Critics say donors at a recent high-level meeting failed to make firm funding commitments for improving education, particularly in impoverished, fragile and war-torn countries, making it highly unlikely the world will meet ambitious education goals by the 2015 deadline.
“I cannot be very optimistic,” Koïchiro Matsuura, director-general of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), said at a press conference on 13 December in the Senegalese capital, Dakar, at the close of the three-day meeting of the High-Level Group on Education for All, which brought together education ministers, donors and development partners.
While developing countries agreed to allocate 10 percent of budgets to education, donor countries could not agree to include a specific percentage of budgets for education aid, instead pledging “to work to maintain and increase levels of funding to education” and to prioritise low-income, fragile and emergency and conflict-affected states.
“Obviously it’s a major disappointment that we don’t have a commitment to achieve a particular amount,” said Nicholas Burnett, director of the 2008 Education for All Global Monitoring Report, which identified an annual US$11 billion funding gap in external aid for education in order to reach the goals in time.
In the past, “commitments and promises [from donors] were not held,” said Samou Salimata, who oversees the global Education for All programme in Burkina Faso, the world’s least-developed country, according to the UN’s latest human development report. “No measures were taken here so that the same thing [doesn’t happen again],” she told IRIN outside the deliberation room.
Meeting the Education for All goals
At the World Education Forum in 2000, 164 countries agreed to an “Education for All” (EFA) movement to dramatically improve education by 2015. The movement focuses on six goals, two of which were later adopted as Millennium Development Goals: improving early childhood education, achieving universal primary education, meeting the learning needs of young people and adults, reaching a 50 percent improvement in adult literacy, eliminating gender disparities in primary and secondary schools, and improving the quality of education.
While there has been substantial progress since then, it has not been fast enough. According to the Global Monitoring Report, if current trends continue, at least 25 countries will not meet any of the goals. Of the 113 countries that missed the programme’s gender parity goal, originally slated for 2005, only 18 stand a chance of achieving it by 2015. Most countries, the report said, have made little progress in reducing the number of illiterate adults.
Another report, released on 11 December by international lobby group Global Campaign for Education, said the EFA goals “will not be realised by 2115, let alone in the next seven and a half years”.
The report identified the USA, Japan, Germany and Italy as “the most miserly of the rich countries” who were not giving their “fair share”.
At the midway point to the target date, many saw the Dakar meeting as an opportunity to turn the tide and propel the world forward on education goals. The High-Level Group meets annually to accelerate movement towards the EFA goals and to mobilise resources.
This year, the group agreed on specific actions to make education accessible to excluded groups, to train and recruit primary school teachers and to provide health and nutrition programmes in schools.
But critics say those positive steps may not have much impact.
While the meeting was to have brought together education ministers from around the world, there were none from North America or Europe, whose countries sent lower-level representatives instead.
“If a great agreement is reached today but no world leaders are here to sign it - does it really matter?” asked the Global Campaign for Education, a coalition grouping Save the Children, Oxfam, ActionAid, Education International and other non-governmental organisations (NGOs), teachers’ unions and civil society groups from around the world. “Once again the High Level Group meeting has missed the opportunity to mobilise the much-needed political will,” the group said in a statement.
Still, both recently-released reports note significant progress in education since 2000, including a 36-percent jump in primary school enrolment in sub-Saharan Africa and a five percent annual increase in domestic spending on education in Africa and South Asia. Fourteen countries abolished primary school fees between 2000 and 2006 and many countries have adopted national strategies for which results will be forthcoming.
What is more, the countries furthest from achieving the goals are those progressing the fastest, and at a faster rate than in the 1990s. The World Bank’s Fast Track Initiative has helped support developing countries who show a serious commitment to achieving universal primary education.
However, 774 million adults cannot read or write, 18 million more teachers are needed, and early childhood - the first of the EFA goals - has been completely neglected. Quality of education still suffers.
“The question is not ‘is there progress?’ but `what is the pace of progress?’” said the Global Monitoring Report’s Burnett, also UNESCO’s assistant director-general for education. Education for All by 2015 is achievable, he said, “but it won’t be achieved unless the current quite encouraging progress is further accelerated.”
In 2000, donor countries and institutions pledged that “no country seriously committed to basic education will be thwarted in the achievement of this goal by lack of resources”.
Now, UNESCO Director-General Matsuura said: “Donors must implement their promises… We cannot afford to fail.”
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions