By Kate Moriarty, Advocacy Team, Malala Fund

In May 2015, ministers from more than 100 countries agreed to the Incheon Declaration in Korea, committing to provide free primary and secondary education to all children by 2030. This is a hugely positive step, but we have to ask: how serious are we at turning this promise into a reality, and what will it take?

Download our new report, Beyond Basics: Making 12 Years Of Education A Reality For Girls Globally now:

Download the background paper - Financing Upper Secondary Education: Unlocking 12 Years of Education For All

We need more than declarations. Goals only count if they cross the line. We need action and we need money. Without it, will we fail another generation of children and let the seemingly practical define the possible. We must be willing to make the same efforts to secure primary and secondary education for the poorest and most marginalized girls and boys as we would for our own children.

It has been almost 40 years since countries agreed to progressively implement the fundamental human right to free secondary education, and it is unacceptable that the poorest girls should have to wait another 100 years.

Without taking immediate steps to fund 12 years of education, the world is in danger of creating a global plan for development that falls short. In doing so, it will be sending the message that girls from poor countries do not deserve primary AND secondary schooling.

More money is needed if we are to achieve the ambition of universal fee-free secondary education. But this can be found.

Our new report, based on the costings of the EFA-GMR, finds that 12 years of universal fee-free primary and secondary education will cost an estimated US$340 billion per year through 2030. The current funding shortfall is $39 billion - equivalent to just eight days of global military spending.

The Facts

Our report proposes that commitments to provide universal primary and secondary education should be accompanied by concrete implementation plans, identifying a phased approach to the introduction of fee-free provision of secondary education.

These plans should identify interim "stepping stone" targets to serve as benchmarks of progress between now and 2030, ensuring that every successive government is held accountable for achieving them.

Low-income countries will, on average, need to pay around 6.5% of GDP, and lower middle-income countries around 4.3% of GDP, for universal fee-free education through upper secondary level. Much of this cost can be met by both expanding the size of overall budgets and allocating a greater portion to education.

National plans of action should be complemented by a global roadmap to achieve the ambition of proposed SDG Target 4.1, particularly with regards to delivering more and better external funding for education over the period 2015–2030.

Traditional and non-traditional bilateral donors should commit to meeting a target of 0.7% of Gross National Income in Official Development Assistance and increasing the share of aid to basic and secondary education to at least 10% of total aid budgets.

The Change

We believe that with committed and collective effort, we can educate all girls, starting with those most in need and least likely to access a primary and secondary education without our support.

Those with the power to do so must begin immediately to make the necessary change. This can start with a strong signal as decision makers from around the world meet again in Addis Ababa at the Third International Conference on Financing for Development.

Without fully funding universal access to 12 years of good quality primary and secondary education, in line with proposed Target 4.1 of the Sustainable Development Goals, the vision of the sustainable future to be agreed in September cannot be achieved. The world will be robbed of the tremendous potential of girls eager to learn and to lead.

We should not be satisfied with calling for only lower secondary - it's unacceptable that we would set a standard for the world's children, which is less than we would accept for our own.

We are mindful that pushing for 12 years of free education should not be at the detriment of equity and quality. Government commitment and political will to expand access and improve quality of education, coupled with careful planning to ensure no one is left behind, is the critical success factor for realising the right to 12 years of free, good quality primary and secondary education for all.

We know it can be done. Malala's journey and the founding of the Malala Fund is an "impossible" story. In the past two years, we have encountered girls with equally improbable paths to education and future success.

They encounter incredible obstacles including war, poverty and even personal attacks. Yet, their yearning for knowledge is never overwhelmed. These stories teach us that girls are desperate to learn, grow and become leaders in their communities. The world's collective response to this determination has been wanting. Our leaders have not shown the resolve that these courageous girls deserve.

Are we serious? Do we really want all children to have access to 12 years of free education? Is equitable sustainable development our true goal? Are the words of the Incheon Declaration that "no target shall be considered met, unless met for everyone" honest. We hope so. We demand so.

Download the background paper - Financing Upper Secondary Education: Unlocking 12 Years of Education For All

Do more: Join Malala's birthday action and show world leaders that you choose #booksnotbullets.