The latest Education for All Global Monitoring Report, Youth and Skills: Putting Education to Work, asked whether aid to education had reached its peak. Recent news from Spain suggests that the reality could be even worse - that aid to education could be sliding backwards. This news could not come at a worse time: we have also recently reported that progress towards the six internationally-agreed education goals is stagnating with 61 million children out of school, just at a time when a final push is needed to achieve the goals by 2015.
According to the European NGO, Concord, the Spanish government will be cutting 300 million euros from next year's budget. This will sink Spain's overseas development assistance (ODA) to its 1981 levels. What is understandable is that the country cannot escape from the need to implement austerity measures with a sharp economic downturn snapping at its heels. What is less understandable is that it is not looking at the most effective way to spend its remaining funds, and the cuts risk hurting those the most in need. The cuts are affecting the country's aid budget more than other sectors within the country, moving it even further away from the international commitment of DAC donors spending 0.7 per cent of GNI.
The recent announcement of reductions in aid from 2013-2016 is on top of Spain's reduction in its ODA budget between 2010 and 2011 which was already far bigger than other OECD-DAC donors. The cut between 2010 and 2011 resulted in it dropping its overall aid from 0.43 per cent of its GNI to just 0.29 per cent.
"While Spain plans to cut its aid to Bangladesh, where there are millions of children out of school, it is planning to continue giving aid to Equatorial Guinea, where there are only 43,000 children out of school."
There are very real implications of Spain's planned cuts for 2013-16 for the future of children and young people in some of the poorest countries in the world. Having previously been in the top 10 biggest donors to both basic education and education overall, we estimate the cuts will push Spain down to 16th and 17th place respectively between 2010 and 2013, assuming other donors maintain their commitments at the current level. We estimate that its aid to basic education will be reduced almost three-fold between 2008 and 2013, from $246m in 2008 to just $94m in 2013.
In recent years, Spain has also begun to play a greater role in the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) which plays a vital role in supporting education in low income countries. But its aid cuts appear to be having a strong impact on its support. Over the period 2004-2010, Spain made contributions equivalent to 16 per cent of the GPE education fund. Their pledge for 2011-2014, however, has been significantly reduced, leaving them contributing just 2 per cent of the GPE education fund. This will leave Spain playing a minor part in the GPE, having been the third biggest donor, after the Netherlands and the UK.
It is not only about the amount of aid that Spain will be giving, but also the countries that this aid is targeted to reach. By the end of 2016, reports suggest that Spain plans to cut back its aid to 29 of the 50 countries that it currently supports. Seven low income countries that are most in need are amongst these: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Cambodia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Gambia, Guinea Bissau and Guinea.
The Global Monitoring Report team identifies the impact that these cuts would have on these seven low-income countries in terms of the number of school children whose primary school education was being paid for by their aid. We find that the reduction in aid could mean that around 97,000 children will no longer have the chance to go to school thanks to Spain's support.
To take one example, Spain spends US $5.1m on basic education in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. This would have had the potential to fund the education of 83,015 primary school children in the country.
Of the 21 countries that have survived Spain's cuts, only around a quarter are low income. While Spain plans to cut its aid to Bangladesh, for example, where there are millions of children out of school due to poverty, is is planning to continue giving aid to a high income country, Equatorial Guinea, where there are only 43,000 children out of school.
It is vital that aid donors keep to their promises that no country will be left behind in achieving education goals due to lack of resources, ensuring that they protect the poorest countries from the impact of austerity measures as much as possible.
Pauline Rose is the Director of the Global Monitoring Report on Education published by UNESCO.
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.