Recipients of Presidential Medal of Freedom Urge Obama to Create Global Fund for Education
July 2009 — What do a banker to the poor, a former president, and a religious leader have in common? They are among the first recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama — and they have all called for the creation of a Global Fund for Education.
On June 30, 2009, in advance of the annual Group of Eight (G8) Summit, Muhammad Yunus, Mary Robinson, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, called on President Barack Obama and other G8 leaders to create a Global Fund for Education by the end of 2009. They wrote:
While the leaders of the G8 — the eight most powerful countries in the world — did reaffirm their commitment to education and agreed to raise over 1 billion dollars among them to support basic education in the developing world, their financial commitment is far short of the $16 billion that is needed to achieve universal education this year alone.
President Obama should heed the call to action by these global moral leaders, and create a multilateral Global Fund for Education with the $2 billion contribution that he promised during his presidential campaign. Doing so would provide hope and education to the 75 million primary school age children around the world are not in school, of which 40 million are in conflict affected and fragile states such as Somalia, Sudan, Uganda, Afghanistan and Pakistan. In countries like these, children are the ‘last milers:’ literally the hardest to reach, with the most difficult circumstances and the biggest obstacles to going to school. Therefore, the second goal of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) — eight internationally agreed-upon goals from the year 2000 that serve as the blueprint for cutting extreme poverty in half by the year 2015 — will not be achieved if President Obama does not make good on his promise to create a Global Fund for Education to reach those hardest to reach children.
Muhammad Yunus, Mary Robinson, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu are all being honored by the president for “breaking down barriers and lifting up their fellow citizens.” Despite the fact that each honoree has “lifted up their fellow citizens” through different means, each recognizes the effectiveness of universal Basic Education. They recognize that is it has the potential to stimulate economic growth, reduce conflict and prevent violence, improve governance and health, and provide hope to children who would otherwise face a lifetime of vulnerability.
Parents and their children living in poverty already know the value of an education — when public primary school fees were eliminated in Kenya, more than a million additional children came into school almost overnight. In conflict-affected areas, school is not only a way out, but often one of the only sources of stability for children whose lives have been torn apart. Valentino Achak Deng, whose life as a child from war-torn southern Sudan is the subject of Dave Eggers’s book What Is the What, has made it a priority of his foundation to rebuild war-affected southern Sudanese communities through increasing access to school. In Afghanistan, where girls are being forced out of school due to violent attacks.many girls and their families bravely continue their studies despite the threat of retaliation. We must act in solidarity with families around the world to make it possible for all children to access a quality education.
In his campaign, Barack Obama offered a vision of hope not just for the United States but for the world. By creating a Global Fund for Education, he has the chance to deliver on a promise that will have resounding impact not only on children overseas, but on America’s legacy for generations to come. Educations’ Impact on Women
Education is a basic human right and a significant factor in the healthy development of children, communities, and countries. Especially in this difficult economic climate, investing in education is critical to mitigating the impacts of the economic crisis on the poorest and to preventing a reversal in the progress we’ve made on achieving all of the MDGs. As part of his historic Cairo address, President Barack Obama raised the hopes of millions of women around the world by highlighting how educating women can change the economic future of nations and promote equality. He said, “I do believe that a woman who is denied an education is denied equality . . . countries where women are well-educated are far more likely to be prosperous.”
Particularly for women and girls, the economic and personal empowerment that education provides allows them to make healthier choices for themselves and their families: on average, for a girl in a poor country, each additional year of education beyond grades three or four will lead to 20 percent higher wages and a 10 percent decrease in the risk of her own children dying of preventable causes. The ability of girls to avoid HIV infection is so strongly associated with attendance at school that education is known as a “social vaccine” against the virus. A study in Zambia found that AIDS spread twice as fast among uneducated girls as among educated girls. A study in Uganda showed that rural Ugandans with secondary education have a 75 percent lower rate of HIV infection than those with no education.
Why we need a Global Fund for Education
Almost 10 years after the world committed to achieving Education for All through the MDGs, and assistance has been provide to many poor nations to create bold national education plans, progress is stagnating and the economic crisis threatens to push millions more children out of school. At the same time, donor commitments to education have leveled off just when a massive investment to enact these bold national education plans is required to combat the enduring impact of the global recession. Total donor contributions to basic education are, on average, only $4 billion a year — far short of the $16 billion needed annually to achieve universal basic education.
Many poor countries with bold national education plans do not have the full resources needed to implement those plans — despite providing 70–80 percent of the costs to enact the plan they are unable to reach the hardest to reach kids who are the most vultnerable. Current aid delivery mechanisms are failing to reach the 40 million children who are out of school in conflict affected and fragile states, and a new and improved aid architecture could both scale up levels of aid and ensure these resources are getting to the countries most in need. The Global Fund for Education should be a multilateral (many countries involved), multi-donor mechanism to increase global commitment and funding for the achievement of universal basic education. This fund should be based on principles of:
Current global education statistics:
According to UNESCO’s Global Monitoring Report, an estimated 75 million primary-aged children are not in school:
Comments on the Global Fund for Education
 What Works in Girls’ Education. Barbara Herz and Gene B. Sperling, Senior Fellow for Economic Policy and Director of the Center for Universal Education. April 2004.