It is exciting to see how the 57 IsDB Member Countries, spread across four continents, are striving to build a future that blends a purposeful embrace of cutting-edge technologies with the rich heritage of Islam, situating them as a vibrant source of education and culture.
Many IsDB member countries are scaling up investments in education, fully cognizant of the fact that a well-educated and properly skilled workforce is vital towards diversifying their economies and fostering peaceful and prosperous societies. Saudi Arabia's Vision 2030, for example, includes a specific human capital program focused on building basic and advanced skills to better prepare today's youth for the jobs of the future.
Combining this appreciation of education's central role in society with their financial strength and tradition of generosity, the Gulf states can partner with lower-income Bank member countries to invest more in education, thereby accelerating their development and helping them better cope with future global crises.
This partnership is vitally needed at a time when the lower-income member countries are facing intense educational crisis – a crisis that has been exacerbated by the Covid 19 pandemic. Before the pandemic, around half of the world's 10-year-olds already struggled to read and comprehend a basic story. Today, it is estimated that this level is closer to 70 percent.
The gap between the skills that children need to thrive and what they develop now risks widening dramatically, with dire consequences for global economic growth, human capital development, and socio-political stability.
It has been estimated that today's generation stands to lose $17 trillion in future lifetime earnings because of interrupted learning during the recent pandemic and compounded crisis. The world simply cannot afford a loss of that magnitude when it should instead be doing all it can to secure a more stable, safe, and prosperous future.
Given rising interest rates and public debt burdens, lower-income countries need new education financing options, or they risk having to trim education budgets at a time when all countries should be boosting them instead.
In partnership with the Islamic Development Bank (IsDB) and the Global Partnership for Education (GPE), the Gulf member states can draw on their innovation potential and financial resources to help leverage investment in schooling in lower-income countries, blending public and private funding for education where it is needed the most.
IsDB support has targeted improving learning outcomes, skills, and education training, especially for women and young people in rural areas. GPE's aim is to bring together donors, foundations, businesses, and international agencies, focusing their expertise and financial strength on the education needs of lower-income countries. In 2022 alone, GPE grants benefited 107 million students and helped train 675,000 teachers.
Through innovative approaches like the Multiplier Grant, GPE investments catalyzed another $1 billion in additional financing from development agencies and philanthropic foundations in 2022, crowding in more financing for education globally.
Donor countries and institutions across the Gulf can join IsDB and GPE in driving levels of blended financing higher, so that lower-income countries can transform entire education systems.
Saudi Arabia and Kuwait have already shown their willingness to be more actively involved by becoming new GPE donor countries, setting a foundation for future collaboration and investment.
At this week’s IsDB annual meetings in Jeddah, we will celebrate the first financing allocations made by the Arab Co-ordination Group (ACG) Smart Education Financing Initiative (SmartEd).
ACG, which includes IsDB as a member, is providing $400 million in total financial investments alongside $100 million from the GPE Multiplier - a GPE fund that leverages grants to attract financing from other donors. SmartEd funding is available to 37 eligible IsDB member countries, which collectively are home to nearly 28 million out-of-school children.
We are pleased to announce that Cameroon, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan will be the first countries to access this initiative, accessing $280 million between them.
The world now needs more partnerships like the one between the ACG members and GPE, to ensure that any nation seeking to invest more in education will receive the amount and type of funding it needs, to enable more girls and boys access and develop their learning opportunities.
Gulf countries have used education to help transform their societies into prosperous and generous nations, and to place them now in a position to step up their support for schooling at a critical moment.
We hope that others in the IsDB common constituency with GPE will follow some of the prominent countries in the GCC region in investing more in education, to give all girls and boys everywhere the skills to match the demands of a rapidly changing and ever more complex future.
By H.E. Dr. Mohammad Al Jasser, President of the Islamic Development Bank
Dr. Laura Frigenti, Chief Executive Officer of the Global Partnership for Education