Education for All – An International Concern

Pupils at a school in Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic

Today education is recognised as a public good that must be provided by the state. The international community agrees that human development without education is not possible. The promotion of education is therefore now an internationally recognised development goal – even if it is still considered to be a core activity of each individual state.

World Conference on Education for All, 1990

In March 1990, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) organised the first World Conference on Education for All in Jomtien, Thailand. The participating countries adopted the World Declaration on Education for All (EFA) and a Framework for Action to meet basic learning needs, in which they pledged, among other things, to make primary education accessible to all children by the year 2000, to improve the quality of primary education, and to reduce adult illiteracy rates by around 50 per cent over 1990 figures. These targets followed on directly from the 1989 United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

World Education Forum in Dakar, 2000

In April 2000 – 10 years after the Jomtien conference – a World Education Forum took place in Dakar, Senegal. The international community was forced to admit that it was a long way from achieving the goal of Education for All. There were still some 875 million people unable to read or write, and some 113 million children unable to attend primary school.

The 164 participating countries agreed on an action plan (Dakar Framework for Action), which essentially took over the goals adopted in Jomtien in 1990. 2015 was set as the deadline for their achievement.

Every year UNESCO publishes a report documenting the progress made and challenges encountered in implementing the goals agreed in Dakar (Education for All Global Monitoring Report). More than a decade after the World Education Forum in Dakar the results are mixed. Overall, countries throughout the world have failed to meet the pledges made in 2000. The donor countries' promise that no country should fail to meet the education goals set for lack of funding was not kept. The children who do not attend school are often from disadvantaged backgrounds. Gender equality in education has not been achieved. Illiteracy rates remain extremely high.

The 2000 Millennium Summit

The Education for All (EFA) goals were reaffirmed at the Millennium Summit in September 2000 and taken up at other international conferences. The second and third of the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) (universal primary education and gender equality) have a direct bearing on the education sector. Education is also a prerequisite for achieving the other MDGs, for instance reducing by half the number of people living in poverty (MDG 1), reducing child mortality (MDG 4), and environmental sustainability (MDG 7).

The Millennium Development Goals have had a major impact in the developing countries. However, experts have criticised the fact that the education goals are purely quantity-based: Goal 2 is based on the number of enrolments and school educations completed, but sets no standards for education quality; and, under Goal 3, gender quality applies only to access to education, and not, for example, to whether women, after completing their school education, have equal opportunities in the labour market.

These quality aspects are set to play a larger role in the debate on the new post-2015 global development goals.

Global Partnership for Education

The Education for All – Fast Track Initiative (EFA-FTI) was launched in 2002 to accelerate progress towards universal primary education in countries that are committed to pursuing an active education policy but lack the resources to implement it. In the decade that followed, the Initiative was expanded to form a comprehensive multilateral education partnership. Since 2011, it has been called the Global Partnership for Education (GPE).

The aim of the GPE is to improve funding for basic and secondary education in developing countries and to improve coordination and implementation of education promotion within development aid programmes.

Germany is a co-founder of the GPE and played an influential role in its set-up. Since 2008, the BMZ has paid more than 30 million Euros into the GPE fund. The German commitment is projected to grow significantly in the years ahead.

United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable Development

Class room at a school in Tienfala in Mali. There are only two desks and an old locker.

The United Nations proclaimed the years from 2005 to 2014 the United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable Development. The message of the global campaign is that today's actions affect the lives of future generations and the lives of people in other parts of the world. That message will be delivered in schools and preschools, universities and other educational establishments.

In the spring of 2009, the World Conference on Education for Sustainable Development was held in Bonn as part of this United Nations Decade. At its close, the Conference adopted the Bonn Declaration, an urgent appeal to UNESCO and its member states, in view of the global challenges, to support the incorporation of the principles of sustainable development into education.

Global Education First Initiative

In September 2012, the United Nations Secretary General at the time, Ban Ki-moon, presented his five-year Education First Initiative. Its aim is to mobilise additional forces towards achieving the education goals by 2015 and to ensure that education remains a central issue in the international debate surrounding the post-2015 development goals. The Initiative stresses the importance of high-quality, inclusive education.

Post-2015 development agenda

The deadline for achieving the Education for All goals and the Millennium Development Goals is 2015. An international debate is already under way on new global development goals for the post-2015 period.

Following preliminary online consultations on education, United Nations experts met in Dakar, Senegal in March 2013 with representatives of governments, youth groups, private enterprises, civil society and academic and research institutions. At the conclusion of the talks, three clear priorities were identified for the future promotion of education: access to education including post-primary education, more quality in education, and greater equity especially for disadvantaged sectors of society. Germany supports the consultation process, in which more than 18,000 people from over 100 countries have already taken part.

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