Educating the world

Smaller donor countries have contributed far more to global education than has the United States


The plight of nearly 300 abducted Nigerian schoolgirls has focused worldwide attention on the obstacles to education faced by tens of millions of girls, especially in poor, conflict-ridden countries.

Basic education ought to be a human right. Without it, a nation squanders the enormous potential of every human being and undermines its economic development, democratic institutions, stability, public safety, and health.

Americans have been reading heartbreaking — and often inspiring — stories about the Herculean and life-risking efforts some girls have made to get an education. In Pakistan, Malala Yousafzai, a 15-year-old student, was shot in the head for advocating girls’ right to education.

It’s time for Americans and the rest of the world to do more than sigh.

“When dealing with events like the kidnappings in Nigeria, we tend to live in the moment,” said Ken Patterson of RESULTS, a nonprofit antipoverty advocacy group. “But if education were a basic human right everywhere, these things probably wouldn’t happen.”

To ensure that children around the world can get a good-quality education, members of Congress and their constituents should push the Obama Administration to pledge $250 million over two years to the Global Partnership for Education. That’s chump change in a $3.5-trillion budget — less than it costs to rebuild a few miles of freeway.

The U.S. pledge would help ensure that Global Partnership reaches its goal of raising $3.5 billion from donor governments this summer, to help educate 29 million of the world’s most vulnerable children. The pledging conference will take place on June 26 in Belgium.

The $3.5 billion, over four years, would leverage another $16 billion from developing countries, which provide 80 to 90 percent of their basic education funding. By 2018, the money should reduce the number of children who don’t finish primary school from 7.6 million to 4.8 million.

In the past decade, Global Partnership has helped educate 22 million children. But worldwide, more than 57 million children are denied the basic right to attend school. In Africa, one out of four girls does not get basic education.

Moreover, 38 percent of the world’s children of grade-school age — a staggering 250 million girls and boys — cannot read a sentence or do basic math, according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization. Nigeria leads the world in the number of children who do not attend school.

No country has achieved continuous economic growth without a literacy rate of at least 40 percent. Every dollar invested in a child’s education yields $10 to $15 in economic benefits in their country over a lifetime, UNESCO reports.

An educated mother’s child is twice as likely to live to age 5. As women’s education levels rise, immunization rates go up, preventable child deaths go down, and nutrition improves.

In 2011, the last time the Global Partnership solicited donor support, the United States made its first-ever pledge of $20 million. That was a good first step, but smaller donor countries such as Denmark and the Netherlands contributed 10, even 20, times more.

It’s time for the United States to step up and show a fraction of the commitment to global education that children around the world have shown and deserve.