Children from the poorest households benefit the least from national public education funding, UNICEF found.
A new report by UNICEF, titled ‘Transforming Education with Equitable Financing’, has highlighted the inequality in public education funding.
On average, the poorest quintile of learners benefits from only 16 per cent of public funding for education, compared to the richest, who benefit from 28 per cent. In low-income countries, the situation is even more dire, with only 11 per cent of public education funding going to the poorest learners, while 42 per cent goes to the richest.
UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell said: “We are failing children. Too many education systems around the world are investing the least in those children who need it the most.”
The report – which examines data on government spending across pre-primary, primary, secondary, and tertiary education from 102 countries – found that a one percentage point increase in the allocation of public education resources to the poorest 20 per cent may pull 35 million primary school-aged children out of learning poverty.
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The study also notes that around the world, public education spending is more likely to reach learners from wealthier households in both low- and middle-income countries. The gap is most pronounced among low-income countries, with the richest households benefitting from over six times the amount of public education funding compared to the poorest.
Children living in poverty are particularly affected by this inequality. They are less likely to have access to school and drop out sooner. They are also less represented in higher levels of education, which receive much higher public education spending per capita, and are more likely to live in remote and rural areas that are generally underserved and negatively affected by the digital divide.
According to UNICEF, even before the COVID-19 pandemic, education systems around the world were largely failing children, with hundreds of millions of students attending school but not grasping basic reading and mathematics skills. Recent estimates show that two-thirds of all 10-year-olds globally are unable to read and understand a simple story.
The report recommends that governments provide equitable financing and prioritise public education resources, including increasingly focusing on foundational learning.