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Why getting children into school can help the world avoid a crisis

The world is facing a crisis if countries do not increase their education budgets and get more children into school, warned Julia Gillard, chair of the Global Partnership for Education (GPE), a global education funding agency

There are 260 million children and adolescents out of school globally, says the Education Commission, a global organisation of former prime ministers, academics and business leaders set up last year to campaign for investment in education.

This is attributed largely to poverty with parents unable to afford to send their children to school but also other factors such as discrimination based on ethnicity, caste or religion.

Education Commission data forecasts that by 2030, half of the 1.6 billion young people in the world will not have secondary level skills, and will not be easily absorbed into a job market which is demanding higher skill levels.

Gillard, the former prime minister of Australia, said this was a crisis not just for the individual child who misses out on school, but also at the global economy level.

“One of things we have learned is that we can overcome these problems if we try. This isn’t the equivalent of saying let’s go to Mars or let’s go to Pluto. This isn’t something that no human being hasn’t done before,” said Gillard in an interview.

“It’s not that at all. If every country was improving its education system as the rate of the top 25 countries – in their income band – then we would solve all these problems and be on track to have a learning generation with every child in school.”

Gillard, who was speaking ahead of a two-day conference on children’s rights in New Delhi, said it was imperative that both domestic and overseas financing be made available as one of the first efforts to get children into school.

She said 20 percent of government budgets, or six percent of gross domestic product, would be an indication that a country was trying to make a real difference to the education of children, yet many countries are failing to achieve that level.

According to the Education Commission, low and middle income countries expenditure on education was $1 trillion in 2015, but should be almost three times that, at $2.7 trillion by 2030.

Gillard said foreign aid was also meagre, with only three percent of overseas assistance going towards education.

The GPE has raised an average of $525 million annually over the last two years, she said, but it requires $2 billion a year to do its work – advising developing nations on quality education plans, providing technical assistance and funds.

“The reality is that it has always been a touch environment to raise money for education. Education is a pretty patient investment in quite an impatient world. People want to see quick results. It takes years to educate a child,” she said.

“But if this continues, we will see a generation which simply doesn’t have the skills and capacities to make a life for themselves and the next generation of children will be less likely to survive infanthood, less likely to be vaccinated and less likely to go to school themselves.”

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