Around the world, politicians love to talk about the importance of education. They love it. All leaders agree on how important it is, how transformational it is, how it has changed their own lives and how it is the source of future progress.
And some of them believe it. United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has made education of all the world's children his signature issue and appointed former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown to the position of United Nations Special Envoy for Global Education. In the United States, Congresswoman Nita Lowey of New York has been pushing for more than a decade for greater U.S. leadership on education issues around the world. Lowey brings more than rhetoric -- she's led the House Appropriations Committee to continue to increase investments in education programs that change the lives of the most vulnerable children.
But Lowey's brand of leadership is rare -- and that's the problem. Around the world donor aid to education is crashing even faster than political rhetoric on the importance of education is rising. As we inch towards the 2015 deadline for reaching the Millennium Development Goals -- and the promise to get all children everywhere access to at least a basic education -- donor resources are declining rapidly.
A new A World at School scorecard detailing the current state of donor investment in basic education tells the story of the not so secret shame of the global education sector -- ambition is stalled, resources are falling and the new targets proposed for 2030 move the deadlines set for 2015.
We gave ourselves 15 years, and now we will give ourselves 15 more. Meanwhile the lives of at least 58 million children around the world are at risk. Out-of-school children are at greater risk of violence, rape, prostitution, child labor, child marriage and recruitment as child soldiers. Attacks on schools, school children and teachers are also on the rise around the world. With each passing day, those children living in conflict and emergency settings are not only losing the opportunity for a safer and more secure future, in places like Syria children are rapidly losing the chance to gain the skills to rebuild their homes, communities and country when the war ends.
Pay now or pay later the saying goes. But in global education it is more serious than that. We can either increase overall ambition and resources to reflect the scale and urgency of the challenge of out-of-school children or lose actual children, communities, and in some cases entire countries because of the failure of our leaders to match their rhetoric with investments.
Kolleen Bouchane is Director of Policy and Advocacy at A World at School and Director of Policy and Research at the Global Business Coalition for Education. She served with the U.S. Army from 1993 to 1997, including in Operations Restore and Continue Hope in Somalia. She has a B.A. in international studies from the Jackson School at the University of Washington, and an M.A. in war studies with a focus on conflict, security and development from Kings College London.