Recipients of Presidential Medal of Freedom Urge Obama to Create Global Fund for Education

August 11, 2009

July 2009 — What do a banker to the poor, a former president, and a religious leader have in common? They are among the first recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama — and they have all called for the creation of a Global Fund for Education.

On June 30, 2009, in advance of the annual Group of Eight (G8) Summit, Muhammad Yunus, Mary Robinson, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, called on President Barack Obama and other G8 leaders to create a Global Fund for Education by the end of 2009. They wrote:

We, the undersigned, are writing to implore the leaders of the world’s richest countries to renew their commitment to the children of the world by revitalizing the global compact on Education for All. At this year’s G8, we urge those same leaders to announce an agreement to launch a fully resourced Global Fund for Education.

While the leaders of the G8 — the eight most powerful countries in the world — did reaffirm their commitment to education and agreed to raise over 1 billion dollars among them to support basic education in the developing world, their financial commitment is far short of the $16 billion that is needed to achieve universal education this year alone.

President Obama should heed the call to action by these global moral leaders, and create a multilateral Global Fund for Education with the $2 billion contribution that he promised during his presidential campaign. Doing so would provide hope and education to the 75 million primary school age children around the world are not in school, of which 40 million are in conflict affected and fragile states such as Somalia, Sudan, Uganda, Afghanistan and Pakistan. In countries like these, children are the ‘last milers:’ literally the hardest to reach, with the most difficult circumstances and the biggest obstacles to going to school. Therefore, the second goal of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) — eight internationally agreed-upon goals from the year 2000 that serve as the blueprint for cutting extreme poverty in half by the year 2015 — will not be achieved if President Obama does not make good on his promise to create a Global Fund for Education to reach those hardest to reach children.

Muhammad Yunus, Mary Robinson, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu are all being honored by the president for “breaking down barriers and lifting up their fellow citizens.”[1] Despite the fact that each honoree has “lifted up their fellow citizens” through different means, each recognizes the effectiveness of universal Basic Education. They recognize that is it has the potential to stimulate economic growth, reduce conflict and prevent violence, improve governance and health, and provide hope to children who would otherwise face a lifetime of vulnerability.

Parents and their children living in poverty already know the value of an education — when public primary school fees were eliminated in Kenya, more than a million additional children came into school almost overnight. In conflict-affected areas, school is not only a way out, but often one of the only sources of stability for children whose lives have been torn apart. Valentino Achak Deng, whose life as a child from war-torn southern Sudan is the subject of Dave Eggers’s book What Is the What, has made it a priority of his foundation to rebuild war-affected southern Sudanese communities through increasing access to school. In Afghanistan, where girls are being forced out of school due to violent attacks.many girls and their families bravely continue their studies despite the threat of retaliation. We must act in solidarity with families around the world to make it possible for all children to access a quality education.

In his campaign, Barack Obama offered a vision of hope not just for the United States but for the world. By creating a Global Fund for Education, he has the chance to deliver on a promise that will have resounding impact not only on children overseas, but on America’s legacy for generations to come. Educations’ Impact on Women

Education is a basic human right and a significant factor in the healthy development of children, communities, and countries. Especially in this difficult economic climate, investing in education is critical to mitigating the impacts of the economic crisis on the poorest and to preventing a reversal in the progress we’ve made on achieving all of the MDGs. As part of his historic Cairo address, President Barack Obama raised the hopes of millions of women around the world by highlighting how educating women can change the economic future of nations and promote equality. He said, “I do believe that a woman who is denied an education is denied equality . . . countries where women are well-educated are far more likely to be prosperous.”

Particularly for women and girls, the economic and personal empowerment that education provides allows them to make healthier choices for themselves and their families: on average, for a girl in a poor country, each additional year of education beyond grades three or four will lead to 20 percent higher wages and a 10 percent decrease in the risk of her own children dying of preventable causes.[2] The ability of girls to avoid HIV infection is so strongly associated with attendance at school that education is known as a “social vaccine” against the virus. A study in Zambia found that AIDS spread twice as fast among uneducated girls as among educated girls. A study in Uganda showed that rural Ugandans with secondary education have a 75 percent lower rate of HIV infection than those with no education.

Why we need a Global Fund for Education

Almost 10 years after the world committed to achieving Education for All through the MDGs, and assistance has been provide to many poor nations to create bold national education plans, progress is stagnating and the economic crisis threatens to push millions more children out of school. At the same time, donor commitments to education have leveled off just when a massive investment to enact these bold national education plans is required to combat the enduring impact of the global recession. Total donor contributions to basic education are, on average, only $4 billion a year — far short of the $16 billion needed annually to achieve universal basic education.

