We must become the first generation in history where every child goes to school, and in doing so we can demonstrate that international cooperation can work.
A new global fund will create 200m school places and help end child marriage, traffrcking and labour in developing countries.
Once a child refugee fleeing Sudan, and now a prize winning American entrepreneur, Manyang Kher is using a lifetime of hard knocks, a never give up attitude and some rapidly learned skills to change the world.
At the age of just three, he was caught up in his country’s civil war. During a raid, his village was razed to the ground. His father was killed and his mother vanished, presumed dead. Terrified, Manyang ran for his life and kept running.
He met others escaping. He became one of the 20,000 Lost Boys of Sudan who made a gruelling 1,600km trek to Ethiopia then spent 13 harrowing years scrimping and surviving in refugee camps.
Finally, at the age of 17, his life changed. Having reached America as an unaccompanied minor, he learned English, and after graduating from college, he founded a remarkable project in Richmond, Virginia, called Humanity Helping Sudan.
Under its banner, his 734 Coffee Company roasts coffee beans from African owned farms in the Ethiopian Gambella province that was once Manyang’s home.
I have come across numbers symbolising uncomfortable facts before: 7.34 is a theatre company (founded by the British playwright John McGrath in 1971) that was set up to remind people that 7% of the population owned 84% of the country’s wealth. In this instance, the number 734 is equally symbolic. It exactly matches the geographical coordinates on the map of the Gambella 7 degrees north and 34 degrees east highlighting the zone where children’s need for education is greatest.
Now, 8000 of 734’s profits are going to help 200,000 refugee boys and girls living in the area.
Today, with Manyang’s support, UN secretary general Antonio Guterres will back a game changing plan under which millions of children will be guaranteed a free education without having to depend on charity. On the same day, the World Bank and all multilateral development banks will make a joint statement to take forward what is an education revolution. The Global Partnership for Education and the refugee agency Education Cannot Wait see it as complementing their important work. A petition calling for countries to finance it has already been signed by 1. 5 million young people.
The International Finance Facility for Education (IFFEd) aims to provide a brand new $10bn stream of finance which, alongside additional resources from national governments, could create 200m school places and help us to end child marriage, child traficking and child labour by offering free universal education right across developing countries. When up and running, IFFEd will be the biggest single educational investment in history.
And there is good reason why it is urgently needed. More than 260 million children and young people are not going to school today nor will they go to school any other day in the near future.
Even more shocking is the number of children dropping out of school by the age of 12 or learning so little due to the poor quality of education.
The problem is so severe that in 2030, across all low and middle-income countries, more than half of the world’s children and young people 825 million will not have the basic skills or qualiiications needed for a modern workforce.
Today, 750 million people over the age of 15 are unable to read and write, and two-thirds of them are women. And in 20 countries more than half the population is illiterate.
On current projections it will take until after the year 2100 to deliver the sustainable development goal targets promised for 2030, just 12 years from now of all girls and boys completing primary and secondary education.
Yet all overseas aid to education combined offers only $10 per child a year, not even enough to pay for a secondhand text book, let alone a quality education suited for the 2lst century. Funding for global education, which was 13% of all international aid 10 years ago, has fallen to 10%.
So it is urgent that we end the world’s biggest divide, between the half of a generation trapped without education and opportunity, the majority of them girls, and the rest.
Indeed, delivering universal education is the civil rights struggle of our generation. Leading the charge are young people themselves demanding change across the world to stop child marriage in Bangladesh, to end child labour in India, reduce fees for education in Latin America, and to deliver safe schools everywhere from Nigeria where many have been kidnapped, to America where schoolchildren have been the victims of gun violence in their classrooms.
The next generation needs a sea-change response from this generation. The scale of the education challenge cannot be met in ordinary ways through traditional aid. Instead, by building on guarantees from aid donors, and incorporating a buydown facility to reduce the costs of free education for 700 million children in lower middle-income countries, every £100m of aid can deliver £400m of new educational investment.
Our recent history has shown that innovative and concerted international efforts can have a profound impact. Fifteen years ago, heightened cooperation helped create the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria, and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, both of which have channelled billions of dollars into healthcare and saved millions of lives.
Neglected for too long, global education now warrants a moment of its own. We must become the first generation in history where every child goes to school, and in doing so we can demonstrate at the end of a week in which conflict seems to be the order of the day that international cooperation can work.
Gordon Brown is the UN special envoy for global education and a former UK prime minister