In an era where “smart power” is needed most to secure America’s safety and bolster democracy worldwide, President Obama has made a bold commitment to funding education globally, with a $2 billion dollar pledge for a Global Fund for Education.
The proposed Global Fund for Education would innovate a new system of managing donor funds with built-in accountability measures and required, results-oriented reporting.
Although education is a prioritized Millennium Development Goal, an $11 billion dollar funding gap must be closed in order to meet the goal for education by 2015.
But without a focused, strategic intervention - involving both donor reform and service delivery improvements - in the face of the current economic crisis, millions more children are at risk of joining the 75 million children worldwide who do not have access to education.
Recently, I encountered several hundred out-of-school children while walking through Pabbo, a large, densely crowded, government-created refugee camp in war-shocked northern Uganda. The sounds of crying babies echoed from behind the walls of small mud huts; some hut doors were crafted from shiny United States Agency for International Development (USAID) corn oil cans, children of all ages dashed about.
These were the poorest children, whose lives weren’t touched by donor dollars. Due largely to government mismanagement and widespread corruption, the much-heralded Universal Primary Education (UPE) program, initiated in 1997 to eliminate primary school fees for primary education, wasn’t a factor in their lives. Many were visibly malnourished, all were confined to a camp where their parents couldn’t earn money to pay for school uniforms and required school-related fees - much less feed their families.
The lone school in the camp was a one-room classroom filled to overflowing, equipped with one chalkboard and no books in sight. As noted by the World Bank’s Independent Evaluation Group, “The (UPE) initiative was not accompanied by sufficient resource planning, and despite a decade of donor agency support … the basic conditions for effective learning are not present in many Ugandan villages…“
Currently, a woeful 64% of girls in Northern Uganda drop out of school.
One might wonder, what kind of a future might be awaiting each of these children?
Without even basic skills, how will these future adults contribute to creating solutions for their society and nation?
It has tragically become a normal, every-day occurrence for children in developing nations to have little or no access to health services, clean water or education. This is unacceptable; we in the developed countries must work with those in developing countries to ensure that these conditions are reversed.
Writing jointly in a May 5, 2009, Wall Street Journal editorial, former Secretaries of State Colin Powell and Madeleine Albright caution that in the face of the current economic crisis “pulling back from global engagement is not an option. Stability and prosperity go hand in hand, neither is possible in the presence of widespread and extreme poverty.”
And during her Senate confirmation hearing, Secretary of State Clinton stressed that “the best way to advance America’s interest in reducing global threats and seizing global opportunities is to design and implement global solutions.”
The Global Fund for Education is a solution which, with continued commitment, will effectively deliver access to education for all the world’s children. For the sake of those children, President Obama must continue his support for education for all and lead the world in establishing a multi-lateral Global Fund for Education.