Acton Commentary

Grading America's Giving: Global Action Week for Education


Hundreds of thousands of activists, in 110 countries, are participating in Global Action Week for Education April 24-30. Oxfam, a prominent human rights advocacy organization, has unfortunately chosen to support the misleading “F” grade given to the United States by the Global Campaign for Education (GCE). Oxfam and the GCE are fooling the world into believing that America is not contributing significantly toward the goal of educating the 100 million children around the globe who are currently not in school. This apparent attempt at guilt manipulation is wrongheaded.

Providing training and formation for children is an obligation widely recognized among people of all religious and political persuasions. A child will only be able to live in reasonable comfort if he or she is given the tools adequate to gain decent employment. Cultivation of the mind and moral instruction, moreover, regardless of their utilitarian value, speak to the deepest desires present in every human being.

To recognize this responsibility, however, is not necessarily to agree on a means to fulfill it. The United States was given an “F” because its government is not giving 0.7 percent of its $2 trillion gross national income (GNI), to various countries and groups focusing on education. The 0.7 percent benchmark, arbitrarily set by the World Bank, also puts Japan, Germany, Italy, Spain, and Austria on the delinquent list.

GCE Bangladesh spokesperson Rasheda Chowdhury maintains that the US and the other G7 countries are “preventing children in poor countries from going to school” by not giving more money.

A more sophisticated assessment would recognize that the goal of better education demands the treatment of a host of interconnected issues, including the creation of stable communities.

The 2004 Copenhagen Consensus, a group of international environmental and humanitarian experts, have rightly noted that, given scarce resources, current global problems must be differentiated and prioritized, which is exactly what the US and the other G7 countries are doing. The experts' most important issues include controlling HIV/AIDS, providing nutrient rich diets, increasing international trade, controlling malaria, introducing new agricultural technologies, improving water supply and sanitation, and lowering the cost of starting new businesses by improving governance and fighting corruption.

These issues affect the vitality of education. In communities ravaged by HIV/AIDS, education cannot flourish. Providing more efficient and productive agricultural technologies is the best strategy for eradicating child labor needs. Nutritious diets and disease-free water provide a healthy platform for learning. The proliferation of free enterprise provides those who are educated a context to use their knowledge and gifts as they improve their communities. Lastly, children cannot learn and teachers cannot teach in a milieu of violence and chaos.

Support for education, then, should not be isolated from the promotion of peace and stability.

During this week of distortions concerning Americans' lack of generosity, the facts provided in a recent report by Senator Jon Kyl (R-Arizona) bring the truth to light. Kyl reminds us that US government official development assistance (ODA) disbursements increased from $10 billion in 2000 to $19 billion in 2004. The US provided $2.4 billion for the global fight against AIDS in 2004.

The State Department reports that Americans privately give $34 billion in international philanthropy annually. Additionally, in 2004 alone, non-governmental funding from personal remittances, net private investment, and non-governmental organization grants totaled another $48 billion. Including these measures, since 1999 the United States has outpaced the entire European Union in giving as a percentage of GNI.

And let's not forget that the US alone provides 22 percent of the U.N.'s budget ($362 million). In both 2003 and 2004 its government gave more five times the amount of the European Commission to the World Food Program ($1 billion). Additionally, the US contributed $323 million to UNICEF (U.N. Children's Fund). In 2003, the US contributed $194 million the U.N. Development Fund--15 percent of its budget.

An “F”? Hardly. The United States government will actually triple its aid to FTI education for fiscal 2005-6 to $400 million dollars. More importantly, American giving is a combination of governmental spending and private charity. An accurate assessment of aid to international education depends on an approach that is much broader than that used by critics who wrongly assume that “loving your neighbor” is exclusively the job of government.