Global Education and Economic Downturn
Global Education and Economic Downturn


Economic Downturn Jeopardized Progress Toward Education For All

Education for All

The recent financial crisis threatens to reverse progress made toward universal primary education in the last decade, according to the Education for All initiative.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations on December 10, 1948, states that everyone has the right to education. To better ensure the protection of this basic human right, in 1990, UNESCO, UNDP, UNFPA, and UNICEF launched the Education for All (EFA) movement at the World Conference on Education for All.

Ten years later, having seen little progress toward this goal, world governments came together in Dakar, Senegal to form the Education for All goals to provide every individual free quality education by 2015. The six areas of focus include early childhood, primary education, lifelong learning, adult literacy, gender parity, and quality education.

The 2010 Global Monitoring Report, released on January 19, 2010, identified lagging progress toward the 2015 goal, which has been exacerbated by the recent financial crisis. This news analysis examines the current state of world education, effects of the economic downturn, as well as efforts aimed at promoting “Education for All” goals.

Current State of Global Education

It is a well established fact that education leads to better life opportunities in terms of employment, health, and participation in political processes. Early childhood is the most critical stage of growth and education in a person’s life. In fact, according to a report from Save the Children, 85 percent of the brain’s core structure is formed within the first three years of birth.

However, 175 million young children suffer from malnutrition every year. Due to poverty and malnutrition, 40 percent of children under five years of age living in developing countries do not reach their full potential in cognitive development. Furthermore, birth asphyxia causes learning difficulties and other disabilities in one million children each year, while maternal iodine deficiency plagues 38 million children a year. To ensure proper childhood development, policy-makers need to provide more accessible child and maternal health care services.

Experts estimate that each additional year of primary schooling leads to a 10 percent to 30 percent increase in future productivity. Unfortunately, in eleven countries in sub-Saharan Africa, roughly 50% of individuals between ages 17 and 22 have had fewer than four years of education. The major barriers to universal primary education include poverty, geographic location, gender, language, and ethnicity.

These barriers can be illustrated throughout the world:
• Eighty-eight percent of females living in rural areas in Morocco have fewer than four years of education.
• In Guatemala, Spanish speakers average 6.7 years of schooling, while Q’eqchi’ speakers average 1.8 years.
• In Nigeria, 97 percent of poor Hausa-speaking girls have less than two years of education.

These are only a few of the examples of education marginalization that occurs in every country in the world. These types of marginalization could only be addressed with policies that tackle underlying issues such as social inequity, gender disparity, and ethnic/linguistic disadvantages.

Bangladesh – © UNESCO/GMR Akash

According to the Global Monitor Report, although there has been improvement in efforts to get children into school, the quality of education has not been increasing. In South and West Asia and in sub-Saharan Africa, many children who have completed a full cycle of primary education still do not possess basic literacy and numerical skills. There is a need for poor countries to recruit not only more teachers but more qualified teacher.

Aside from primary education, Education for All goals also address education for adults. 759 million adults are currently illiterate. Two thirds of them are women. Education For All is urging nations to adopt adult literacy programs to ameliorate this problem. Technical and vocational training are also methods proposed for continuing education and better equipping individuals for the work force.
Education in Conflict Zones

One of the most serious threats to global education is conflict. Not only does conflict inhibit regular attendance in school, it also creates lasting psychological repercussions, such as anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Currently, there are 14 million children between the ages of five and seventeen who have been displaced by conflict. According to Save the Children, 40 million of the world’s 75 million children that are out of school are located in conflict-afflicted, fragile states. Countries mired in ongoing conflict or recovering from recent violence often cannot or will not provide basic educational services. The amount of education aid allocated to these nations, although on the rise, only accounts for 21 percent of global education aid.


Country Number of primary-aged children out of school (million) Conflict
Nigeria 8.1 Ethnic violence in Niger Delta
Pakistan 6.8 Conflict with Taliban militants in North-West Pakistan
Democratic Republic of Congo 5.2 Second Congo War, Kivu Conflict with Rwanda
Ethiopia 3.7 Eritrean–Ethiopian War
Sudan 2.8 Darfur Conflict

In addition to more aid for conflict-affected fragile states, Save the Children is also pushing for the following:
• increased recognition of the critical role education could play in the establishment of stable state structures
• higher priority for education services as part of humanitarian aid
• more emphasis on primary education

“If trends continue, conflict-affected fragile states will not receive the levels of basic education aid needed to achieve the education Millennium Development Goal of universal primary education until 2034, well beyond the 2015 deadline… The future of children living in conflict afflicted fragile states and emergencies must not be jeopardized by the failure of the international community to keep its promise to provide primary education for every child, no matter where they live.”

Uganda – © UNESCO/Marc Hofer
The Financial Crisis

The Global Monitoring Report states that economic crisis and rise in global food prices will push an estimated 90 million people into poverty in 2010. Vulnerable households will need to spend less on education or withdraw their children from school. Government budgets will also suffer, resulting in reduction in educational financing. Sub-Saharan Africa, especially, will see a potential ten percent reduction in spending per primary-school pupil. Rising poverty, slow economic growth, and pressure on government budgets threaten to halt and potentially reverse the progress made in the last decade.

“Ultimately, the world economy will recover from the recession, but the crisis could create a lost generation of children in the world’s poorest countries whose life chances will have been irreparably damaged by a failure to protect their right to education.”

According to the EFA, it would cost US$16 billion a year to achieve Education for All goals by 2015. This amounts to only two percent of the sum utilized to rescue four major banks in the United States and United Kingdom. The report notes that Ireland, Netherlands, Spain, and Sweden have contributed more than their fair share of the commitment while Italy, Japan, and the United States lag far behind. Education For All urges the international community to increase financial support for affected countries through bilateral aid and the World Bank’s International Development Association (IDA).

A Global Campaign for Global Education

Since the establishment of the Education for All goals, many organizations have been working hard to make universal education a reality. These organizations include Global Education Campaign, the Class of 2015, and, most recently, 1Goal. 1Goal is a movement that seeks to utilize the 2010 FIFA World Cup as a platform for promoting Education for All goals. The organization is collecting signatures from soccer players, celebrities, political leaders, and the public in a petition for world leaders to make education for all a priority.

Education For All: Class of 2015


With only five years left until the deadline for universal education, there still remains much to be done. Governments must make more effort to provide care to mothers and newborns as well as enact measures that foster educational equality for citizens of all social-economic status, gender, and ethnicity. Wealthy nations must provide additional aid, particularly to conflict affected fragile states. It will to require a coordinated global effort to deliver the right of education to individuals on all corners of the globe.


Birth Asphyxia
Oxygen deprivation in the fetus which may lead to epilepsy, ADHD, eating disorders and cerebral palsy

A language spoken by ethnic Mayans in Guatemala and Belize

A type of Afroasiatic language spoken in Nigeria, Niger, Chad, Central African Republic and Cameroon

1. Seager, Ashley. “Recession is Crippling Hope for Universal Primary Education, UN Warns.” The Guardian. January 20, 2010.

2. “EFA International Coordination”.

3. Education for All. “Global Monitoring Report 2010”.

4. Save the Children. “State of the World’s Mothers 2009”. mothers-report-2009.pdf

5. Save the Children. “Last in Line, Last in School 2009”.

6. “1Goal”.

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