In early April, UNESCO Bangkok organized the Asia-Pacific Expert Meeting on School Finance to explore strategies that can ensure adequate, effective and equitable financing for schools in developing countries. Participants shared their experiences in education financing and agreed on common issues for strengthening financing for education, such as resource mobilization and planning, budget execution and management, monitoring and assessment of resource use, and capacity development for improved resources and budget performance in schools.
In the end of the meeting, the Education Commission’s consultation posed five questions, namely (1) the reasons for lack of investment in education, (2) barriers to enhancing quality, (3) factors for success, (4) how school might look in 2030, and (5) new/important sources of finance for education. While these questions were provocative, they also require a lengthy, in-depth analysis and make it challenging to fully capture the complexities of fulfilling education financing in different country contexts. Nevertheless, meeting participants were able to provide some preliminary responses:
- Policymakers need to understand the long-term benefits of investing in education rather than just focusing on short-term outcomes. The participants acknowledged that one of the major reasons why funding for education often doesn’t materialize is because short-term returns on investment (ROI) for education are often difficult to show. While there are metrics that can measure school completion and subject matter comprehension at different grade levels, policymakers often want to see immediate outcomes of how investments in education will impact workforce skills, job readiness and the broader economy, which are longer-term ROI metrics. As a consequence, rather than investing in education, policymakers often end up putting resources in advancing trade, improving physical infrastructure and health care since the short-term impacts are generally easier to see in these areas. Stakeholders in various levels of government, including ministries of finance, need to understand the long-term benefits of investing in education, which include creating a skilled workforce and supporting greater economic development.
- One of the greatest obstacles to improving educational quality has been the narrow focus on just increasing access to education. Governments in developing countries have largely been focused on increasing the enrollment of children in schools in order to achieve universal primary education. With such a singular focus, the quality of education that students are receiving in the classroom may have suffered as a result. This is because policymakers have put a majority of their resources and attention on getting more kids into school rather than whether kids are actually learning anything while they are in school. There needs to be a shift in both policy and resources toward improving what actually happens in a classroom. For example, improving teacher effectiveness and curriculum are central to strengthening education quality.
- There have been some important successes that we should celebrate. For example, some countries such as India, Indonesia and Pakistan …, have made significant improvements in education quality, including teacher effectiveness. For example, India, has enacted legislation and policies that ensure that every child has the right to an education and more funding for education. It also tried to establish a link between improving education and achieving better economic and social outcomes while creating a long-term vision for educational achievement.
- Education in 2030 will likely incorporate 21st century skills. In particular skills related to information and communications technology education, peace education, globalization, and teamwork, will likely be reflected in curriculums and teacher training in the next few decades. In addition, some countries might develop more innovations in privatizing basic education.
- Over the next decades, innovative financing mechanisms and public-private partnerships will be the most important sources of finance for global education. In particular, taxes will be an important part of the innovative finance stream for education. However, there are still many unequal taxation laws in developing countries, and tax evasion and leakage is continued to be a major global problem. Addressing tax issues in countries across the world could help increase the resources available for innovative financing for education.