Most needy children missing out on education aid, UN warns

International education aid is failing to reach children most in need – and is too often based on foreign policy – United Nations experts have told a global development forum in Brussels, adding that it is time for donors to rethink their funding strategies.

Nigerian students taking lessons.
Nigerian students taking lessons. Reuters

A team from the UN’s education and humanitarian agencies has come up with a new way of understanding data to help guide decisions in development aid – putting the focus on children and taking it off countries.

“We've found that when you cross-check the aid flows with the educational needs of children, there's really no connection,” says Amelie Gagnon, a specialist at the Unesco International Institute for Educational Planning (IIEP-Unesco).

“Is the decision to send money to a specific country a consequence of trade ties, commercial opportunities or post-colonial history – or is it made by assessing the needs of children? That’s the question we’ve been asking.”

Ensuring equal access to quality education is one of the UN’s 17 sustainable development goals, a blueprint for peace and prosperity that it is hoped will be achieved by 2030.

Looking at data differently

Using existing data, Gagnon and her colleagues have created an educational status index – incorporating more than 50 countries – which they say gives donors a clearer picture of how to direct aid towards the largest numbers of underserved and underprivileged children.

The experts put their method to an audience of development agencies, private NGOs, foundations and researchers at the two-day European Development Days conference, which wraps up in the Belgian capital Wednesday.

It’s an approach that Gagnon is holding up as a new model of aid allocation for the next generation. Its purpose, she says, isn’t just about addressing existing inequalities – but preventing future ones.

“Everyone is conscious of the fact we lack the tools to really target the right people when we plan interventions in education from an outsider perspective,” she explains.

“The debate we want to provoke is about how we can bring together current information on education, migration patterns, conflicts, potential nutrition issues – and use predictive analytics … so donors know where their money should move in order to stop inequalities from growing in the future.”

Children in a Cambodian school.
Children in a Cambodian school. RFI/Bona Pen

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