The Global Education Emergency

September 1, 2020

Kristalina Georgieva’s Letter to Gordon Brown, UN Special Envoy for Global Education and Chair of the International Commission on Financing Global Education Opportunity. Mr. Brown had personally shared with Ms. Georgieva an Open Letter calling for urgent action to address the global education emergency triggered by COVID-19.

Dear Gordon:

I would like to thank you and many others for focusing the world’s attention on the education emergency that is affecting millions of children, especially the world’s poorest and most vulnerable.

This tremendous challenge is highly relevant for us at the IMF and our 189 members countries. Even before the COVID-19 crisis, we have been highlighting the clear link between poor educational outcomes and lower productivity growth, which has been weighing on incomes and living standards.

As you rightly point out, the pandemic has not only worsened these worrisome trends, but it has made it even more difficult to harness the vast potential that education provides for people to learn, grow, and transform their lives. I am deeply concerned about the millions of children, especially girls, who may never return to school. This looming crisis could jeopardize development gains made over decades in areas such as gender equality, health outcomes, and poverty reduction.

That is why the IMF is deeply committed to the idea of building forward better. For most countries, this means prioritizing public spending to invest in people—in education, health, and social protection—as well as in critical infrastructure: from digital connectivity, to green energy and transportation, and water and sanitation. In fact, our IMF policy tracker shows that many countries have responded to the crisis with measures to support not just healthcare but education as well. For example:

  • Targeted support to the education system in Australia
  • Education subsidies in Azerbaijan
  • New credit lines for education in Colombia
  • Moratorium on education loan servicing in Costa Rica
  • Expanded funded for training and skills programs in Ireland, Norway, and Sweden
  • Additional budget support for education in Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Latvia, Mexico, Portugal, Tonga, and Zimbabwe
  • Measures to ensure poor households’ access to education in Rwanda
  • Assistance for remote learning in Samoa

Yet even as some developing countries are spending more to protect their human capital, many will need additional support to create more room in their budgets. The G20 Debt Service Suspension Initiative has been instrumental in providing temporary relief. To make it even more effective, I have urged that this initiative be extended. The IMF, for its part, has provided immediate debt relief to 29 of our poorest members under the Catastrophe Containment and Relief Trust. Furthermore, developing countries will need more new financing at affordable terms. 

The IMF has already provided emergency financing to 75 countries at unprecedented speed and scale, and we are ready to provide further support to a wider range of low- and middle-income countries. Our total lending commitments stand at about $270 billion, with one-third approved since end-March, and we have an additional $730 billion in lending capacity that we could put at the service of our membership. We also expect our concessional (zero-interest) credit to low-income countries to triple to help them meet their large financing needs in this time of crisis.

Of course, building forward better also means seizing the opportunity to achieve greater resilience. This is not just about spending more on schools and distance-learning capacity, but it is also about improving the quality of education and the access to life-long learning and re-skilling.

This is how we can navigate the massive structural economic changes that are underway right now. Transitioning from shrinking to expanding industries, such as digital services, poses an enormous challenge that can only be addressed through greater access to educational training opportunities and the digital infrastructure to support them. Many of these issues are directly addressed in our latest edition of Finance & Development magazine, including a very thoughtful essay on protecting children’s lives and livelihoods by Kevin Watkins, CEO of Save the Children UK.

One thing is clear: only if people are more resilient, will we be able to build a more resilient economy that works for all—especially for our children.


With best wishes,


Kristalina Georgieva