More than 260 million school-aged children and youth around the world are not in school today. And even those who are enrolled may end up without the benefits of a primary education: Globally, more than half a billion school-age children will either drop out of school at a young age or learn very little.
These numbers should startle everyone. If the world continues along this trajectory, by 2030 more than 800 million youth will not have the skills to join the workforce, crippling global economic growth and development.
Being able to read and write, perhaps even use a computer, is more than a convenience. Education is directly correlated with healthier families, improved gender equality, and more stable and peaceful communities. As technology, demographic shifts, and globalization rapidly reshape our world, the gap between educated children who have access to skills and opportunity, and uneducated children who don’t, grows wider and more dangerous.
Clearly, the status quo is not working. It’s time to forge next-generation partnerships that can unlock the bold innovations required to achieve quality education for all.
A New School
The private sector can be a tremendous help in achieving this goal. For starters, international corporations understand the changing labor market and the future needs of employers. With the ascent of automation, businesses have an interest in tapping a global workforce that’s rich in intellectual resources. Moreover, we need a business-solutions approach to the education problem.
Many of the world’s most influential companies, such as Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited, Reed Smith LLP, Intel Corporation, Western Union, and others partner with us at the Global Business Coalition for Education (GBC-Ed), applying their talent, innovative thinking, and resources to help us strengthen the delivery of free quality education worldwide.
Since 2012, this coalition has driven private-sector engagement in global education. The 140 (and counting) members of GBC-Ed are eager to determine how and where they can be most effective, and to lend their support. Together, they have hundreds of thousands of dedicated employees worldwide who can help solve any number of challenges using their IT, data management, logistics, and training skills. Their wealth of expertise is truly awesome.
Yet the development community’s standard operating procedure—especially during emergencies, when education needs are most critical—is to simply ask the private sector for money. To be fair, when an earthquake hits or a mass exodus of people creates a human crisis, there often isn’t time to coordinate much else. But this limited, outdated view of engaging with the private sector cannot solve today’s education crisis.
A Class Act
At GBC-Ed, we set out to analyze the problem and design a solution. How could we effectively organize our network, and make its rich resources readily accessible to nonprofits and humanitarian organizations on the ground, especially during disasters or in conflict zones?
Technology can help. In the spring of 2018, GBC-Ed launched the first-ever online tool for international development that matches leading corporations with emerging education needs. (Our press release made the analogy to the networking platform Meetup, but I personally prefer our in-house shorthand: “Tinder for education and emergencies.”) This new Rapid Education Action (REACT) system, created by LexisNexis Risk Solutions and its parent RELX Group, connects public and private sectors in real time. It allows users to match resources and needs within minutes.
For example, US-based language company, NaTakallam, partnered with Re:Coded, an NGO who teach coding skills to young Syrians and Iraqis. NaTakallam agreed to hire the refugees participating in the training program and offered them the opportunity to train as Arabic instructors. Another partnership brokered by REACT is between software company Cerego and Thaki, an NGO that empowers refugee children to learn and thrive through self-paced, motivational electronic tools. The partnership will seek to deliver self-paced learning directly to marginalized children in Lebanon.
Our hope is REACT can foster meaningful partnerships among business, nonprofits, governments, and intergovernmental agencies that lead to new areas of collaboration. Technology will also play an important role in other ways. For instance, HP’s School Cloud initiative allows schools without Internet to provide access to millions of e-textbooks and thousands of lessons on subjects such as reading, science, and mathematics.
But we can’t count on technology to solve the problem of global education. We need creative thinking as well. For instance, one new idea currently gaining momentum is actually big enough to make the seemingly impossible probable. The new International Finance Facility for Education, supported by the G20 nations, the United Nations Secretary-General, and more than 1.5 million people, offers a groundbreaking way to finance education around the world. By tapping into $2 billion in guarantees from donor countries, the Facility will provide various multilateral development banks leverage to create up to $8 billion in new financing. All told, this financing, combined with grant funding, could mobilize more than $10 billion for education.
Without an education, children growing up now will not be able to tackle climate change, improve health outcomes, or fight inequalities—let alone grow and prosper. Every single international development goal is currently at risk. It’s time for everyone—government, business, and civil society—to act collaboratively and decisively to enable the new ideas and ways of working that will accelerate progress and prevent this looming crisis.