COMMEMORATING GAWE: AN URGENT CALL FOR MORE AND BETTER FINANCING.

The Education Hub with Benedicto Kondowe

Last Monday, the world’s largest civil society movement for the right to education came together and launched annual Global Action Week for Education (GAWE). This year’s GAWE is being celebrated under the duly appropriate banner “Education Financing in line with policy framing one billion voices (More and Better Financing of Education).”

Funding education was already a crisis before the pandemic and has only become more aggravated after it. The COVID-19 pandemic has affected the education of more than one billion children across the world and wreaked havoc on economies world-wide. This has further plunged financing of education at its lowest. The 2020 UN policy brief, “Education during COVID-19 and beyond” estimated that the financing gap to reach Sustainable Development Goal 4 — quality education — in low and lower-middle-income countries was a staggering $148 billion annually. It is predicted that the COVID-19 crisis will increase this financing gap by up to one-third.

If governments do not engage in their own resource mobilization initiatives the education sector shall be drastically under-funded in the coming years

In Malawi the pandemic hit when the country was already facing a devastating crisis. COVID-19 has turned crisis into a fully blown catastrophe unless timely and decisive action, and urgent investment is taken to recover lost gains. The pandemic has exposed massive shortages in classrooms, teachers, desks, chairs, and sanitation and hygiene facilities in most schools across the board.

According to the 2020 Education Sector Performance Report, our education system already has 86,000 teacher deficit in both primary and secondary education which is currently leaving 2,592,000 pupils in primary school to learn out in the open due to the lack of an estimated 21600 classroom blocks. According to the 2020/21 FY budget, government allocated MWK 46.00 per learner for Teaching and Learning Materials (TLM) in primary education. These challenges are just the tip of the iceberg.

Thousands of children, especially those from the most marginalized groups in the country, are failing to return to school either because they have been forced into child labour or early marriages. A thousand more have returned to under-resourced schools that face the possibility of being neglected from funding due to massive budget cuts.

The challenges of public financing and the ever-increasing pressure on resources for public services, are resulting in decreased prioritization in the funding of education. According to Global Partnership for Education(GPE) website education funding could dry up in the coming years- shrinking fiscal space, declining remittances and household income and a possible decrease in aid due to the crisis. These projections would likely hit education budgets hard. Our nation was already off-track in meeting SDG 4 targets. Now, even more effort is required to steer it back onto the path of achieving inclusive and equitable quality education for all and promote lifelong learning opportunities. Therefore, there is need for renewed commitment by government, international community and all other stakeholders to recover the education sector as well as to guarantee the right to education for marginalized groups such as children with disabilities, girls and students in rural settings.

As much as it is commendable that for a better part of the past decade, the education has been getting a lion’s share of the national budget, it is not enough because the national budget in itself is inadequate. Government should thus start focusing on domestic revenue by considering increasing the tax base.

Furthermore, in order to ensure that no more detrimental budget cuts harm the education, government, development partners and all relevant stakeholders should come together as a unified voice and appeal to the international community for debt cancellation and suspension. Malawi is already MK3 trillion in debt and these rising debt burdens threaten investment in education as our government attempts to strike a balance between addressing the needs of its people and fulfilling the debt obligations.

As we strive towards all these, let us not forget to also look at improving the quality of teaching and learning. Government needs to adequately provide TLMs and infrastructure that are inclusive. To achieve this, Government should increase the education budget and ensure that it has the sensitivity to respond to the poorest and most marginalized groups as well as strengthen financial controls and accountability at all levels.

In this regard, government must review, analyse and improve the quality of teacher training (pre-service and in-service) and provide all teachers with continuous professional development and support including orientation about the use of technology for education purposes.

The covid pandemic must represent a turning point on how we go about investing in education.

It is high time we stop merely singing the buzz phrase of “education being the key to national development,” and start to actualize it. The government, stakeholders and partners and the community at large should come together to secure more and better financing for education which will in turn create a brighter future for all in the years to come.

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