Two-thirds of low and middle income countries cutting education budgets amid pandemic

23 Feb 21

Education budgets are being slashed in poorer countries as governments struggle to deal with Covid-19, a report has found.

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Children in school

Schoolchildren in South Africa. Image © Shutterstock

Despite funding needs being greater as schools adapt to deliver education around lockdown restrictions and catch up on missed lessons, two-thirds of lower and middle income countries have cut their spending, according to the paper from the World Bank and Unesco.

These cuts have been “relatively small thus far”, the report states, but it warns that as the crisis continues to exact its economic toll and as fiscal positions worsen, there is a danger that future cuts will be larger.

Additionally, only one-third of upper-middle and high income countries have reduced their education budgets, widening the already large gap between richer and poorer countries.

“This is a critical moment where countries need to recover the learning losses the pandemic is generating, invest in remedial education and use this window of opportunity to build more effective, equitable and resilient systems,” said Mamta Murthi, World Bank vice president for human development.

“The learning and poverty crisis that existed before Covid-19 is becoming even more severe, and we are also concerned about how unequal the impact is.”

Prior to the pandemic, in 2018-19, high-income countries were spending an average of $8,501 on each child’s education per year, compared with just $48 in low income countries.

The report stressed the importance of aid in addressing this imbalance.

“External financing is key to support the education opportunities of the world’s poorest, yet donor countries are likely – and some have already begun – to shift their budgets away from aid to domestic priorities,” said Stefania Giannini, assistant director-general of Unesco.

She said she foresees a “challenging environment” for countries reliant on education aid, estimating it could fall by $2bn and take six years to return to pre-crisis levels.

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