UN-11 October 2007 – A new publication by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) shows that global spending on education is concentrated in just a few countries, with the education budget of a single country like France or Italy outweighing education spending across all of sub-Saharan Africa.
Produced by the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, the report finds that sub-Saharan African countries – home to 15 per cent of the school-age population – spend only 2.4 per cent of global education resources.
By contrast, the United States spends 28 per cent of the global education budget although only 4 per cent of the world’s children and young people live there. The report attributes this to the large numbers of university students and the relatively high costs of tertiary education.
With a public education budget nearly equal to that of all of the Arab, Central and Eastern European, Central Asian, Latin American and the Caribbean, South and West Asian and sub-Saharan African regions combined, the US is in fact the single largest investor in education, according to the report.
Although public spending is a major source of education funding, many countries, particularly less developed ones, rely on households and communities to cover education expenses such as tuition, textbooks, uniforms and teachers’ salaries.
“The challenge lies in ensuring access for disadvantaged students through mechanisms like scholarships or interest-free loans,” said Institute Director Hendrik van der Pol.
“But the dynamics are very different for primary and secondary education, where serious questions about equity arise,” he adds. “Should governments rely on households to provide for the human right to basic education of decent quality?”
Data shows that household expenditure is highest in Nicaragua, where families assume almost half the costs of primary and secondary education.
Mr. van der Pol highlighted the need for more data on the subject. “At present, only about 60 countries can provide reliable information on private spending for education. Without more data, we will continue to underestimate the tremendous burden placed on families to send their children to school,” he stated.