This morning took place the virtual press conference of the report “Recovering aid to education. An emergency call. Trends in Spanish cooperation in education“, a document in which Entreculturas, with the collaboration of Loyola University through its Development Institute, the ETEA Foundation, analyzes Spain’s cooperation in education.
One of the issues addressed in the study is the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic in the field of education, which in May 2020 led to the closure of schools, affecting more than 90% of the student population worldwide, which meant that more than 1.5 billion children and young people were unable to attend school. As of today, it is estimated that around 24 million students (from pre-primary to tertiary education) would not have returned to educational institutions by 2020, including schools, universities or other training institutions, of which 10.9 million are at primary and secondary levels, adding to the 258 million children and young people of this age who were already out of school before the health crisis.
This document has been prepared based on the data and statistical information resulting from the research carried out by Ana Hernández, professor at Loyola University and researcher at the ETEA Foundation.
Increased risk of school dropout and learning disabilities
“It is clear that the risk of not returning to educational institutions and that many students will even eventually drop out of school in the coming years is going to increase in a worrying way,” explained Lucía Rodríguez, Advocacy Officer at Entreculturas during the presentation of the report.
Previous crises revealed that not all children face difficulties in the same way: those living in poor or rural areas, girls, refugees, those with disabilities or those who have been forcibly displaced will find it more difficult to continue their learning. The longer they stay out of school, the less likely they are to return.
The study warns that learning difficulties also threaten to extend beyond this generation and erase decades of educational achievement and progress, particularly in supporting girls and in accessing and retaining young women in the education system.
International cooperation funding grows, Spanish aid is cut back
The international community has not stopped increasing its investment in international cooperation until 2018, despite the economic crisis, increasing its funds by 55% from 2007 to 2018. However, in Spain the opposite has happened and since 2009 cooperation has not stopped falling, being one of the public policies that has suffered the most cuts, being reduced by almost half between 2008 (4,760 million euros) and 2018 (with 2,449 million euros).
These cuts most affected bilateral ODA, the main and essential instrument of a country’s cooperation policies. If the commitment is to allocate 0.7% of GDP to ODA, Spain has gone from investing 0.37% of GDP in 2007 to 0.20 in 2018, going through a deep fall during that decade even reaching only 0.12 in 2015. We have gone from being ranked 7th in 2007-2009 among DAC countries with respect to ODA contributions to ranking 16th in 2018.
The pandemic is contributing to a deep global recession that will have lasting effects on the economies and public finances of many countries, especially those with the weakest systems. But “there are global public goods, such as health, education or the environment, that must be protected in strategies that go beyond the economic conditions of each country and that are a space for shared protection to ensure safer, more inclusive and sustainable societies,” said Macarena Romero, Advocacy Technician at Entreculturas.
Spanish cooperation in education, a turning point
In stark contrast to the trend in the international community, Spain has drastically reduced sectoral aid, practically limiting itself to the unavoidable commitments it has established with the European Union and other international organizations. “It is worth noting that, although between 2010 and 2014 all these sectors have seen their aid reduced by more than three quarters, the figure is even worse if we focus only on education. Specifically, since 2008 Spain has reduced its contribution in this sector by 90%,” said Macarena Romero. Thus, the collapse of aid in education is not only the result of the abandonment of the Spanish government’s cooperation policies (with a corresponding fall in ODA as a whole) but also of the lack of interest it has shown in educational projects by reducing its budget to the extreme. The report claims that the decisions taken now regarding the financing of Spanish cooperation in education will or will not reverse the educational setbacks caused by the pandemic.
Observing the educational distribution of Spanish bilateral aid, it can be seen that basic education has only received an average of 7.5 million euros in the last three years, compared to almost 110 million in the first years. Aid to primary education is one of the items that has decreased the most in these years. Far behind are the recommendations made by the Cooperation Commission of the Congress itself through Propositions No of Law in 1999 and 2006 and through a motion in the Senate on November 27, 2013, in which it was proposed that Spanish cooperation should allocate 8% of its aid to basic education. On the contrary, this percentage has not stopped falling in this period and we have gone from 3.7% that basic education accounted for in Spanish cooperation as a whole in 2007 to 0.8% in 2018, a figure ten times lower than what is recommended.
Despite having suffered a 76% cut in recent years, decentralized cooperation is a significant component percentage-wise it has sadly emerged as a fundamental pillar within Spanish ODA to education by doubling its presence in a decade, going from meaning 17% of total aid in 2008 to 40% in 2018, although it has also suffered a 76% cut. Such has been the cutback of the General State Administration that the also reduced contributions of the autonomous communities and city councils have gained weight within the overall cooperation in education.
The prominence and support that the international community gives to the field of education will condition the capacity of the different societies to effectively face the challenges posed by COVID-19 and the obstacles that appear to the achievement of the SDGs. “The Spanish government has already taken a first step by approving the Joint Response Strategy of Spanish Cooperation to the COVID-19 Crisis, which recognizes the educational crisis that must be addressed and the importance that education will have both in this emergency phase and in the reconstruction of societies that cannot widen their differences and inequalities due to the pandemic” explained Macarena Romero. In this context, Spanish cooperation can play a relevant role and contribute to the implementation of the new development agenda, prioritizing the role of education as a tool for social transformation.
Ramón Almansa, Executive Director of Entreculturas, concluded the press conference by stating that “the time is now. The decisive moment is now. And when we say that this is the decisive moment, what we want to say and demand from society and our politicians is that it is time to make decisions in favor of education; to make decisions to increase the public contribution to international solidarity. Education in the world is making an emergency call. We cannot let it pass, the future of millions of children depends on it; the future of humanity, our future, ultimately depends on it”.