Gillard Seeks $3.5 Billion for Schooling Her Dad Missed

Former Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard is leading a global campaign to raise $3.5 billion by 2018 to support basic schooling in developing nations in homage to her father, who was denied an education in his Welsh coal-mining village.

As the new board chair of the Global Partnership for Education, a Washington-based organization that unites governments, businesses and civil society to improve global access to education and improve its quality, Gillard will spearhead a campaign to meet the funding target set yesterday at a meeting of the group’s board.

There’s been a “very troubling” 6.3 percent drop in global aid for basic education from 2009 to 2011, while 57 million children don’t get primary school educations and 250 million others lack basic skills in reading, writing and mathematics, she said in a Feb. 25 interview with Bloomberg News in Washington.

Gillard, 52, is the youngest daughter of a former police officer who had to give up his pursuit of higher education because of the expense. Her parents emigrated to Australia when she was four.

Her mother and father “literally moved around the world to make sure my sister and I got a better life, and getting a better education was a part of that,” Gillard said. “That’s why education, compared with any other opportunity which may or may not have come my way, really fits centrally with what I’ve believed in and what I’ve wanted to do.”

Universal Access

“We made a promise to the children of the world through the Millennium Development Goals that every child would get access to universal primary school education,” said Gillard, who’s led United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s advocacy group for achieving eight international development goals by 2015. “We made a promise to the children of the world through the MDGs that every child would get access to universal primary school education. We need to fulfill that promise.”

The Global Partnership for Education has allocated $3.7 billion over the past 10 years to support educational improvements in developing countries. The $3.5 billion funding target from 2015 to 2018 would provide primary and lower secondary school education for 16 million children, most of them girls, according to an e-mailed statement today from the partnership.

Success will require increasing the partnership’s global visibility and better tracking progress, Gillard said, adding that a June 26 pledging conference in Brussels will be critical.

She said she’s working on a program to develop robust metrics to assess the quality of learning globally.

‘Payback Time’

The “payback time” is longer for education, while “you can see success in things like vaccinations quickly,” Gillard said. “Education success is slower, takes longer to educate a child, but in terms of eradicating poverty in our world and putting nations on a sustainable economic path, it’s only education that is going to be that long-term change agent.”

Gillard was named to head the partnership’s board on Feb. 10, among her ventures since the Australian Labor Party voted to oust her in June as the country’s first female prime minister. Months after leaving politics in September, Gillard said this new post returns her to the passion that spurred her political career as a college student: protesting education funding cutbacks.

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