While access to education has been dramatically extended in recent years, and gender parity improved in many countries, substantial gaps remain.
For the school year ending in 2017 an estimated 262 million children and youth aged 6 to 17 were out of school (Source:UNESCO). Many of these children live in fragile or conflict-affected states. Despite the progress that has been made, girls are still more likely to be out of school than boys, and children with disabilities are less likely to ever attend or complete school than those without a disability.
It is estimated that more than 617 million (six out of 10) children and adolescents of primary and lower secondary school age do not achieve minimum proficiency levels in reading and mathematics (Source: UNESCO)
Even where children are in school, many are not acquiring an appropriate level of knowledge and skills.
The global response
This is why the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development reaffirms education as a fundamental human right and its Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG4) aims to 'ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all' by 2030. Providing access to quality education for all is also fundamental to achieving many other SDGs, including those related to poverty, gender equality, climate action and health.
The EU response
The EU has a strong and well-established commitment to supporting education development in partner countries and supports actions on education in approximately 100 countries through a number of its own funding instruments, including 60 countries where education is a focal sector or a component of a larger cooperation programme for the programming period 2014-2020. The EU also funds and supports global education partnerships.
The EU prioritises the strengthening of education systems as the way to improve educational outcomes over time. It works at country, regional and global levels, through different forms of support, adapting the support to the context, and coordinating and partnering with EU Member States, bilateral and multilateral agencies, civil society and the private sector.
Importantly, EU support is designed so that it meets specific national or regional needs and is aligned to country-led priorities and policies. This includes active participation in national education sector coordination groups and forums for policy dialogue.
EU-support to education
EU support is based on specific national or regional contexts and needs, contributing to priorities agreed as part of national policy dialogue, sector policies and plans. This national-level support is framed by the EU’s policy commitments, its response to global political, economic, demographic and social challenges, to global trends in education and to all countries’ endorsement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
At regional level, the EU finances higher education programmes such as Erasmus+. The programme provides grants in the fields of education, training, youth and sport to individuals and organisations, encouraging mobility, collaboration and partnerships.
EU Trust Funds have also been set up to respond to specific regional situations. These include the EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa and the EU regional Trust Fund in response to the Syrian crisis. These Trust Funds are funded by the EU, its member States, and other donors. They work directly with governments, local authorities and civil society organisations in partner countries to support vulnerable population groups.
The European Commission is an active contributor to regional and global policy dialogue and financing for education initiatives such as Global Partnership for Education (GPE) and Education Cannot Wait (ECW).
The GPE provides support in more than 65 countries with the greatest education needs. The EU and its Member States are the biggest contributor to the GPE. The EU committed an overall funding of EUR 475 million for the period 2014 - 2020.
ECW is a global initiative that aims to transform the delivery of education in emergencies and protracted crises. Since its establishment in 2016, it supported up to 1 million of the most vulnerable and hard-to-reach children and young people in 19 crisis-affected countries. The EU has so far committed EUR 16 million to support ECW.
Education in conflict and crisis areas
In many countries, conflict or other crises, often protracted over many years, have led to deterioration and even collapse of the education system. In such cases, humanitarian agencies may focus on the immediate needs of service delivery where they can.
However, even in these contexts, EU support is focused on maintenance and strengthening of the system and realising the opportunity to 'build back better' to increase future resilience. The EU has been increasing its support to fragile countries both by increasing the share of humanitarian assistance allocated to education to 10% by 2019, as pledged in the Communication on Education in Emergencies and Protracted Crises. as well as by allocating a larger proportion of bilateral development assistance to fragile and crisis-affected countries (See Directorate-General ECHO website for more information on humanitarian aid in education).