Today, 263 million children and young people are out of school and approximately 130 million more children are attending primary school but not learning. Children in low-income countries are the most at risk, with only two out of three completing primary school.

The world is facing an education crisis. Without immediate action, more than half of the upcoming youth generation—825 million of the estimated 1.6 billion young people in 2030—will not be on track to acquire basic secondary education skills. They will be shut out of economic opportunities through a lack of education. Again, children in low-income countries will suffer the most; only about one in 10 of them will likely acquire secondary education skills. In other words, 90% of young people in some of the most vulnerable communities in the world will face very limited prospects for their future livelihoods.

An investment in education pays extraordinary dividends, but it is necessarily a patient investment. While a new mosquito net or vaccination shot provides immediate protection, an education lasts from childhood to youth. One cannot calculate its unit cost or count the returns as quickly or in the same way. Yet, the right investment in education has a high return, and the benefits flow well beyond the individual. Abundant empirical evidence shows that improved education outcomes, particularly for girls and women, reduce poverty and boost economic prosperity, improve peace and security, strengthen public health and food security, and lead to better stewardship of the environment.

“I feel strongly that all children everywhere should be afforded the opportunity of a quality education. Therefore I’m proud of the Clara Lionel Foundation’s partnership with education advocacy leaders like the Global Partnership for Education and Global Citizen. Working together, I know we can amplify our efforts and ensure that millions of children gain access to education globally.”

Rihanna GPE’s Global Ambassador

Improving domestic financing

Since joining GPE in 2012, the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has substantially increased its financing for education, with the share of the national budget allocated to education increasing from 9% in 2010 to almost 16.8% in 2013 and 17.8% in 2014.17

GPE supported the DRC to prepare its first transitional education sector plan, Plan Intérimaire de l’Education (PIE), covering 2012–2014. The Ministry of Primary, Secondary and Professional Education used the plan to negotiate an increased allocation for education with the Ministry of Budget and the Ministry of Finance. In 2015, with an education sector plan development grant from GPE, and support from the World Bank, UNESCO and UNICEF, the DRC developed its first sector-wide education plan for 2016–2025 that engaged all three ministries in charge of education.

Under the plan’s financial projections, the Ministry of Budget and Ministry of Finance committed to continue increasing education’s budget allocation so that it reaches 20% by 2018 giving new hope to the country’s 5.3 million out-of-school children.

In addition, the government has committed to ensuring that at least 10% of domestic resources are devoted to education for disadvantaged and marginalized groups such as girls, children with disabilities, children of indigenous people and children living in remote areas.

Photo Credit: GPE/Federico Scoppa

Investing in early childhood to improve school outcomes

Delivering quality early childhood care and education is one of the most important and cost-effective investments a country can make to achieve better learning outcomes from school.

Cambodia has made remarkable progress in reducing the number of out-of-school children with a net enrollment rate at 98% in the 2015/16 school year. And it aims to improve on returns from its investment in schools by building up preschool programs. Cambodia has allocated over 60% of its US$38.5 million GPE grant to expand access to early childhood care and development.

The Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports is building 100 formal preschool buildings, introducing 1,000 community-based early childhood education programs and 500 home-based parental education programs.

The goal is to have over half of Cambodian children aged 3–5 years enrolled in preschool by 2017.

Photo Credit: GPE/ Livia Barton

Investing in Girls’ Education

GPE works to help partner countries tackle gender equality gaps in their education programs because all girls and all boys should benefit from school. From 2002 to 2014, the number of out-of-school girls in GPE partner countries fell by 9.3 million. But more needs to be done because girls are still less likely to start or stay in school than boys.

Another reason to invest in educating girls and women is that the returns are even more widespread than for boys. Educated girls tend to marry later and choose to have fewer children. Maternal mortality and child mortality are dramatically reduced when girls stay in school and learn.

We know that a child born to a mother who can read has a 50% greater chance of living past the age of 5 years, and that half the decrease in child mortality since 19709 and almost one-third of the reduction in adult mortality3 can be attributed to gains in girls’ education. Educating girls saves lives and delivers better economic opportunities—for girls, their families and the economy.

“To end the AIDS epidemic we need women and girls to be empowered through education. Did you know that in Botswana, every additional year of secondary school reduces the risk of HIV infection by 11.6% among girls? GPE is showing that education is a smart investment.”

Michel Sidibe Executive Director of UNAIDS


In 2016, the Education Commission made a powerful case for greater investment in education. Eminent people, including Nobel laureates, former heads of government and luminaries in economics, education, business, development, health and security, came together to review the state of global education and chart a pathway. Their report makes a compelling case for increasing investment in education. It outlines a financing compact rooted in national governments committing to education system reforms and increased national education spending bolstered by more and better international support.

Analyzing the flows of official development assistance for education, the Education Commission found that aid needed not only to increase but also to be better targeted, notably by strengthening education systems. The Education Commission recommended three shifts. A greater proportion of funding needed to be spent first in the poorest countries; second, in the earlier years of education; and third, through multilateral channels.

Low-income countries receive less than one quarter of education aid. The Education Commission proposes that these countries receive two-thirds of external funds by 2030. And it makes the case that these funds be directed to the earlier years of education to ensure that every child has access to quality education by offering it free of charge from primary to secondary school. The Education Commission reported that “to increase efficiency and effectiveness, a much higher share of official development assistance should go through multilateral institutions, including … The Global Partnership for Education.” It added that “rather than funding a large number of small projects as is common in international assistance, multilateral support is key to financing system strengthening, identified by the Commission as a critical priority.”

Shakuntala Badi is 13 years old and studies in Class 5B at Adarsha Saula Yubak Higher Secondary School, Bhainsipati, Nepal. She is the only blind student in her class.

Education is one of the most effective ways to break the cycle of discrimination and poverty that children with disabilities often face. GPE promotes disability inclusion to be mainstreamed in all policies and plans.

© GPE/NayanTara Gurung Kakshapati