Financing the recovery from COVID-19: Building education back better

Working paper


This working paper discusses the impacts of COVID-19 on public spending on education services in the Eastern and Southern Africa (ESA) region. In addition to projecting likely spending trends in 2020 and 2021, it offers insights on how education budgets can be safeguarded amidst competing priorities and in the face of fiscal austerity.

Key findings include:

  • Government spending on education in ESA is expected to fall by 7 per cent, on average, in 2020.
  • The education financing gap is predicted to expand by one third in the region compared to the pre-pandemic trajectory, which reflects lower government revenue as well as rising education costs.
  • As many governments have borrowed to offset funding shortfalls, rising debt burdens will further threaten investment in education across ESA in the absence of debt relief agreements.
  • Without massive external support, especially from international financial institutions (IFIs), the region’s pre-pandemic learning crisis will transform into a learning catastrophe, with severe long-term economic and development consequences.
  • COVID-19 has compounded pre-existing challenges in education spending in many ESA countries, which include inequitable allocation of resources, inefficient spending, and poor budget transparency and accountability.

The paper calls on governments and development partners to action on many fronts:

  • Position education at the center of national fiscal stimuli packages and annual budgets, alongside health, nutrition, social protection and WASH.
  • Improve the prioritization and allocative efficiency of budgets within the education sector to support immediate needs.
  • Ensure due attention to pre-primary education services in recovery plans.
  • Aggressively advocate for greater external financial support for education, especially from the IFIs, while also linking debt relief to greater spending on education.
  • Promote a holistic approach to investing in learning, which includes cash transfers and nutrition programs in addition to education.
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