The Global Partnership for Education (GPE) Financing Conference in Dakar, Senegal, co-hosted by President Emmanuel Macron and President Macky Sall on 2 February in Senegal, was a landmark moment for education financing. It was the first occasion that a global fund had held a replenishment in a developing country, and Senegal added to history by becoming the first recipient country to become a donor to the fund. The conference saw a demonstration of unprecedented global support for education and addressing the global learning crisis.
Ten current and three former heads of state and more than 100 ministers gathered at the GPE Financing Conference, making this the highest-level education financing event of its kind.
With more than 1200 participants, the conference was a visible demonstration of the strengthened global political will to ensure every child is in school and learning. This heightened momentum will enable the Global Partnership for Education to reach the goal of providing US$2 billion a year by 2020 for education planning and delivery to support children’s learning in developing countries. The partnership of donors, developing countries and strong civil society representation is a key strength of GPE and it is the inter-dependency of these that has helped GPE make a breakthrough. Too often in the past, aid funding has displaced domestic spending in the education sector, as in other sectors.
Donor countries pledged US$2.3 billion in financing to GPE. This is a substantial increase in funding compared to the US$1.3 billion contributed over the past three years. In addition, several donor countries have indicated their intention to pledge further funds over the course of the financing period.
The biggest source of education financing comes from developing countries themselves. More than 50 developing countries announced they would increase public expenditures for education for the period 2018 to 2020 to a staggering total of US$110 billion, compared to US$80 billion between 2015 and 2017.
The unparalleled support means that the Global Partnership for Education can continue to focus on the most excluded and vulnerable children and work to extend assistance to up to 89 countries, which are home to 870 million children and 78 percent of the world’s out-of-school children.
Though the numbers speak for themselves, the conference offered so much more than finance. Mohammad Sidabay, a former child soldier from Sierra Leone offered powerful testimony sharing his story about how education transformed his life. He turned to leaders with a plea: ‘I am asking you to make the impossible possible, I am asking you to make the possible attainable.’
President Macron was animated in his speech ‘we must firmly engage in education… education is the only response to ensure security, stability, for durable development, for progress within society.’ he said, ‘It not only enables everyone to be able to chose their life, but is also the only choice for freedom. Victor Hugo had a magnificent phrase: ‘To open a school is to close a prison’. We want to close lots of prisons’. France increased their support for GPE ten-fold to Euro 200m, whilst firmly committing themselves to further engagement in the education sector.
Alongside music from Youssou N’Dour which brought a standing ovation from the audience, GPE’s Global Ambassador Rihanna caused a huge stir when the camera found her in the audience. She has been a powerful advocate for education and has used her incredible social media presence to tweet leaders seeking their support for GPE and education. She said ‘This is a fight that we are never going to stop fighting until every boy and every girl has access to education.’
Sarah Beeching, Oshun’s Executive Director led the planning and delivery of the GPE replenishment in Dakar. She said ‘It was a terrific honour to lead the third replenishment summit for GPE. This was a ground-breaking moment for the organisation as well as for the education sector. I have seen with great pride how GPE has grown in confidence and stature since the first replenishment in Copenhagen in 2011. Watching GPE’s Board Chair Julia Gillard listen as President Macron and President Sall explained what GPE is, and what it can achieve to a press conference of the world’s media is a moment I will not forget. Julia Gillard has fought so hard to gain recognition and support for GPE, and now two Presidents were selling GPE to the world. This moment marked a fundamental shift of power, rightfully placing developing countries and their citizens at the heart of the progress we are making on fulfilling the right to education.’