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Countries around the world have made gains in expanding and improving access to education. But the Covid-19 health crisis has already undermined progress, with millions of children dropping out of school. In response, the UN has made transforming education a priority for the coming year. AFD will be bringing its expertise to bear in an effort to make up for lost ground, and continue its work in education, training and lifelong learning.

“Education is an essential part of a democratic and sustainable society,” says the United Nations in its summary of the fourth Sustainable Development Goal. Allowing for personal development and promoting “lifelong opportunities for all,” it also contributes to the success of several other SDGs, as educated, empowered citizens are all the more able to work towards poverty eradication (SDG 1), decent work (SDG 8), gender equality (SDG 5), climate action (SDG 13) and the development of renewable energies (SDG 7).

Since its adoption in 2015, the pursuit of SDG 4 has achieved a number of advances. In 2018 for example, the number of out-of-school children had been halved compared to 2000 and gender parity in primary education had been achieved in two-thirds of the countries in the world. “But the Covid-19 pandemic has put a stop to these advances with devastating effects on the education sector,” says Virginie Delisée-Pizzo, Head of AFD’s Education, Training and Employment Division. 

See also: AFD and Education

At its peak, the Covid crisis wreaked havoc on children around the world. According to a 2021 UNESCO-UNICEF-OECD-World Bank study, school closures affected 1.6 billion children in 188 countries, with over one billion of these children living in low- and middle-income countries. 

“Lost learning and the surge in school dropouts could lead to a loss in earnings for an entire generation, estimated at $10 trillion,” says Delisée-Pizzo. “There could be ten million additional early marriages by the end of the decade, resulting in a major risk of school dropouts,” estimating that more than 11 million girls may not return to school after the pandemic.

These findings call for an unprecedented mobilization of the international community, as illustrated by the UN’s Transforming Education Summit (TES), which took place in New York on 19 September. The summit aimed to address the losses caused by the pandemic, with an eye to transforming Education to provide the knowledge, skills and values that citizens will need to address the new sustainable development challenges and fulfill SDG 4 by 2030. 

See also: Four flagship AFD education projects

Progress in education aims to make it inclusive, equitable, safe and healthy, where young people learn and skills for life, work and sustainable development. Such progress will depend on well-trained teachers, and digital learning, as well as the sustainable financing of education. 

Education for social and ecological transitions

Committed to education and training, AFD has put €4.3 billion into the sector since 2000. Since 2015, AFD has also been operating regularly with funds delegated by the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) and the European Union. In this respect, AFD is today the third largest authority body vested with delegated funds (after the World Bank and UNICEF), and the leading bilateral delegated authority of GPE funds, making use of some €322 million in five countries (Burkina Faso, Burundi, Guinea, Niger and Senegal).

“AFD’s main marker is its approach based on supporting national policies, in close consultation with other donors,” says Virginie Delisée-Pizzo. “AFD stands out for the way it promotes links between basic education and training [and for its emphasis on] higher education and access to decent employment.”

Gender equality is a major part of AFD’s work in the sector: “Education for young girls is central to AFD’s action,” continues Delisée-Pizzo. “Between 2018 and 2020, our operations supported schooling for about a million girls a year. We target secondary education due to the major role secondary schooling plays in the empowerment of young girls, especially in rural areas where there is a risk of early marriages and pregnancies.”

See also: Global Partnership for Education 2021-2025

In 2020, AFD had €1.8 billion of ongoing financing under its management in the education, vocational training, higher education and employment sectors. It supports schooling for 2.4 million primary and secondary students and the projects AFD assisted in 2019 have enabled 124,000 learners to benefit from vocational and technical training.

AFD is a partner of the Ministry of Education

In France, AFD Group also wants to be a driving force in educational progress related to the ecological transition. “2022 will stand out as a year when AFD firmly positioned itself as a supporter of training and education in issues concerning the Sustainable Development Goals,” says Stéphanie Beney, Officer for Education Partnerships and Projects.

Through an agreement with France’s Ministry of Education, AFD provides teachers with educational materials that touch on issues related to the SDGs, with an eye to providing students with an understanding of the current and future global challenges, and the connections therein. 

“There is no specific discipline on ecology, but the subject of the SDGs is addressed in a transversal manner in several disciplines,” says Stéphanie Beney. “By educating young people in the SDGs, we also shape responsible citizens.”