Uneven global education stimulus risks widening learning disparities

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, UNESCO has been monitoring government stimulus investments in education. In total, US$ 16 trillion was invested in fiscal stimulus worldwide. However, 97 per cent was concentrated in high-income countries, revealing the coverage gap between those countries with financial capacity and those without. The education and training sector represents only 2.9 per cent of this total global stimulus package amount. In light of these findings, UNESCO continues to advocate for prioritizing investments to education, not only as a human right, but also as a strategy for an efficient, effective, and sustainable economic recovery.

UNESCO’s new report builds on the findings published in October 2020 and March 2021 by offering updated survey responses, additional analysis, and concluding recommendations. Overall, valid survey responses were received from 70 countries and territories about how much funding went to education and training in national stimulus packages. First, the report investigates the uses of the education stimulus. Then, it presents the stimulus by level of education (e.g., basic, secondary, higher). Both analyses are broken down by country region and income level.

The survey responses reveal a few key trends: (1) investing in digital learning was a priority across regions and income groups, (2) secondary priorities varied regionally, from enhancing sanitation measures in Africa to supporting the most marginalized in Asia & the Pacific, and (3) of all sectors of education, Basic Education was prioritized worldwide. The worldwide prioritization of both digital learning and basic education could indicate a relationship between the two. Basic education may have needed extra financial support in expanding distance learning plans—such as the purchasing of devices, developing age-appropriate platforms, and training teachers and students to use technology for elementary level instruction—due to limited access and use of school-based ICT prior to the pandemic.

To prevent the widening of global learning gaps, made worse during the pandemic by digital divides that disproportionately affect lower income areas, UNESCO urges the international community to support countries with limited financial capacity to ensure equitable access to learning. Governments should see educational investments as a primary mechanism to ease crisis recovery by allocating additional funding to strengthening digital skills and pedagogies for teachers, hybrid modalities in higher education institutions and vocational training programmes, and to boost economic transformation overall.


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