Education is a basic human right. It is key for tackling today’s most pressing global challenges and achieving all of the Sustainable Development Goals.
Although access to education and gender parity have improved over recent decades, substantial gaps remain when it comes to ensuring the right to education for all.
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a global learning crisis. It is estimated that 617 million children between the ages of 6-14 are unable to achieve minimum proficiency levels in reading, and adolescents are failing to develop the skills needed for the 21st century.
Impact of COVID-19
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused unprecedented disruption to learning, with school closures affecting over 1.5 billion students across 190 countries. The crisis has also deepened existing inequalities in education, disproportionately affecting the most vulnerable and marginalised children.
Since the beginning of the crisis, the EU has been working with partner countries to minimise the impact of the pandemic on learning and the well-being of children, and to facilitate the safe return to school. At country level, the EU has been working through Local Education Groups to develop COVID-19 response plans. Where possible, EU education cooperation programmes were adapted to help governments under heavy financial pressure from the COVID-19 crisis to ensure delivery of education services, distance learning, curriculum adaptation and support to teachers.
Our action is driven by the European Consensus on Development, which is aligned to the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. In line with our partner countries’ own policies and plans for education development and the EU’s commitments towards equity and equality, our programmes help reduce barriers in access to quality education - including for girls, the poorest children or children with disabilities - and promote the building of skills.
Under the leadership of EU Commissioner Jutta Urpilainen, we will further increase our investment in education over the 2021-2028 programming cycle, helping deliver on our commitments across our political priorities.
- Green Deal: Education is central to addressing the causes and impact of climate change.
- Sustainable growth and jobs: Foundational literacy, numeracy and soft skills provided at school are critical for future learning, better adaptation to 21st century skills and employability.
- Digitalisation: Education can unlock the potential of digital technology.
- Migration and forced displacement: Education is crucial for the well-being and future opportunities of children on the move.
- Governance, peace and security: Conflict sensitive and equitable education fosters peace and stability.
There will be no economic growth, human development and equality without education. We will need 21st century graduates. They will take on jobs that do not exist yet. They will tackle crises that we cannot foresee. And they will lead their societies towards sustainable, peaceful and prosperous futures.
Commissioner Jutta Urpilainen
Taking into account the current global learning crisis, our support focuses on ensuring quality education, equality and equity, and on matching skills and jobs.
Investing in quality teachers
Well-trained and motivated teachers are the driving force for transformational change at all levels of education, from early childhood to vocational and higher education.
Investing in equality
Education is one of the most effective ways to tackle increasing inequalities, and everyone’s right to a quality education must be guaranteed through inclusive and equitable education systems. Promoting girls’ education and leveraging the potential of digital innovations to promote inclusion are a priority.
Investing in skills for the future
About 65% of children entering primary school today will end up working in a job that does not yet exist. Equipping young people with skills needed for the future world of work, and to respond to global challenges, is therefore an urgent priority. Vocational education and training, and higher education institutions therefore have a critical role in preparing the professionals, business leaders and decision-makers of tomorrow for the green and the digital transformation.
As such, our development programmes in the field of education promote:
- a comprehensive approach to the sector, from early childhood to tertiary education with a focus on competencies for the future - early childhood and primary education are the foundation for further learning and skills development
- the strengthening of education systems and capacities at national or regional levels - strong systems deliver quality education and build bridges with the world of work
- everyone’s right to education, no matter their gender, socioeconomic situation, learning impairment, disability, geographical location, language, ethnicity, sexual orientation etc.
- a stronger focus on addressing the learning crisis and teacher deficit - children need to be able to learn in a safe environment, with well-trained and motivated teachers and school leaders
- an increasing support to education and training in emergencies and protracted crises, with a specific focus on gender and displacement
We also aim to strengthen links with other sectors with an impact on education. Interventions in health, nutrition, and social protection have an impact on access and learning, particularly for vulnerable children, and the quality of public administration and financial management is key to the broader performance and delivery of education.
Thanks to different funding instruments, the EU supports education in approximately 100 countries, in the neighbourhood and beyond. Partner countries benefit from bilateral cooperation, regional funding, e.g. for Erasmus+ actions, and global funds such as the Global Partnership for Education and Education Cannot Wait. We respond to educational needs and adjust our support to the context, in partnership and coordination with partner governments, EU member states, international agencies, civil society and the private sector.
At national level, EU support is aligned with our partner countries’ own sector policy priorities and plans. We actively take part in education sector coordination groups and forums for policy dialogue. Our support for education is usually composed of several programmes or projects implemented through complementary modalities, designed to support improved management of the education system, and delivery of better teaching and learning in schools.
At regional level, we finance higher education programmes, such as Erasmus+ and the Pan African Programme which provide grants to individuals and organisations in the field of education training, youth, and sports, to encourage mobility, collaboration, and partnerships. The €100 million Regional Teachers’ Initiative in Africa aims to accelerate teachers' training, responding to the need for 15 million new qualified teachers for Africa by 2030. This flagship initiative under the EU–Africa Global Gateway Investment Package will contribute to regional and national objectives by supporting and complementing national education and teacher reforms, offer opportunities for cross-country collaboration, partnerships, and peer learning in the region and with Europe.
EU Trust Funds are set up to respond to specific regional situations include the EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa or the EU Regional Trust Fund in Response to the Syrian crisis. Jointly funded by the EU, its member countries, and other development actors, they work directly with our partner countries’ local and national authorities and civil society to support vulnerable populations.
Global education initiatives
We actively contribute to global initiatives that promote policy dialogue and help to address financing needs in the education sector, such as:
- The Global Partnership for Education (GPE): GPE is a multi-stakeholder partnership and funding platform that aims to strengthen education systems in developing countries. The EU alone contributes €475 Million, which represents 16% of total GPE funding. Together with its member states, it provides 51% of total GPE funding. Between 2015 and 2018, GPE supported nearly 25 million children in partner countries.
- Education Cannot Wait (ECW): The EU contributes €27.5 million to ECW, a fund dedicated to education in emergencies and protracted crises. The EU and its member states provide around 40% of the total ECW funding. The EU is also an active member of its high-level steering group. Launched in 2016, ECW has already reached 3.4 million of the most vulnerable and hard-to-reach children and adolescents in crisis-affected countries.