Wendy Kopp is the co-founder and CEO of Teach For All and founder of Teach For America.
In countries all around the world, millions of dedicated professionals give their all every day to help children succeed and shape a brighter future for the next generation. Thanks to their efforts, remarkable progress in global education has been made over the past 15 years, especially around increasing enrollment and gender equity in primary school.
Expanding on that progress to meet the international community’s goal of achieving equitable and inclusive quality education for all by 2030 will require a tremendous effort to create the conditions for success in a variety of unique national contexts. It might seem obvious, but standing at the center of that effort must be thousands of individuals, deeply committed to children, working from a variety of vantage points to create and sustain progress.
It is key that we work toward improved and equitable outcomes to reach a day where all children, regardless of where they were born, can receive an education that empowers them to reach their full potential. We share a belief that, at the center of realizing this vision, are thousands of committed individuals, from teachers and school principals to policymakers, hailing from or intimately knowledgeable about the countries and communities where they seek to make change.
The importance of leadership in building and sustaining successful education systems is confirmed by several studies, although further research in this area is needed. An expansive 2010 McKinsey & Company report that analyzed 20 education systems, largely in developed countries, found that “leadership is essential not only in sparking reform but in sustaining it…improving systems actively cultivate the next generation of system leaders, ensuring a smooth transition of leadership and the longer-term continuity in reform goals.”
In short, improving learning system-wide begins with a constellation of leaders committed to transformational change. What are the main obstacles to developing greater numbers of leaders to work on behalf of children throughout and beyond education systems?
First, few intentional initiatives exist that seek to inspire, enlist and equip tomorrow’s champions for children, despite the fact that quality education is the foundation of a world that is more prosperous, peaceful and equitable than the one we currently inhabit. Teach For All network partners comprise one pipeline; across all partners that track this data, almost three-quarters of alumni are working in education or in support of lower-income and disadvantaged communities—as teachers, administrators, government officials, advocates and social entrepreneurs. But given the incredible distance so many education systems around the world still need to travel to deliver high-quality, equitable education to their citizens, intentional efforts to develop a diverse set leaders to guide that journey should be a top priority.
Second, levels of global investment in education aren’t commensurate with the task at hand—or aligned with the tremendous dividends that stronger education systems confer on the economy and civil society more broadly. From 2012 to 2014, multilateral, bilateral, and foundation investments in education in developing countries totaled $15 billion, compared to more than $25 billion devoted to global health. And education continues to receive one of the smallest proportions of requests for humanitarian aid—40% of what was requested in 2013, compared with 86% for the food sector and 57% for the health sector.
We have hope that this will soon change. For the last year, the International Education Commission on Financing Global Education Opportunity has been gathering evidence on how to support developing countries working to move the needle on education. The Commission has released a new report that lays out just how critical international financing is for low-income countries and calling for greater investments from multilateral organizations to close the gap. Utilizing just a fraction of funding to invest in innovative new ways to develop and support local leaders who are dedicated to improving opportunities for children could pay dividends far into the future.
We see so much potential for eliciting the leadership of tens of thousands of people around the world to dedicate their talents towards building a better future for children—whether it’s from in front of the class or in front of the parliament. In a time of global unrest, let’s look towards a more peaceful, prosperous future—and do all that we can to educate all our children well and equitably, so that we increase the odds we can make that future a reality.