PHILANTHROPISTS ARE FINALLY COMMITTING TO SOLVING THE GLOBAL EDUCATION CRISIS -WHY DID IT TAKE TILL NOW?Published: 10-02-2018
For a visitor from the US, a day spent in a school in a developing country will illicit sadness, confusion, anger and a disbelief. As we struggle in the US against ‘teaching to testing’ they struggle against children falling asleep because they haven’t eaten for over a day. As we bemoan a teacher student ratio of 1 to 30 their classes are often standing room only with a ratio far beyond 1 to 100. We worry about our girls having the confidence to answer questions equally to the boys in their class and they worry about girls missing one week of schooling a month due to a lack of sanitary products. The first question you will most likely ask: why isn’t something being done NOW? When you look at the funding priorities of the major global foundations there is a looming question – why hasn’t there been large scale investments to change the state of global education and how has it been lower on the priorities of major global funders? Until now…
In this month’s blog we explore the recent shift of philanthropy power houses such as The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation towards Global Education and explore why it has taken them until 2018 to make it one of their focus areas.
Lack of funding for education previously
Over its nearly 20 year history, The Gates Foundation has become the dominant global health and development grant maker but has largely steered clear of supporting teachers and students outside of the United States. “Everywhere we go, people always ask us this question: Why don’t you guys work in education as well?” said Girindre Beeharry, director of global education learning strategy, who is leading the effort.
The reason, Beeharry said, is they are unclear about what works. Although a multitude of private donors, international development organizations, and government entities support education, “you don’t see a lot of countries that have bucked the trend” of low educational achievement.
The first step towards change is data.
Beeharry reports that the foundation feels what is missing is a comprehensive set of data on different educational approaches, particularly in poor countries. Collecting more information would allow educators and policy experts to examine new approaches such as changes in teacher training or the development of curricula, and see how they work in countries that have similar levels of wealth and comparable educational systems.
The Gates Foundation said last month that it will devote $68 million over four years to improve education for young students internationally, marking the foundation’s first step beyond its grant-making mainstays of global health and school improvement in the United States.
The money will be used to compile comparative educational data internationally and to support primary-school systems in India and at least two sub-Saharan African nations to be named at a later date.
In recent years, researchers have made a pilgrimage to Finland to study innovations that have made that country’s educational system a global model of success. But “what works in Finland may not apply in a less-developed country, where educational data is incomplete” Beeharry said.
“There’s quite a bit of murkiness about what causes educational systems to succeed or fail.”
Girindre Beeharry, Director of Global Education Learning Strategy – The Gates Foundation
Areas of focus within education
Much of the support from Gates will back data collection and analysis that will be used to determine future investments. However the foundation has already selected a guiding principle: Start early.
It is widely understood that if students fall behind when they are young — unable to perform basic addition and subtraction when their peers are learning about complex fractions — it’s almost impossible to catch up. What is yet unknown is how this will apply to a developing world context.
The Gates Foundation learned this lesson following a series of research grants it made with the Hewlett Foundation. From 2007 to 2013, the two foundations’ Quality Education in Developing Countries project spent $130 million surveying educational outcomes in Ghana, India, Kenya, Mali, Senagal, Tanzania, and Uganda. The grant makers determined that access to schools — getting “butts in seats,” in educator parlance — was not a major problem.
The key, Beeharry said, is to “develop curricula that reward learning rather than grade advancement and pay special attention to kids who are adrift in the classroom.”
While most of the foundation’s classroom efforts will be made through traditional grants, he said, Gates may make some impact investments in educational technology to address students’ varying learning capabilities.
“They’re coming to school, but they’re not learning anything. Tackling that problem early on is fundamental to addressing the issue.”
Other Grant Makers joining the movement
There are a number of other major players in philanthropy who have recently invested heavily in education overseas.
This year, the Open Society Foundations plans to spend $18.3 million on primary and secondary education, plus $14 million on higher education and another $14 million on scholarships.
Prachi Srivastava, professor of education and international development at the University of Western Ontario feels that the data on philanthropic involvement in global education is lacking. She’s in the process of collecting data on the subject, and so far she has identified at least 650 donors who are active in Asia. American foundations however, are not as involved as they could be. She believes this is because there is a “mystification” surrounding the support of educational programs, whose success sometimes can’t be measured for a generation.
“If you institute a vaccine program, you can see the impact of that right away. That model doesn’t fit with education.”
The Michael & Susan Dell Foundation supports the development of affordable private schools in India that tie debt-financing instruments to school performance, and the Omidyar Network has invested in nonprofit and for-profit organizations that use technology to boost student achievement.
Srivastave believes that a number of the largest contributions made towards education can be tied to a foundation’s larger focus towards social change. For example, Open Society’s mission is ‘to build free societies where all people are able to contribute to public discourse’. Therefore ensuring that a population is adequately educated plays a huge role in achieving their goal.
As Kate Lapham, deputy director of Open Society’s Education Support Program explains:
“We target countries and communities where the civic space of education is no longer protected, where it is distorted by authoritarian or exclusionary political agendas, and where it is reinforcing social inequities instead of challenging them.”
Similarly, The Mastercard Foundation has made education a big component of its $500 million commitment to train people for the jobs of the future, both in the United States and internationally.
So much more to meet our goals
According to the United Nations, support of global education will fall short by an average of $39 billion a year of what is needed to achieve U.N. education goals by 2030. But Srivastava is optimistic that having a large player like The Gates Foundation get involved will send a signal to other donors and governments that global education is a worthwhile cause.
Having big names such as Gates and Dell behind the education field presents two major and dichotomous concerns. First, that other big donors may indeed follow their lead without backing their funding with the same research and deep strategic planning which could lead to a significant waste of funding. Second, a contradictory concern is that large and well documented donations that focus on certain areas of education might steer other donors away from awarding other worthwhile and sometimes essential grants in other areas of education.
There is also evidence for concern that many of the larger foundations have not stepped into the global education space previously because they understand that educational outcomes are deeply complex and intrinsically tied to other challenges that communities are facing such as food scarcity, sanitation and electricity. Many of these challenges have been the funding priorities of the large foundations in previous years and as they start to invest in global education they would be aware that a child must be healthy, safe and in a conducive learning environment to be successful students. It is possible that the large foundations are choosing to take a collective, place based approach to education – addressing the whole child and the wellness of communities. This approach will ensure that the children are not only being provided the opportunity for a quality education but that the improved state of their health and environment will enable them to make the most of these valuable opportunities.
Regardless of any concerns, there is one fact that is undoubtable and that is that there is so much work to do in order to improve global education. It is going to take more than one foundation’s support and it is going to take significant research and systemic change. We can be grateful that the commitment is now made by The Gates Foundation and other big philanthropists to address these issues. With the support of other donors hopefully we can finally transform the picture of education in developing countries and ensure a better future for so many learners around the world.
Gates Jumps Into International Education With $68 Million for Data-Based Solutions
By Alex Daniels
The Gates Foundation
The Open Society Foundation
Georgia Van Cuylenburg
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