Dan Jones, Campaigns Manager, reports from a meeting of the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

I confess to being pretty tired today, having travelled from RESULTS UK’s parliamentary delegation to Tanzania directly to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia for a major meeting of the Global Partnership for Education (GPE). Thankfully, Ethiopia is renowned for really good, really strong coffee!

In Tanzania, we visited a pre-school, primary schools and a teacher-training college, along with UK parliamentarians Mark Williams MP and Cathy Jamieson MP. We saw very clearly the challenges to delivering quality basic education for every child in Tanzania. Many of the problems we saw were those we discuss all the time – over-crowded classrooms, not enough teachers, poorly trained and paid teachers, poor infrastructure, lack of learning materials. But there’s a big difference between discussing abstract challenges and seeing realities. At a primary school on the outskirts of Dar Es Salaam, we talked with the deputy headteacher who told us that the school had about 3,500 pupils, 5 classrooms, ran two “shifts” a day, and that every class had around 120 children to one teacher and about half the children sitting on the ground without desks. Can any of you imagine your children learning in that kind of environment?

Credit: Global Partnership for Education
Credit: Educate a Child

We also saw great hope in Tanzania. Huge progress has been made over the last 10 years, with over 95% of children now enrolled in primary school. But with such a big increase in the numbers entering the classroom, it’s perhaps inevitable that the quality of education has plummeted. Pass rates from primary school are a real concern for the public and for ministers in Tanzania. Without enough teachers, classrooms and learning materials, many children – even those entering school – are still being denied what any of us would call “a good education”.

Additional money focused on improving educational quality could make a big difference for Tanzania, and that’s why it was so exciting to meet with stakeholders in the country about Tanzania’s new application for funding from the GPE. The Global Partnership for Education is the only global multilateral partnership dedicated to getting all children into school for a quality education. Tanzania’s application is worth about US$ 95 million, and a final decision on this application will be made here in Addis Ababa by the GPE’s Board of Directors, alongside applications from 15 other countries. So here I am, watching closely for that decision amongst many others.

 “Global education goals are still out of reach. In spite of significant progress on the agenda to improve access, one in four children in GPE countries still do not complete primary school. 180 million children are not learning basic skills. Whole generations are missing out on education due to conflict, poverty and discrimination.”

–          Alice Albright, Chief Executive, GPE

Here in Addis, the GPE has convened representatives of developing country governments, donor governments, civil society, the teaching profession and private sector to discuss the GPE’s role in helping to finance quality education in low-income countries. All are agreed that, as the chair of GPE puts it this morning, we are at a critical juncture.

Credit: Global Partnership for Education
Credit: Global Partnership for Education

Put simply, education financing is in crisis. While many developing countries have made substantial progress in increasing domestic financing for education, the proportion of national budgets dedicated to education is still way too low in many countries. Meanwhile, external financing for basic education is decreasing in terms of both bilateral and multilateral aid spending. Global aid to basic education decreased from US$ 6.2 billion in 2010 to US$ 5.8 billion in 2011 and only US$ 1.9 billion was spent in low income countries.

If you have a moment, I recommend you take a look at the great infographic of the GPE’s “All Children Learning” report, which gives you a quick snapshot of what the GPE does along with some of its key results. In GPE’s 59 member countries, since 2002 the partnership has helped put an additional 22million children into school; increased primary school completion rates and literacy rates, especially among young girls; and allocated nearly $3.8billion to support national education plans. Good progress, but the financing need is much much greater than this. GPE estimate that the unmet funding needs to achieve universal primary completion amount to around US$ 9 billion.

“We are all the Partnership”

In June 2014 GPE will hold a major “replenishment” conference in Brussels calling for financial pledges to support the GPE fund for the coming years. But this is more than just “a fund”. The GPE is a global partnership, and the word partnership is key. In June, GPE will be convening world leaders not just to pledge support for the GPE fund, but calling for a transformational moment in education financing, with commitments from developing country governments to increase their own financing of education, alongside pledges from traditional donors, civil society, the private sector and other new and innovative sources. As the chair of GPE said this morning, “we are all the partnership”.

The GPE’s partnership model is crucial to its added value. Its goal is to bring together national governments, donors and civil society in-country to collaborate in support of the national education plan. The watch-words are about coordinated support, nationally-led priorities, harmonisation of donor aid. This all sounds a bit abstract, but in Tanzania we saw what it means on the ground. When we met with stakeholders in Dar Es Salaam to discuss Tanzania’s grant application for GPE, we sat at the table with representatives from the Tanzanian Government, the UK’s Department for International Development (DfID), Sweden’s development agency SIDA, and the civil society representative from the Tanzania Education Network (TEN/MET). It was clear from the discussion that the grant application process had been long, frustrating, difficult – but ultimately successful. Many lessons to be learned, of course, and many challenges remain. If Tanzania’s application is successful, implementation will be hard. But that’s the nature of building a country and securing its future through education. Getting every child a quality education is no easy task, and no one should pretend it is. But it was clear to me that the GPE model was playing a key role in bringing all stakeholders to the table to work together as partners. Everyone we spoke to was on the same page – they knew that Tanzania’s urgent priority was to improve the quality of education for all children.

Another quick example from here in Addis, where I’ve met Janet Muthoni Ouko from Kenya’s Elimu Yetu civil society coalition. Janet stood at the front of the room here yesterday to share her story with GPE’s Board, and has recently been in the US with RESULTS US grassroots volunteers, meeting with political leaders in Congress to highlight the need for US support for GPE. Janet’s organisation has been a recipient of GPE’s Civil Society Education Fund, which supports civil society in developing countries to build their capacity to hold their own governments to account for delivering quality education. Janet says that the support of GPE has allowed civil society in Kenya to be consistently engaged in improving the delivery of education there. She talked about major advocacy breakthroughs, with civil society much more engaged with the Kenyan Government at every stage. A major success has been the establishment of a constitutional right to education, now being implemented through the Basic Education Act.

So here in Addis, I’m keeping my fingers crossed that Tanzania’s application for GPE funding is approved. It will be a big moment for Tanzania if it is. And June 2014 could be a big moment for the world if all partners step up with ambitious pledges to finance a quality education for all. Needless to say, I hope the UK Government will lead the way.