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Investing in Public Education Globally

In an effort to stop the spread of COVID-19, many schools have had to close, impacting the learning of over 1.5 billion children around the world.


Due to the COVID-19 outbreak

A vast number of schools have been forced to shut down, affecting the education of more than 1.5 billion children worldwide. The shift to distance learning has not been smooth, leading to various significant and urgent challenges regarding educational access, equity, quality, and inclusion within the education systems. Apart from the immediate impacts of COVID-19 on global learning, the global economic crisis resulting from it will have long-lasting consequences for today’s children and youth in the medium and long term.
With the slowing of economic activity and government budget reductions in response to the pandemic, there is a potential risk of short-term thinking by governments, which could redirect funding away from education and reverse some of the progress achieved in increasing public expenditure on education worldwide over the past two decades.
The increase in education financing was a positive outcome of the long-term collaborative efforts between governments, bilateral and multilateral agencies, donors, civil society, and the private sector. These efforts aimed to improve access to quality education and enable children and youth to develop skills essential for success in work, life, and citizenship in the 21st century. Nevertheless, before the pandemic, the impact of higher education spending was not necessarily reaching the poorest and most marginalized communities. Additionally, it has been insufficient in closing the learning gaps between rich and poor nations and within rich and poor regions within nations.

The COVID-19 pandemic poses a significant threat not only to the progress made in education investment and improving student outcomes but also to the widening learning gaps within and between countries. Governments worldwide are currently prioritizing spending on health, economic stimulus, and social safety nets, which is undoubtedly essential in the short term. However, there is a risk that public education investment may decrease in the medium term, leaving behind the children and youth worldwide who need quality education the most. Education decision-makers and stakeholders must address how to ensure adequate resources and, at the same time, build better education systems after the pandemic. The way decision-makers respond to the COVID-19 challenge will have long-lasting impacts on the education of today’s children and youth.

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

― Nelson Mandela

In partnership with the World Bank

UCL Honorary Lecturer Vikas Pota, and Argentinian Senator Esteban Bullrich, has organized a series of private roundtables. These roundtables bring together ministers of education from around the world, heads of education foundations, and multilateral institutions to discuss strategic options to ensure that children and youth have access to quality education during the current crisis. The roundtables have featured former heads of state who generously shared their time and insights gained from their past experiences in making difficult decisions to allocate resources during financial crises. In this article, we summarize three key messages distilled from these conversations.

  • Education plays a critical role in rebuilding the economy and should be seen as a solution to the economic crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Education creates direct and indirect job opportunities such as educators, construction workers, food providers, and health workers who support educational institutions. Therefore, investing in education can stimulate economic growth by creating jobs and improving the quality of education.

  • Education is a crucial factor in determining a country’s competitiveness in the global economy. Countries that have a highly skilled workforce are more likely to succeed in the tech-based, knowledge economies of both present and future. A well-educated population is essential to drive innovation, entrepreneurship, and productivity, which are crucial elements for the success of any country’s economy.

  • The shift to remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the potential of technology to transform education systems and entire economies. As schools reopen, there is an opportunity to link them to the broader transformation that is needed post-COVID-19. This includes building the skills that are necessary to rebuild the economy, such as digital literacy, critical thinking, and problem-solving. With the right policies and investments, technology can be a powerful lever for transforming education and driving economic growth. Therefore, it is crucial to continue to invest in technology and education to build the skills that are essential for the future workforce.

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