DAKAR –January 24 is the first International Day of Education. It is a day of shared global responsibility, because every country has an obligation to ensure that all the world’s children get a good education, including the 262 million children and youth who currently do not attend school. But what exactly does shared responsibility entail?
Our first responsibility is to educate every child, especially the most marginalised among them, in our own countries, because this contributes to national development, prosperity, and stability. But we should also help to educate children beyond our borders, not only because each child has an inherent human right to education, but also because an educated global population yields benefits for our own countries.
When more people have the critical knowledge and technical skills they need to succeed, the whole world benefits. Countries with better-educated populations become increasingly valuable trading partners and contribute more to the world economy. They are also less likely to generate political instability, conflicts, or health crises that can spread far beyond their own borders.
Moreover, the world always needs qualified people to help solve big, difficult development challenges and seize equally important opportunities. But those challenges will not be addressed, and opportunities will not be realized, unless children everywhere have the skills they need.
For these reasons, my country, Senegal, has long been committed to giving its children – especially girls and those from disadvantaged backgrounds – a quality education. In 2017, we invested 25 per cent of our domestic budget – representing close to 7 per cent of GDP – in educating our children and young people. Furthermore, we plan to provide up to 90 per cent of the funding for a new program to improve the quality of Senegal’s education system between now and 2030.
Even so, Senegal struggles to meet all the costs of strengthening its education system. Like most low- and middle-income countries, therefore, we rely on international donors to help bridge the gap between the resources we have and those we need to succeed. Over the past 13 years, for example, Senegal has received consistent support from the Global Partnership for Education (GPE).
Such international assistance has reinforced our own efforts and allowed Senegal to make transformational progress over the past decade. More children are now attending and completing school, although getting every child enrolled remains a challenge, especially in poorer, more remote areas.
Our success to date stems from strategic investment in expanding the pool of qualified teachers, reducing class sizes, constructing more school buildings, making quality textbooks available and free to more students, giving schools funds for local improvements, and strengthening long-term education planning by making better use of data.
As a result, the proportion of students who passed the final exam after ten years of school has grown dramatically, from 41 per cent in 2013 to 52 per cent in 2018. The share of children completing primary school, meanwhile, rose from 34 per cent to 56 per cent over the same period.
In addition, back in 2000, Senegal made it a national priority to educate more girls, who were then far less likely than boys to go to school, especially in rural areas. We recognised that educating girls leads to lifelong economic, social, and health gains for the girls themselves, their families, and their communities. We therefore provided funding to poor, rural families, relieving the pressure on them to put their daughters to work or marry them off instead of sending them to school. Today, at the pre-primary, primary, and secondary levels, as many Senegalese girls as boys go to school.
Yet Senegal is not focusing on education at the national level alone. In February 2018, Senegalese President Macky Sall announced at the GPE’s Financing Conference in Dakar that our government would pledge $2 million to the organization’s global educational efforts. The contribution was modest compared to the billions of dollars pledged by other donor countries at the event, which Senegal co-hosted with France. But as the first-ever pledge to the GPE by a developing country, its symbolic importance cannot be overstated.
With that pledge, Senegal sent a message that every country must do more to provide quality schooling for all. That is a message to remember on this first International Day of Education. After all, just imagine how much better the world would be if we could unleash the brainpower of those 262 million children.
The writer is Senegal’s Minister of Education and the Vice Chair of the Board of Directors of the Global Partnership for Education.
Copyright: Project Syndicate.