Former U.K. Prime Minister Gordon Brown
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Former U.K. Prime Minister Gordon Brown is urging nations to make major investments in education to bridge a widening global inequality gap created by the coronavirus crisis.
“Financing education has got to be taken seriously,” said Brown, a UN special envoy for global education who served as the British leader from 2007 to 2010.
“A human tragedy is unfolding if we do nothing and leave education completely underfunded,” he warned, saying “hope will die” if poorer nations aren’t able to address education investment as part of their coronavirus crisis response.
The United Nations has described the disruption from Covid-19 on education as “unparalleled” and experts fear that low and middle income countries with meager education budgets won’t have the resources to meet the needs of their students.
”As well as persuading countries that they cannot build for a long-term future without investing in education, we have to remind them that education unlocks opportunities for employment,” Brown added.
The former prime minister was addressing a web forum hosted by the World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE) entitled “Education Disrupted, Education Reimagined.”
Debt relief key
As the pandemic tilts the balance of risks for the global economy to the downside, forcing governments to combat funding challenges with fewer fiscal resources, Brown believes debt relief for the poorest countries will be critical in enabling investment into education and health.
“Eighty billion has got to be spent in debt servicing payments over the next 18 months in the 76 poorest countries of the world,” he said, referring to lower and middle income countries supported by the International Development Association (IDA) where 80% of the world’s children call home.
“Instead of charging debt servicing payments, let us let the poorest countries have that money for education and health now,” he said. “It is probably the quickest way we can get more money into education as well as health,” he added.
No specific countries were named. However, Brown has previously said private sector creditors, and nations like China — a major provider of investment funds and holder of bilateral debt — will be critical in advancing the debt relief proposal.
“China’s decision to be a long-term provider of funds for investment in developing economies has been welcome, and its spending has speeded the development of important infrastructure. Now is the time for China to play a leadership role with other creditors by waiving its debt repayments this year and next,” he said in a Project Syndicate opinion piece in April published with former U.S. Treasury Secretary Larry Summers.
Brown also serves as chair of the U.K. Education Commission, a global initiative that advocates for reform and increased investment in education. It suggests money could be directed toward grants to help parents with school fees, support school feeding programs, upskilling teachers and new technology, among other things.
Countries already applying for debt suspension
The G-20 has already received 41 applications for reprieve, 26 of which are from African countries, the G-20 secretariat said in a statement on Friday.
The G-20 nations agreed in April to a time-bound suspension of debt service payments for eligible countries as part of its Debt Service Suspension Initiative (DSSI). The initiative stands to benefit at least 73 eligible countries to alleviate the economic impact of the pandemic.
“We are encouraged by the increasing number of applicants benefiting from the historic G-20 Debt Service Suspension Initiative, with 41 countries having applied to date. This initiative ensures mobilizing critical resources toward mitigating the pandemic’s consequences,” said Bandr Alhomaly, policy lead for Saudi Arabia’s G-20 International Financial Architecture Working Group.