality. That same year, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were adopted by the international community and added an increased focus to two of the EFA goals, namely universal primary education and gender parity in school. In support of these goals, representatives from 164 countries in Dakar signed a pledge that “no countries seriously committed to Education for All will be thwarted in their achievement of [these] goal[s] by lack of resources.” Given the current widespread reduction in support for education however, this scenario seems increasingly likely to happen.