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Global South education

Schoolchildren wait to receive their textbooks in a classroom at Bhum Dokkhin Government Primary School in Manikganj, Bangladesh on January 1, 2022. (Photo: Nayan Kar/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

1 in 3 of World's Poorest Countries Spend More on Debt Repayments Than Education

"There is clearly a moral imperative for the world to act now to ensure that all children are in school and learning," says a new report from Save the Children. "But there is also an economic imperative."

Brett Wilkins

A report published this week by Save the Children revealed that 1 in 3 of the world's poorest nations spend more on paying off debt to wealthy countries and investors than on educating its own children.

"Education systems desperately need more and better funding across low- and lower-middle-income countries."

The U.K.-based charity's report—entitled Fixing a Broken System: Transforming Education Financing—shows that 21 out of 70 low- and lower-middle-income countries with available data spent more on external debt repayment than on education in 2020. According to the publication, interest payments are expected to account for an average of 10% of the annual budget in this category of countries by 2024, up from 7% in 2015.

Meanwhile, nearly 1 in 3 children in low-income countries still do not finish primary school.

"Education systems desperately need more and better funding across low- and lower-middle-income countries. Instead, they are being gutted to service unmanageable debts," Hollie Warren, Save the Children U.K.'s head of global education policy and advocacy, said in a statement.

"It is wrong that the world's poorest children are having to suffer because of a debt crisis that was not of their making," she continued. "The world has a moral imperative to ensure that they are adequately funding education to ensure that all children are in school and learning."

The new report notes that "education is a fundamental right for every child according to Article 28 of the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child and one of the best investments that can be made in children's futures."

"Yet the world is at serious risk of seeing huge reversals in the progress made to get all children learning from a quality education," the paper continues.  "The education of millions of children is at risk due to factors like climate change, the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, displacement, and attacks on schools. With each day that a child is out of school, it becomes harder for them to catch up on the learning they've lost, and they grow more vulnerable to hunger, violence, child marriage, and child labor."

The report's authors asserted that "there is clearly a moral imperative for the world to act now to ensure that all children are in school and learning."

"But there is also an economic imperative," they explained. "Realizing children's right to education is one of the best tools governments have at their disposal for economic development and eradicating poverty."

"For every dollar invested in girls' education, developing countries can receive $2.80 back in economic and social returns, and achieving 100% secondary school completion rates for girls by 2030 could lift emerging economies' GDP by 10% compared to business-as-usual scenarios," the report states.

"Now the intersecting threats of Covid-19, conflict, and climate change threaten to push us back even further," the report warns. "In many low- and lower-middle-income countries these crises are happening concurrently and exacerbating one another, with the greatest impacts being felt by the most marginalized households and communities."

In order to fix a broken system, Save the Children urges "governments in low- and middle-income countries to increase their education spending to at least 20% of their budget." 

Critically, the charity says that "donors can support governments by urgently increasing the share of official development assistance (ODA) for education, offering to share revenue generation and budgeting expertise, and mobilizing other forms of funding that can be channeled to low- and middle-income countries, including the International Monetary Fund's Special Drawing Rights (SDRs)—a reserve asset created to provide liquidity and make the global economy more resilient."

The new report follows a Tuesday protest by two members of the peace group CodePink, who crashed a debt restructuring panel at the International Monetary Fund and World Bank annual meetings in Washington, D.C. to demand that the financial institutions "cancel all debt."

Also on Tuesday, the United Nations Development Program published a paper urging wealthy nations to deliver desperately needed debt relief to 54 developing countries where more than half of the poorest people on the planet live.

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