“There is only one thing in the long run more expensive than education: no education.” This insight from John F. Kennedy is currently on a sad path to becoming a new reality. According to UN information, school lessons have been at least partially cancelled for around 90% of all children and young people due to the coronavirus pandemic. And that surely comes at a price. It is still too early to say exactly what effects interrupted schooling will have on their personal lives and on the societies in which they live. However, experts are already referring to a resulting “coronavirus generation” that is growing – or should rather not be forced to grow under such conditions. This is because education is an essential and critical element in the advancement of a country and the people who live there. In fact, there is no doubt that education establishes the very basis of development.
Only people who can read and write, only those who know how computers work, who can tap into new knowledge and communicate, will be able to navigate the world of the 21st century. This applies to industrial countries where digitalisation has already become established in nearly all areas of life. But it also applies to developing countries. That is precisely where part of the development potential lies in the use of new technologies, for example in the energy sector or in efficiency gains like those being made in agriculture. Without training and education, without lifelong learning, it will be impossible to manage these types of advancements in efficiency and technology.
But the advantages of education go far beyond economic benefits. For example, democracies need informed electorates of citizens who can independently find facts and build their own opinions. Only then can they fulfil their intended role and participate in political processes. And finally, people benefit from good training – indeed “Quality Education” as SDG 4 calls it – at a personal level. Because it opens doors to new opportunities: professionally and personally, alone and with others. The value of education can thus not be overstated. Conversely, when educational opportunities are forfeited, the material and non-material losses are significant.
Promoting education is a key area of German development cooperation. The overall portfolio amounts to around EUR 4.9 billion, which is spread over 230 projects. In 2021 alone, KfW has made a good EUR 919 million in new commitments, with quality education as a primary and secondary objective. More than 2.2 million children and young people will benefit from the measures, a good portion of them in crisis and conflict countries, where around one fifth of the new commitments will flow in 2021. In addition, with the total commitments from 2021, almost 37,000 people in vocational education and training will benefit from new or qualitatively improved education measures, of which a good 47% are girls and women.
They thus highlight KfW's view that education is invaluable in every situation and should not be neglected, especially when circumstances become difficult. The fact that there was and is no alternative in pandemic times should be viewed as an exception and only confirms the rule. The international community must continue to provide support in the coming months and years to ensure that we do not see a “lost generation” due to the coronavirus pandemic.