Sub-Saharan Africa which is one of the regions furthest away from reaching the Education for All (EFA) goals by 2015 is likely to suffer more if the United Kingdom (UK) cuts back on its education aid as a bilateral donor.
Also, loans from multilateral institutions like the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank for basic education are likely to dwindle than what was disbursed from 2008 to 2009 in response to the financial crisis.
A report released this month by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) -Education for All Global Monitoring Report analyzing trends in aid to education, said changes in spending patterns by different aid donors could hold back progress towards EFA for the world's poorest countries.
UNESCO says even though disbursements of aid to education increased by around one-fifth from 2008 to 2009 to reach $5.6 billion, only around $3 billion went to the poorest countries.
The biggest driver of the increase in bilateral support was the UK, contributing around one-quarter of the additional funding.
"The increase of $1 billion for aid to basic education is the largest since 2002 after a worrying stagnation of disbursements in 2008; the increase is a welcome development. Aid to basic education continues to comprise around 40 per cent of total aid to education. Yet, of the $5.6 billion in aid to basic education, only around $3 billion went to the poorest countries. These countries need $16 billion a year to achieve the EFA goals by 2015, leaving a large deficit of about $13 billion," the report said.
The IMF doubled its lending to poor countries from 2008 to 2009, contributing an estimated 15 per cent of the increase in total aid to basic education while the World Bank's increase in lending to basic education in the same period was responsible for over one-third of the observed aid increase. However, IMF disbursements in 2010 are anticipated to be only around one-half of their amounts in 2009.
There are real dangers that the positive trend will not be sustained, as some key donors are under pressure to reduce their funding to education. Spain continues to face significant domestic pressure to reduce its aid budget. The Netherlands' new development aid policy means that their aid will focus on four priority sectors: security and legal order, water, food security and sexual and reproductive health and rights. The expectation is therefore that most Dutch aid will gradually be withdrawn from the education sector. While the United States increased its aid to basic education in 2009, current plans to cut the federal budget are expected to put foreign aid under severe pressure.
If Dutch and US funding is cut as feared, the poorest countries, which have been beneficiaries of their aid, are likely to suffer the most. This is particularly serious, as funding from these two donors has comprised around one-fifth of aid to basic education since 2002.
Recent increases in aid support have helped reduce the number of children out of school, but experience shows that overdependence on a small number of donors can jeopardize such gains. Aid to basic education, in other words, is not only vastly insufficient but also dangerously fragile.