World Bank-UNESCO Report Finds Caribbean Countries Cutting Education Budgets Due To COVID-19

(CMC) – A new joint report by the World Bank and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has found that Caribbean and other countries are cutting their education budgets due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Washington-based financial institution and the Paris-based UNESCO Education Finance Watch (EFW) said that education budgets are not adjusting proportionately to the challenges brought about by COVID-19, especially in poorer countries.

Despite additional funding needs, the new report says that two-thirds of low and lower-middle-income countries, such as those in the Caribbean, have, in fact, cut their public education budgets since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In comparison, only one-third of upper-middle and high-income countries have reduced their budgets, the report says.

“These budget cuts have been relatively small thus far, but there is a danger that future cuts will be larger, as the pandemic continues to take its economic toll, and fiscal positions worsen,” the report says.

“These differing trends imply a significant widening of the already large spending disparities seen between low and high-income countries.”

According to the new report, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, in 2018-19, high-income countries were spending annually the equivalent of US$8,501 for every child or youth’s education compared to US$48 in low-income countries.

The report says COVID-19 is only widening this huge per-capita education spending gap between rich and poor countries.

EFW stresses that the education finance challenge is not only about mobilising resources but also about improving the effectiveness of funding.

“Unfortunately, recent increases in public education spending have been associated with relatively small improvements in education outcomes,” the report says.

“Although access to education has improved, the learning poverty rate – the proportion of 10-year-olds unable to read a short, age-appropriate text – was 53 percent in low and middle-income countries prior to COVID-19, compared to only 9 percent for high-income countries.”

COVID-19 related school closures are likely to increase this 53 percent share to as much as 63 percent, the report says.

“This is a critical moment where countries need to recover the learning losses the pandemic is generating, invest in remedial education, and use this window of opportunity to build more effective, equitable, and resilient systems,” said Mamta Murthi, World Bank Vice President for Human Development.

“The learning poverty crisis that existed before COVID-19 is becoming even more severe, and we are also concerned about how unequal the impact is.

“Countries and the international development community must invest more and invest better in education systems and strengthen the link between spending and learning and other human capital outcomes,” Murthi urged.