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Jim Kim, World Bank Chief and Former Dartmouth President, Wants to Cut Global Education Funding

Editor's note: This article is by Daniel Bornstein and Yesha Maniar

When Jim Yong Kim was president of Dartmouth, he would never miss an opportunity to remind students that “the world’s troubles are your troubles,” borrowing a line from the revered former college president John Sloan Dickey. Now as president of the World Bank, Kim has the chance to broadcast, to the world stage, his ideas on how education can foster leaders capable of tackling the most daunting challenges. But the Bank’s proposed cuts to basic education call into question whether Kim will truly get to deliver that message.

The World Bank has begun to renege on its promise in 2010 to boost funding for global education by $750 million by 2015. This would have been a 40% increase in funding from the last five years and would have brought the total amount of funding towards education to $6.8 billion from 2011 to 2015. Yet instead of adding to the funding provided in 2010 as promised, the Bank plans to add to the average of the funding provided over the past 11 years. The funding provided in 2010 was $1.2 billion, while the average over the past 11 years is $742 million. So the World Bank would actually decrease funding for global education by 9% from the past five years, while still “adhering” to its pledge. The slowed growth in net enrollment of children in primary school education would be sustained or stagnated.

In the past 10 years, the World Bank lending for education to some of the poorest countries in sub-Saharan Africa dropped by 57%. This is a troubling statistic, and puts the Millennium Development Goal to “achieve universal primary education” in jeopardy. According to the United Nations Development Program, the net enrollment of children in primary school education has increased from 82% to 90% from 1999 to 2010, but this increase has mainly occurred from 1999 – 2004 and has slowed since then.

Education is a critical component in building human capacity and eradicating poverty — something that Dr. Kim knows better than anyone else, for throughout his career he has had a leading role in efforts that revolved around the link between human capacity and development. He is the co-founder of Partners in Health, which works on health systems strengthening in developing countries. As director of the World Health Organization’s HIV/AIDS department, he developed the “3x5” initiative aimed at putting 3 million people in poor countries on AIDS treatment by 2005.

Significant cuts to basic education threaten to undermine any long-term efforts to produce the leaders who will tackle development challenges in their own countries; if they don’t have access to the earliest levels of education, they’re obviously not going to be able to go on to earn a university degree. One particular example from the 1960s helps illuminate how donor support for education can have a transformative effect. As India was on the brink of starvation, the U.S. Agency for International Development facilitated partnerships between six U.S. land-grant universities and nine agricultural universities in India, whose leaders realized that their nation’s education system was not yet equipped to tackle the agricultural issues facing the country. Through the partnerships, Indian university faculty received training at U.S. partner schools, U.S. professors worked on improving the teaching and research capabilities in Indian agricultural universities, and both deepened their knowledge of the challenges they faced and the solutions they sought. Ultimately India’s agricultural universities developed and deployed the high-yielding crop varieties that were the hallmark of the so-called “Green Revolution” that dramatically boosted food output.

It is success stories like this that remind us that we cannot take education for granted, and that show us how investments in basic education can provide a foundation for other educational initiatives down the road.

There’s little doubt that the U.S. is the global leader in higher education, which is why the brightest minds from all over the world come to study here. When Kim became president of Dartmouth, the college community was abuzz about his potential to boost Dartmouth’s reputation in all corners of the globe, hopefully attracting students from foreign countries that had barely heard of the school. Well, Dr. Kim, if the World Bank cuts its funding for education, you can forget about some of those students going to college in the U.S. — they may never even graduate from elementary school.

Daniel Bornstein and Yesha Maniar are on the leadership board of the Dartmouth Coalition for Global Health and are members of the RESULTS advocacy network. 

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