G20: Bill Gates Misses Opportunity to Discuss Education

Education in the world's poorest countries seems to not figure too high on Bill Gates' list of development priorities, write Kevin Watkins and Justin W van Fleet at the Guardian.

Kevin Watkins is the author of Corporate Philanthropy and the Education for All Agenda, commissioned for the Bellagio Initiative. Justin W van Fleet is a postdoctoral fellow, also at the Centre for Universal Education at Brookings.

And they think Gates missed a trick, as the report to the G20 has just one throwaway sentence on education:

"Evidence suggests that social enterprises such as private health clinics and schools have the potential to pay back the original capital invested – and sometimes provide market rates of return."

The need for education is impoverished areas cannot be overstated.

At least 67 million children of primary school age are out of school, along with 70 million adolescents. Millions more drop out before completing a basic education. Some 200 million children are getting an education so poor that they are likely to emerge from school unable to read or write.

As a philanthropist who cares about health and food production, and knows a bit about markets and economic growth, Gates should know better than to ignore education, says Watkins and van Fleet.

One estimate shows that giving all of sub-Saharan Africa's women some secondary education would result in 1.8 million fewer deaths. And this has a knock-on effect, as educated mothers are more likely to use the anti-retroviral drugs that can prevent mother-to-child transmission of Aids – drugs that the Gates Foundation finances through the Global Fund for HIV/AIDS, Malaria and Tuberculosis.

The crisis of access to education is a formidable barrier to global poverty reduction efforts. By not making it a top priority they are undermining the progress of nations and squandering human potential on a vast scale.

Overall, US foundations direct less than 7% of development grants to education and corporate philanthropists in the US allocate less than 4% of their grants to basic education, compared with more than 90% for health.

Education desperately needs high-level advocates but it has been sidelined as a result of weak international leadership in UN agencies, donor indifference, and limited interest on the part of NGOs, writes Watkins and van Fleet.

It has dropped off the agendas for the G8 and the G20, and as aid levels stagnate at $3bn – much more attention is needed to plug the financing gap for achieving universal basic education.

11 11, 2011
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