As summer break draws to a close, millions of American children are returning to school with their new backpacks, shiny pencils and empty notebooks. As Missoula children head off to school in bright yellow buses, we look out of the living room window and wonder what will become of them, all the while knowing that they will arrive at school safely and benefit from the public education that we ourselves had and now take for granted.
In many developing countries such as Kenya, Somalia and Bangladesh, such opportunities are not available. Instead, many families are unable to afford the uniforms and fees of schools; moreover, children must often work to help support their families. Girls are even sold into marriage at a very young age by their own families in exchange for cattle to provide for other children.
Currently, there are 263 million children not attending school, often because of no access to school. And if children are fortunate enough to get to a school, there is no guarantee of learning. Over 1 million students attending secondary school in developing nations can't read or write a simple sentence. For years, the focus in the fight for global education has been on getting kids to school rather than making sure teachers were there and knew how to teach.
We are beginning to see improvements in global education because it is multilateral, not bilateral. This is the approach of the Global Partnership for Education (GPE). By combining the forces of the International Monetary Fund, World Band, corporations, non-governmental organizations, and donor and recipient governments, the GPE is able to secure greater funding and country-specific expertise to allow for the development of national education systems that are built to last. This is done by giving the recipient countries a seat at the table during the development of these programs, so programs are tailored to that country's needs and what's already been done and found effective. Plus, each recipient country must devote 20 percent of its GDP to its own national education system to get GPE aid.
As part of the planning and funding, such a country develops a sense of ownership of its expanding education programs. Finally, the aid is given in increments and only after the funded programs have been measured and proven effective. Those Americans who worry that in giving U.S. resources to foreign nations, much of it won't “reach the ground,” and there will be no return on such expenditures, can find comfort in the fact that the GPE focuses on giving a hand up, not a hand out, effectively providing the guidance and assistance that developing nations choose themselves and contribute to.
Taking a quick glance at GPE’s statistics in the field, it is impossible to ignore the remarkable results. Since 2003, $2.3 billion U.S. dollars have been allocated to countries which have been impacted by conflict and are fragile. As a direct result of these allocations, 72 million more children are in primary school now than before this funding. In addition, the number of girls completing primary school, compared to boys, is rising.
The Global Partnership for Education has made fantastic strides in ensuring that more children have the opportunity to receive a good education, which is why I encourage all of you to reach out to U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte to ask him to cosponsor the bipartisan House Resolution 466, which calls for the leadership and commitment of the United States to improve access to quality education for the poorest and most marginalized children and youth worldwide, through increased funding for the Global Partnership for Education.
-- Kelsey Cooley of Missoula is a member of the anti-poverty lobbying group RESULTS.