Education for All
At the World Education Forum in Dakar in 2000, the international community committed to making quality education available to all the world's population. Six goals were were drawn up to be achieved by 2015:
- To make early childhood care and education more widely available
- To ensure that every child in the world has access to, and completes, a course of free and compulsory primary school
- To make vocational training and lifelong learning more widely available
- To reduce the global rate of illiteracy by 50%
- To achieve gender equality at all levels of education
- To develop global measures for learning outcomes and improve the quality of education
The Millennium Development Goals
Education is the most effective means to development, and for this reason education also features prominently in the Millennium Development Goals which 189 countries committed themselves to achieve by 2015. Of the eight MDGs, two are related to education: number 2, "to ensure that, by 2015, children everywhere will be able to complete a full course of primary schooling"; and number 3, "to eliminate gender disparity in all levels of education no later than 2015".
As measureable goals with real potential for economic, social and political development, universal participation and gender equality in primary education have been a principal focus among the international community. For this reason, it was declared in Dakar that "No country seriously committed to Education for All will be thwarted in its achievement of universal primary school completion by 2015 due to lack of resources."
Crucial to the achievement of the EFA goals is the accurate collection of data about education around the world. Responsibility for this important task was given to UNESCO. Each year they produce an Education For All Global Monitoring Report, updating on progress towards the EFA goals as well as highlighting key themes or issues to be addressed. The most recent report, "Teaching and Learning: Achieving quality for all" was published in January 2014 and emphasises the urgent need for investment in the recruitment and training of teachers.
Progress to date
Education is widely recognised as one of the most effective development interventions possible. It contributes to greater economic growth, healthier populations and more stable societies. Equal access to education for all reduces inequality and poverty and increases empowerment.
Between 1999 and 2011, the number of children out of primary school fell almost by half, but there remained 57 million out of school in 2011 (the latest year for which data is available). Progress has all but stalled, and according to UNESCO "with the deadline for the Education For All goals less than two years away, it is clear that, despite advances over the past decade, not a single goal will be achieved globally by 2015".
- By 2015, many countries will still not have reached the EFA goals. Despite some progress, too many children are still out of school. The number of illiterate adults has remained largely unchanged over the past decade. This year’s Report shows that the global Education for All goals will not be reached by the 2015 deadline.
- There is a global learning crisis that is hitting the disadvantaged hardest. It is not enough just to go to school: children must also learn while they are there. But around four in ten children of primary school age are not learning the basics, whether in school or not. The disadvantaged – including the poor, girls, those in remote areas, the disabled and those in conflict-affected countries – are affected the most.
- Good quality education cannot be achieved without good quality teachers. Policy-makers urgently need to make sure there are sufficient teachers with appropriate training to support the learning of disadvantaged children.
- Global education goals after 2015 must track progress of the marginalized. The failure to reach the disadvantaged must be remedied by putting equity at the heart of global education goals after 2015 – to make sure all children and young people, regardless of their backgrounds, are in school and learning. Post-2015 goals must have clear targets that can be measured using indicators that track the progress of the most disadvantaged, and the gap between the most advantaged and disadvantaged.
- Post-2015 goals must also include specific targets to finance education, making sure no one is left behind due to lack of resources.
The challenge ahead
The challenge ahead remains daunting, but we firmly believe that with sufficient political will and greater investment in education, the world can reach and even exceed the targets that have been set. For this to happen several crucial challenges must be overcome:
(1) Barriers to education
One notable challenge is the removal of barriers that continue to impede global efforts at providing quality education for all. Many developing countries charge user fees for basic education, which include tuition fees as well as supplementary costs such as uniforms and textbooks. These fees put the cost of education out of the reach of huge numbers of families and represent a significant barrier to achieving education for all. Some barriers occur due to the social and political environment in which children live: about half of the world's out-of-school children live in Conflict-Affected or Fragile States, which are countries suffering conflict that also experience income disparity, weak governance and inequality - making the delivery of education immensely challenging. Additionally, it is estimated that a third of out-of-school children have a disability. Other marginalised groups include girls, those living in remote rural areas or informal settlements, and the poorest.
(2) Quality of education
Whilst we support the aim of getting more children into schools, we believe that increasing numbers alone is not enough. We must also ensure that children receive a good quality education that will provide them with the relevant skills and experience to allow them to escape the shackles of poverty. The poor quality of education provided in many developing countries, resulting from irrelevant and obsolete curricula, overcrowded classrooms, and lack of trained teachers, leads to high dropout and incompletion rates that must be overcome if universal primary education completion is to be achieved. While it is essential that education is made available to all, without sufficient investment in the education system and teachers increasing enrollment can lead to decreasing quality in the education provided.
The UK's crucial role
We are proud that the UK Government and its Department for International Development (DFID) are world leaders in aid to education. The UK is currently the largest bilateral donor to basic education, spending around £429 million in 2011 (US$708 million - source: UNESCO). The UK is also the largest donor to the Global Partnership for Education (GPE). Our leadership role is critical, and should be used to influence other donor countries and the developing country partners where DFID works to increase investment and commitment to education for all. You can read more about DFID's education work in its 2013 Education Position Paper "Improving Learning, Expanding Opportunities".
The Global Partnership for Education (GPE)
The Global Partnership for Education (GPE) is a working partnership of governments, civil society, international organizations, teachers, foundations, and the private sector who together help developing countries access technical and financial resources, and global and local expertise, to achieve their education goals. It is the only global initiative focusing exclusively on improving access to and quality of primary and lower secondary education in low-income countries.
GPE supports education in fragile and conflict-affected states, promotes girls’ education, helps countries increase basic numeracy and literacy skills, and improves teacher effectiveness. Since it was established in 2002, the Partnership has grown from 7 developing country partners to 59 in 2013. GPE has allocated nearly US$3.8 billion in support of education, making it the 5th largest donor in the sector.
Where next for education for all after 2015?
While it is vital that efforts towards achieving the EFA goals and MDG 2 by the deadline for 2015 continue with urgency, the world is now turning its focus to what will replacement the Millennium Development Goals after 2015. A UN High Level Panel, co-chaired by UK Prime Minister David Cameron, reported in 2013 with initial recommendations of what a post-MDGs development framework should look like. Education was firmly at the centre of their ideas, with a proposed goal:
Goal: Provide Quality Education and Lifelong Learning
- Increase by x% the proportion of children able to access and complete pre-primary education.
- Ensure every child, regardless of circumstance, completes primary education able to read, write and count well enough to meet minimum learning standards.
- Ensure every child, regardless of circumstance, has access to lower secondary education and increase the proportion of adolescents who achieve recognized and measurable learning outcomes to x%.
- Increase the number of young and adult women and men with the skills, including technical and vocational, needed for work by x%.
We believe it is vital that the transformative nature of education should be at the heart of any post-2015 development agenda. There will remain crucial "unfinished business" on achieving education for all, as well as a need for continuing global focus on reducing inequalities in access to education, and improving the quality of education that all children receive.