Addressing Global Education Challenges

This is the final post in a six-part series featuring Dalberg’s contributions towards achieving the goals discussed at the 78th session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), held September 18 to 26, 2023.

According to UN Statistics, the COVID-19 pandemic has compounded the challenges to achieving quality education, as outlined in Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4. This has led to significant learning setbacks in 80% of countries. As of 2023, without further interventions, it is projected that only one in six countries will meet the universal secondary school completion goal by 2030. An estimated 84 million children and young individuals will continue to lack access to education, with around 300 million students struggling to acquire basic numeracy and literacy skills crucial for their future success. 

Addressing the gravity of this crisis necessitates a coordinated response. Throughout the 78th UNGA and within New York City, over 60 education-focused side events echoed the call for collaboration. There was a unanimous agreement on the need for an urgent response, involving both the public and private sectors in the sharing of resources and expertise, aligning with the 2030 education agenda. While acknowledging the importance of increased cooperation to achieve widespread impact, many argue that such efforts alone may prove insufficient. Innovative strategies to expedite the realization of these educational goals are deemed essential.  

Leveraging Innovative Finance for Education

Dalberg’s efforts to explore innovative financing methods, such as Development Impact Bonds, and promote cross-sector collaboration in education, particularly in India, reflect the urgency of mobilizing additional resources to bridge financing gaps. Their initiatives are in line with the call for more funding sources in education, essential to meet national targets. We designed and launched the first Development Impact Bond to improve the quality of primary school education in India and have expanded on this work with the UBS Optimus Foundation – Quality Education India Development Impact Bond, the largest results-based funding mechanism aimed at improving learning outcomes for around 200.000 students. According to the final results report, the Quality Education India Development Impact Bond managed to outperform its outcome targets over the last four years, helping to increase levels of learning despite the COVID-19 pandemic with students in the programme learning two-and-a-half times more than those in non-participating schools. 

Leveraging Technology’s Potential in Education

The evolution of educational technology (EdTech), particularly with the integration of artificial intelligence, represents a transformative shift in the educational landscape. During the UNGA, many highlighted the potential benefits of these solutions, which include personalized learning experiences, real-time feedback, and innovative teaching and learning methods promising to deliver quality education on a larger scale. However, it is crucial to approach this promising journey with caution and meticulous planning. 

Challenges, such as low levels of information and communications technology skills, limited connectivity, affordability issues and ineffective policy environments pose obstacles to the sustainability and scalability of EdTech innovations. Moreover, the limited evidence of what works in EdTech and what doesn’t, along with the gap between research and practice, presents challenges. Realizing the promise of EdTech necessitates increased collaboration among those funding, implementing, and researching these programs. 

To address some of the connectivity barriers, Dalberg has developed and tested new business models for delivering last-mile internet access, combining satellite and WiFi capabilities. This initiative, conducted in collaboration with public and private sector stakeholders, aims to provide access to relevant educational content for socioeconomic development. 

Gagandeep Nanda, an Associate Partner at Dalberg, highlights in a recent article precisely the inflection point we are currently witnessing with regard to EdTech. In its work, Dalberg has showcased how, during the COVID-19 pandemic in India, only the most privileged students from urban and private school students benefited from the EdTech boom of 2020-22. Considering the impact Artificial Intelligence is expected to have in India’s EdTech sector, it is important to balance the ways in which technology can make learning more adaptive, while also ensuring that it does not alienate rural and lower income students.

Leaving No-one Behind: Education during the Climate Crisis

Dalberg’s commitment to addressing the intersectionality between climate change and education is in alignment with the urgent concerns raised at the UNGA joint event co-hosted by COP28 Presidency and Dubai Cares. Recent events serve as stark reminders of this challenge, with floods in Pakistan damaging or destroying nearly 27,000 schools in the past year and similar devastation occurring in Libya with almost 300 schools affected. 

Regrettably, these catastrophic events are anticipated to persist due to climate change. As climate discussions continue in preparation for COP28, there is an urgent need to rally private sector resources and collaborate with the public sector to secure the essential funding and assistance for education in these crisis-stricken regions. This endeavor is of paramount importance to ensure that students whose education has been disrupted by climate-related catastrophes can swiftly return to school, and to uphold education as a priority, even in times of crisis. 

Dalberg reaffirms its commitment to innovative approaches and the coordination between private and public actors to implement scalable solutions in addressing global education challenges. This would allow for meaningful progress toward the 2030 goals for SDG4. 

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