Education for All: Is the world on track a decade on?

By Pauline Rose, director of the Education for All Global Monitoring Report

Ten years have passed since the first Education for All Global Monitoring Report, Is the World on Track?, was released in 2002. And there are now just ten weeks before the launch of our next Report on October 16. Following our series of posts by former directors of the Report, a new series starting today features former and current contributors to the Report and experts in the sector sharing their thoughts on a decade of progress towards Education for All.

As we count down the weeks to the launch of the 2012 EFA Global Monitoring Report posts will recap the findings of previous Reports and reflect on progress since their publication, covering topics such as early childhood care and education, gender parity, literacy and conflict.

In 2000, over 1,000 participants at the World Education Forum in Dakar, Senegal, adopted six goals for achieving Education for All.  The focus of the first EFA Global Monitoring Report, in 2002, was on how governments and donors were concretely committing to the new targets that were set. It needed to begin the task of analyzing how and whether this summit meeting had changed children’s chances of going to school.

In 2002, when we published our first statistical tables, over 100 million children of primary school age were out of school. In the ten years before that date, the world had managed to improve that figure by under 3 million. A decade after that date, however, the number of out-of-school children had dropped to 61 million. This suggests that the Dakar decade has been successful in mobilizing efforts to address the large-scale problem that has faced many of the poorest countries around the world.

The decade’s progress has not been consistent, however. The largest gains occurred in the years immediately after Dakar, when leaders went back home buoyed by the energy of the summit. In the last three years, by contrast, the number of children out of school has stagnated, as we recently highlighted in a policy paper published together with the UNESCO Institute for Statistics.

Much of the stagnation is due to trends in sub-Saharan Africa. Although enrolment in the region continues to rise, it has not kept pace with population growth. As a result, the number of children out of school has actually increased by 1.6 million.

If this stagnation is not addressed, the goal of universal primary education that has received the most attention since Dakar and that has also been core to the Millennium Development Goals, is likely to be missed by a considerable margin.

It is as true today as it was in 2002 that the children who are being denied their right to education are those who are hardest to reach. Rights are one vital side of the argument that made focusing on achieving Education for All a priority. They complement education’s role in ensuring survival, fulfillment and prosperity and form the backbone of the Report’s desire to monitor progress to Education for All until it is achieved.

As I highlighted in my New Year blog post, policy-makers should step up their efforts for the millions of children still denied a basic education, as well as the numerous young people and adults without basic literacy and numeracy skills. Given the continued shortfalls in reaching the Dakar goals, ensuring equitable access and learning for all must be the backbone of any agreement on a post-2015 international education agenda.

Despite these ongoing challenges, there are signs that progress has been made since the 2002 Report was published. Ten years ago our Report recommended that aid be directed to the weakest policy environments rather than to countries with the best-designed policy environments, and proposed that the EFA Fast Track Initiative orientate its support towards these countries. The Reports in 2010, on marginalized children, and in 2011, on conflict-affected states, reiterated this point. The Global Partnership for Education (the new name for the Fast Track Initiative) now includes as one of its main priorities supporting education in fragile states. The challenge in 2012 is ensuring that funding catches up with policy.

A second recommendation in 2002 was to improve the “limitations of available data”, specifically on finance. The availability of internationally comparable finance from national governments reporting to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics remains variable. Given the importance of tracking how much is spent in education, by education levels and types of expenditure (whether on teacher salaries, learning materials or other areas), it is now urgent to rectify this.

More positively, one major change since 2002 is the increased availability of internationally comparable aid data published by the OECD’s Development Assistance Committee (DAC). This has enabled the Report to monitor changes in aid donor priorities over the decade. Information has increasingly become available not only on how much donors commit to education but also how much they actually spend. As a result, the Report was able to assess trends in donor disbursements to education for the first time in 2011. As our recently published policy paper shows, aid spending to education has increased over the past decade, in line with aid trends more broadly. However, there are ongoing concerns that aid remains insufficient and vulnerable to changes in donor priorities.

Another development in aid data is that information is increasingly available in a form that allows the user to distinguish “real” aid reaching developing countries from aid that is used for the benefit of the donor countries themselves, for example in the form of students studying in their countries. Stay tuned for more on this in the 2012 EFA Global Monitoring Report, to be published on October 16.

Despite this progress, however, limitations on finance data still hamper the ability of countries to plan effectively. First, aid data on forward spending by sector is generally two years out of date. Second, only DAC members systematically report aid data. It is vital that emerging donors, including the “BRICS” (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), as well as the private sector provide transparent information on their contributions to Education for All . This is an issue that we take up in the 2012 Report.

The world is still not on track to meet the commitments made in Dakar in 2000. Over the coming weeks, we will discuss in more detail some of the challenges that remain and some of the success stories so far. The next post will look back at the second EFA Global Monitoring Report, Gender and Education for All: The leap to equality.


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