Context: Two-thirds of low- and lower-middle-income countries cut public education budgets since the onset of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, , according to Education Finance Watch (EFW) 2021.

  • Education Finance Watch (EFW) is a collaborative effort between the World Bank and UNESCO’s Global Education Monitoring (GEM) Report.

Key points:

  • The learning poverty rate was at around  53 per cent compared to only nine per cent for high-income countries in pre-COVID-19 times.
    • COVID-19-related school closures are likely to increase this 53 per cent share to as much as 63 per cent in poorer countries.
    • The learning poverty rate is the proportion of 10-year-olds unable to read a short, age-appropriate text.
  • Spending cuts:
    • Only one-third of upper-middle and high-income countries reduced their budgets.
    • The cuts could last for a long time as the pandemic continues to cause economic losses and make fiscal positions worse.
  • Spending gap: In 2018-19, high-income countries spent on average $8,501 per every child, way more than $48 in low-income countries. 
    • The pandemic has only widened this spending gap between rich and poor countries.
  • Global spending on education increased 21 per cent over the last 10 years.
  • Funding for education grew most rapidly in low- and lower-middle-income countries, where the gaps between the funding needed to achieve the United Nations-mandated Sustainable Development Goals and current allocations are the widest.
  • Effectiveness of funding: Despite increases in public education spending before the pandemic, the funding has only resulted in relatively small improvements in educational outcomes.
    • The pandemic also highlighted the critical importance of monitoring the patterns and trends in funding of education.
    • External financing is the key to support education opportunities of the world’s poorest.
  • Using data: Tackling the global learning crisis and monitoring the impacts of the pandemic will require better information on how well education systems are functioning. 
    • This includes better information on the levels and sources of funding and how these funds are used to ensure that education is available to all.

More can be done with existing data sources to sharpen the picture of education financing. But efforts to build capacity and systems to collect and track education spending are also needed to improve both the quality and coverage of existing sources.