Many poor countries with bold national education plans do not have the full resources needed to implement those plans — despite providing 70–80 percent of the costs to enact the plan they are unable to reach the hardest to reach kids who are the most vultnerable. Current aid delivery mechanisms are failing to reach the 40 million children who are out of school in conflict affected and fragile states, and a new and improved aid architecture could both scale up levels of aid and ensure these resources are getting to the countries most in need. The Global Fund for Education should be a multilateral (many countries involved), multi-donor mechanism to increase global commitment and funding for the achievement of universal basic education. This fund should be based on principles of:

  • Open and transparent funding decisions;
  • Accountability for measurable achievements in education access and quality;
  • Participation by donor and developing countries governments, as well as local communities and other stakeholders;
  • Effective aid that prioritizes strong national education plans that reach the most vulnerable with quality, basic education.

Current global education statistics:

According to UNESCO’s Global Monitoring Report, an estimated 75 million primary-aged children are not in school:

  • 55 percent of these children are girls.
  • Three-quarters of these children live in sub-Saharan Africa and South and West Asia.
  • More than half (40 million) lives in conflict-affected countries or post-conflict states — with education crucial to providing stability and rebuilding lives and societies.
  • Tens of millions more children drop out of school before grade five because schools are overcrowded, unsafe, poorly equipped, poorly managed, and have a major shortfall of qualified teachers.
  • If current trends continue, 58 out of the 86 countries that have not yet achieved universal primary enrollment will fail to do so by 2015.

Comments on the Global Fund for Education

Above all, we must do our part to see that all children have the basic right to learn. There is nothing more disappointing than a child denied the hope that comes with going to school, and there is nothing more dangerous than a child who is taught to distrust and then to destroy.

That’s why the third commitment I’ll make is working to erase the global primary education gap by 2015. Every child — every boy, and every girl — should have the ability to go to school. To ensure that our nation does its part to meet that goal, we need to establish a two billion dollar Global Education Fund.

— President Barack Obama

[President Obama] supports a global education fund to bolster secular education around the world. I want to emphasize the importance to us of this bottom-up approach . . . and I believe in this so strongly. Investing in our common humanity through social development is not marginal to our foreign policy but essential to the realization of our goals.

— Secretary Of State Hillary Clinton

Both President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton have stated a bold commitment to launching a Global Fund for Education. As this global financial crisis disproportionately impacts the poorest people in the poorest nations, we urgently need the administration to follow through on its promise to move forward on this Global Fund for Education. Enabling low-income countries to provide at least a basic education for all of their children would have enormous benefits in breaking the cycle or inter-generational poverty, promoting health and prosperity and building peace and stability.

— Joanne Carter, executive director of RESULTS Educational Fund

During war, people are not able to go to school because there’s no safety and school that was once a place of safety is no longer. Then, after the war’s end, one of the holistic parts of recovery is actually being able to have access to education, being able to go to school again, to relearn about yourself, your role in this society and the world, and what you can do. And, it’s only education that provides you a window to that.

In my opinion, I always say to people that for me, education has become a way for me to relearn about myself as a human being, to relearn I wasn’t only capable of violence, but that I’m capable of other things. That I can use my own mind to benefit other people, that I am able to think deeply about my own country and my own community. So I think education is absolutely necessary for every society, particularly for the youth of every society.

— Ishmael Beah, former Sierra Leonean child soldier, and New York Times best selling author of A Long Way Gone, Memoirs of a Boy Soldier.

I live in a country which is not affected by conflict, but it is a country that is being ravaged by the HIV and AIDS pandemic. We have 1000 deaths a day happening and you can imagine the number of children who are left without at least one parent and where children have lost both of their parents. And these orphans, these vulnerable children are the ones most likely to be excluded from accessing a safe and quality basic education. And so we call on the G8 to support President Obama, as we call on him to fulfill the undertaking he made during his campaigning for president to set up this Global Fund for Education and call on his colleagues, especially the British Prime Minister, to join in giving the world’s children real new hope that a better life is available for them.

— Archbishop Desmond Tutu



[2] What Works in Girls’ Education. Barbara Herz and Gene B. Sperling, Senior Fellow for Economic Policy and Director of the Center for Universal Education. April 2004.

Explore Related Articles

Stay in action and up-to-date.
Get our Weekly Updates!

This site uses cookies to help personalize content, tailor your experience and to keep you logged in if you register. By continuing to use this site, you consent to our cookies.