Arab agencies to aid in tackling global education funding shortfall

Some 8.5 million children and youth remain out of school across the Arab world, according to the Brookings Institution

Aid agencies in the Arab world ploughed more than $1.9bn into education between 2010 and 2012 and could play a critical role in closing a funding gap in the sector, experts say.

The Islamic Development Bank and the Saudi Fund for Development were the largest donors in the two-year period, donating $740m and $690m respectively, a report by Brookings Institution in Washington DC, USA, found.

The biggest recipients of education funding were North African countries, with over 90 per cent of aid going to this region, notably to Mauritania, Morocco and Tunisia. The report analysed support for education by 200 Arab donors, ranging from multilateral financial institutions to local religious organisations.

Improving access to - and the quality of - education and skills development is crucial to tackling youth unemployment rates in the Middle East and North Africa, which rank among the world’s highest. According to Brookings, some 8.5 million children and youth remain out of school across the Arab world.

“Many of these children and youth tend to be girls, from rural communities, and living in conflict areas,” said Maysa Jalbout, author of The Case for Engaging Arab Donors in Financing Global Education. “It is critical to extend access to out-of-school children in the region – especially to the growing numbers of Syrian, Iraqi, Libyan and Palestinian refugees.”

Total funding for education in the Arab world rose from $640m in 2010 to $720m in 2012. Yet the share of aid spent on education fell from 6 to 4 per cent in the period.

Worldwide, aid to education – particularly at primary-school level – is falling faster than aid to other squeezed sectors. Between 2010 and 2011, basic education spending dropped 6 per cent from $6.2bn to $5.8bn – more than the 3 per cent reduction seen in other sectors, according to a study by the Global Partnership for Education, an NGO.

Aid players in the Arab world could play a critical role in helping to address this financial shortfall, the Brookings report said, by contributing more to the global education agenda, seeking match funding for initiatives, and tracking the impact of education programmes.

“In planning for the post-2015 development goals, the global educational community must seek to address the growing finance gap by expanding beyond traditional sources and actively engaging donors from developing countries and emerging economies,” said Jalbout.

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) – a globally agreed set of development targets – are due to expire next year. The MDG on universal primary education is likely to be missed. Primary school enrolment has reached 90 per cent worldwide, but 58 million children remain out of school.