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Overview of Australia's assistance for education

2020-21 total Australian ODA [budget estimate]
$560.3 million

* Australia’s development efforts are set out in Partnerships for Recovery: Australia’s COVID-19 Development Response.

Education enables development and is crucial to helping people overcome poverty. Australia and its neighbours benefit from aid program investments in education which support human development, economic growth and stability across the region.

Australia's approach is outlined in the Strategy for Australia's aid investments in education 2015-2020.

This strategy guides our official aid expenditure in education, and supports our program teams to make informed investment choices in this sector.

Australia's investments in education enable children, particularly girls and children with a disability, to gain the skills they need to obtain work or go on to further study and to lead productive lives. Australia's education investments in the Indo-Pacific include:

  • supporting teacher training, curriculum reform and improved learning assessment;
  • increasing opportunities for girls to learn;
  • supporting inclusion of children with a disability in education;
  • supporting technical education, skills development and training aligned with labour market needs;
  • supporting regional stability through increased access to education in conflict-affected areas;
  • constructing and improving education infrastructure in disadvantaged regions;
  • investing in innovative approaches and research with the private sector and civil society to improve access, reach and the quality of education; and
  • strengthening the management and accountability of education policies and systems, to ensure the sustainability of our investments.

In addition, Australia Awards scholarships and fellowships support emerging leaders from developing countries to study in Australia or within their region, build people-to-people links and return home to contribute to economic and social development. While not part of Australia's Official Development Assistance, the New Colombo Plan, a foreign policy initiative of the Australian Government, is enabling more Australian students to study in the region and contribute to deep and lasting ties between Australia and partner countries.

Why we give aid

Significant progress has been made in universal primary education since 1999. Globally, the number of children out of primary school has fallen from 108 million to 64 million. Approximately 22.4 million are in Asia and the Pacific.

Education quality is a pressing concern. As many as 387 million children of primary school age did not reach the minimum proficiency level in reading [1]. Without basic literacy and numeracy, the return on years of schooling to a child is negligible. This urgent need for quality education is highlighted by Sustainable Development Goal 4 of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Exclusion from school in the early years impacts upon basic education completion and the transition to technical and vocational education and training, higher education and skilled work. Education inequalities reinforce labour market inequalities in and between countries.

Formal education during the adolescent years is the most effective base for learning and skills development. Many of Australia's partner countries have large and growing youth populations, and in an age where skills are increasingly important for employment, job security and a better income, improving education quality is an imperative.

Conflict robs many children of the opportunity of schooling. Estimates suggest about 4 million 5-17 year old refugees were out of school in 2017[1]. This has increased since 2000. In those conflict affected countries, skills development is critical to help young people gain employment and escape economic despair so that they can be productive and contribute to peace-building processes in their country.

How we give aid

Australia's investments in education primarily focus on supporting changes to the systems and policies that deliver better education in our region. The Strategy for Australia's aid investments in education 2015-2020 sets out how the Australian Government works with partner countries to help them deliver comprehensive and high-quality education services.

Australia's aid investments are guided by best international practice and respond to the context in which they are delivered. Australia will:

  • Invest in early childhood care and development, which has been shown to deliver high returns, particularly for the poorest and most marginalised children.
  • Invest in quality at all levels of the education system, because it is what students know and can do that matters for poverty reduction and economic growth.
  • Prioritise equity, with a particular focus on gender and disability inclusiveness, because fairer education systems are also the most effective.
  • Align education and skills with labour market needs, through investing in relevant and high-quality secondary and post-secondary education.

Australia works in partnership with trusted organisations and experts to ensure that our aid investments are based on evidence and to enable those investments to reach more people. We select these delivery partners based on an assessment of their comparative advantage and demonstrated strength in the country/region and area of focus.

In accordance with DFAT's private sector engagement strategy, Australia's aid program is increasingly working with the private sector, acknowledging and encouraging their interests in better education outcomes.

Australian aid supports the Global Partnership for Education to advocate for better education systems in 65 countries. For more information, please see our Health, education and environment funds page.

Australia is a contributor to the Education Cannot Wait (ECW) fund. ECW aims to transform the delivery of education in emergencies by linking governments, humanitarian actors and development efforts.

We work with the UNESCO Institute for Statistics and the Australian Council for Educational Research to capture data that tracks education progress in our partner countries. Australia has also teamed up with the United States Agency for International Development and World Vision to deliver the All Children Reading Grand Challenge for Development – a global grant competition funding technology-based innovations that could transform the way children learn to read.

In 2017-18, Australia's aid assisted approximately over 880,000 additional girls and boys to enrol in school; over 50,000 teachers to receive training and more than 4,600 women and men to gain recognised post-secondary qualifications.

[1] Global Education Monitoring Report 2019 – Migration, displacement and education
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