By Karen Mundy, from Embassy.org website, November 22, 2011
Karen Mundy is an associate professor and Canada Research Chair at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education and the Munk School of Global Affairs University of Toronto. She is also the co-chair of the Canadian Global Campaign for Education.
At a pledging conference earlier this month, Canada pledged a mere $21 million in new money to support the Global Partnership for Education over the next three years. In contrast, Australia committed $278 million US and the United Kingdom committed $353 million US. Can Canada afford to let its educational support for children in the poorest parts of the globe lag?
This morning, in every part of Canada, thousands of parents will wake up, wash children’s faces, and send them off to school.
Each of us has come to expect access to educational institutions that, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and a recent report by McKinsey and Company, rank among the best in the world.
Yet for more than 67 million children around the world, attending school is still a distant dream. Even those lucky enough to make their way to a classroom face steep challenges. Poor facilities, poorly trained teachers and few books mean that learning is not a guarantee.
For the past decade, Canada has been an international leader on this issue, helping to close the gap between the educational life chances of Canadian kids, and children in the developing world. By offering financial aid to governments and others willing to make a concentrated effort to get every child in school, Canada has helped elementary education expand at a rate that is historically unprecedented: more than 40 million children gained a chance to learn.
In Bangladesh, Mali and Tanzania alone, millions more children are now in school than in 2000, and these children have the books and other basic supplies so critical to learning. Canadian assistance has helped to make this difference.
Yet recently, civil society groups have begun to suggest that Canada’s support for education is not keeping pace with its past commitments.
Further intimations of Canada’s policy directions came earlier this month at a meeting of 52 governments to discuss financing a global pooled fund for basic education: the Global Partnership for Education. At its Nov. 7 to 8 pledging conference, Canada provided a mere $21 million in new money to support the Global Partnership for Education over the next three years. That's on top of $60 million over five years pledged in 2008, of which $24 million has yet to be spent but is planned to be doled out this year and next year.
In contrast, Australia committed $278 million US and the United Kingdom committed $353 million US. They both made significant commitments at a time of financial constraint in their own countries, and helped to raise the amount the Global Partnership for Education has to spend on children to $1.5 billion over the next three years.
Contributing to a global pooled fund for basic education makes as much sense in education as it has in health, where global partnerships have had a catalytic effect on international health outcomes.
The Global Partnership for Education brings together 46 developing countries, committed to providing good-quality education for all children, with more than two dozen international donor governments and organizations, including representatives from civil society and the corporate sector.
The partnership is based on a simple bargain: if developing-country governments are willing to make extraordinary efforts to ensure all children an education, the international community will be there to support them. Already, the partnership has reached 16 million children. In the next four years, it plans to reach 25 million more.
Can Canada afford to let its educational support for children in the poorest parts of the globe lag?
We know that literacy and numeracy are force multipliers in achieving improvements in maternal and child health, contributing mightily to a woman’s ability to access services for herself and her family.
We also know that education enhances productivity in the household, farm and factory, and is a precondition for the participation of citizens at every level of society, from community to nation. No country in the modern world has achieved sustained economic growth or political stability with an illiterate population; and we can assume that a world in which large groups are denied access to knowledge is unlikely to be a stable or sustainable one.
For each of these reasons, access to a full cycle of good-quality education is one of the Millennium Development Goals. And for these reasons, education should remain a central pillar of Canada’s global commitments.
Canada has been a longstanding leader in education domestically. At home we expect, indeed demand, good-quality education for all our children. Internationally Canada has shown that it can punch above its weight on issues of global development: during this past year, it has played a catalytic role in spurring new global efforts in maternal and child health.
Health and education go hand in hand, as we’ve seen in our own nation. With a successful pooled fund for education in place, supported by 52 nations, private philanthropies and civil society, now is the time for Canada to ensure that it does not leave education behind.
To the "lay" reader of this Mundy piece, some immediate questions jump out:
Is Canada more interested in committing funds and personnel to Afghanistan and Libya than to Global Education?
Is Canada more interested in committing funds to fighter jets and armed ships and unarmed ships, than to Global Education?
Would it not be less expensive, in the long run, to dedicate dollars to growing the learning and life opportunities of the 67 million children for whom an education is still a distant dream than to pouring Canadian taxpayer dollars into military hardware?
Canada's reputation for a long-standing commitment to education of her own students is the best beacon for the Canadian government to follow in her international commitments to education, since we all know, as Prof. Mundy points out, that education is the key that opens doors in all areas of one's life, in all countries.
Not only is the Canadian government committed to trashing the importance of such academic tools as the Long Form Census, opposed by literally thousands of academics of various disciplines within out country, but now it appears that this government has lost its way on support for international education as well.
They know, however, that this story will not make it to the front pages of the national dailies, nor to the weeknight television newscasts; so they have, once again, little to worry about, in terms of push-back from the Canadian people.
Interestingly, it appears too that the Canadian government is not interested in approaching its corporate "friends" to ante up some of the dollars that could supplement the Canadian contribution to the 46-country Global Partnership for Education. Now, why might that be?