Vientiane Times, 09 May 2013
Laos could raise almost US$100 million a year for education if 30 percent of its share of copper and gold mining resources were converted into public revenue and 20 percent of this sum invested in education. This could double Laos’ education budget and achieve primary education for all. The amount raised would be equivalent to almost two-thirds of the money Laos receives annually in aid to education.
The recommendation was made in UNESCO’s Education for All Global Monitoring Report, which was released in the same week as the World Economic Forum on Africa (Cape Town, South Africa, ). The report covered 17 developing countries that are rich in natural resources such as minerals, oil and gas but still face many challenges in terms of education.
Titled ‘Turning the resource curse into a blessing for education’, the report raises the possibility of dedicating a greater proportion of mineral and petroleum revenues towards basic education in many countries that are rich in resources.
The potential gains for education are enormous. Several countries, including Ghana, Guinea, Laos, Malawi, Uganda and Zambia, could achieve universal primary education without needing any more aid from donors, according to the report. “In a group of 17 countries where extra revenue could be raised, natural resources could fund schooling for 86 percent of the 12 million out-of-school children and 42 percent of the 9 million out-of-school adolescents.”
While the potential is considerable, so are the challenges. Some mineral-rich countries, such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sierra Leone and Zambia, currently receive less than 10 percent of export income as government revenue.
They are still struggling with the first step: bargaining with extracting companies. Nigeria, on the other hand, retains 72 percent of oil exports as government revenue, meaning that the extra funding for education from the scenario presented here could send only 23 percent of the country’s 10.5 million out-of-school children to primary school. In this case the challenge is to manage, distribute and use the revenue better and to ensure that education is a top priority for the government.
In Laos, revenue from copper and gold mining in 2012 was worth more than double its value in 2008, which could double the education budget, stated the report, saying that education as a share of total public spending in Laos was only 13 percent in 2010.
Laos is one of the 17 countries analysed in the report. The findings show that revenues sourced from mineral extraction could see every child enrolled in school. This is an investment in future generations that should be seized now. Director of the Education for All Global Monitoring Report, Pauline Rose, said many countries have mismanaged the income from their natural resources, have negotiated poorly with extractive companies, or have made misguided spending choices.“If they managed their income revenue better and put 20 percent of the revenue into education, 10 of the 17 countries we analysed could achieve universal primary education,” she said.