Let’s prioritise education in post-pandemic recovery

Grade Four Pupils at Bidii Primary School in Nairobi in their classroom on January 04, 2020 after learners resumed in-class learning countrywide after a nine-month disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. [Stafford Ondego, Standard]

The world has made significant strides over the last few decades in expanding education access and improving gender parity across all levels of education.

In Kenya, Free Primary Education and 100 per cent transition to secondary education policies have ensured millions of children have enrolled and remained in school. Since 2015, the UK has supported 15.6 million children across the world to gain a decent education.

Yet, even before the Covid-19 pandemic, it was clear that a lot more needs to be done to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 4 – inclusive and equitable quality education for all. Over 250 million children were already out of school, and more than half of those in school were not meeting minimum learning standards. The most vulnerable included girls, children in war-torn or fragile states, and those with disabilities.

Modern economy

In spite of the major expansion in education access, millions of young people lack the basic literacy, numeracy, and soft skills to meet the demands of a modern economy. What is the reason for the learning crisis? Some are due to out-of-school factors, such as unsupportive home environments. But mostly it is because of in-school factors, including inadequate learning materials, a shortage of trained teachers and poor learning environments.

And then came the Covid-19 pandemic. It has threatened our collective gains in education, exacerbated inequalities in education, and deepened the learning crisis. At the pandemic’s peak, a staggering 1.6 billion students were out of school across the world.

Early pregnancy

When schools re-opened after nearly a year of closure due to Covid-19, many learners did not return. Girls have been disproportionately impacted by the school closures. Many have been put at higher risk of FGM, early pregnancy, and child marriage. The pandemic has also exposed the inequalities of the digital divide and highlighted shortcomings in the resilience and agility of our education systems.

The time that children have spent out of school over the last year will significantly slow down their learning momentum unless remedial measures are taken. The World Bank estimates that this cohort of students stands to lose an estimated USD 10 trillion in earnings over their lifetime due to Covid-related disruptions.

We cannot allow education to become the third crisis of the pandemic, following the health and economic crises, because it is a key solution to longer-term recovery. The need for investment in education has therefore never been more critical. For this reason, Kenya and the UK have come together to help secure the future of the world’s most vulnerable children.

Together, we aim to raise at least $5 billion or the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) – the largest global fund solely dedicated to transforming education in lower-income countries. The GPE is more than a fund; for the last 20 years GPE has helped partner countries to build strong and resilient education systems, including here in Kenya where GPE has provided over US$100 million (more than Sh11 billion). The UK has been proud to be GPE’s largest donor, contributing 13 per cent of GPE income since 2005.

The GPE’s replenishment campaign for 2021 to 2025 will culminate in the high-level Global Education Summit to take place on July 28 and 29 in London. It will be co-hosted by President Kenyatta and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson. The funds raised will help ensure that 175 million children across 90 partner countries can get good quality and equitable education.

Today our two leaders will visit schools in London and Nairobi, to directly engage children about education and demonstrate the power of global connectivity, as part of the campaign to encourage other countries to step up funding for education.

President Kenyatta and Prime Minister Johnson have come together to lead the GPE replenishment effort because they believe in the transformative power of education for individuals, communities and societies. The ripple effect of the GPE investment, combined with the much larger investments governments are making in education through domestic financing, could add up to 164 billion US dollars to partner countries.

Individual incomes

It could lift 18 million people out of poverty, and protect two million girls from early marriage. It will ensure that countries realise the promise of education: Increasing individual incomes; increasing access to decent work; and serving as a powerful driver for gender equality, healthy populations, and a peaceful planet.

For girls, it means delaying marriage, broadening their economic opportunities and ensuring the health and welfare of the next generation. For countries with rapidly growing youth populations, it ensures that they reap the benefits of a demographic dividend.

We all have a role to play to make sure every child gets the education they deserve: Governments, businesses, teachers, parents, society as a whole. We invite you to join the governments of Kenya and the United Kingdom in this effort to ensure that no child is left behind.

Ms Kagia is Deputy Chief of Staff in the Executive Office of the President and Kenya’s GPE envoy. Ms Marriott is the British High Commissioner to Kenya.