The role of civil society in the Dakar World Education Forum

david_archer_87411dakar_retrospective6This is the fifth in a series of blogs taking a retrospective view of the EFA agenda and its implementation. This blog looks back to the World Education Conference in Dakar in 2000 from the perspective of David Archer, Head of Programme Development at ActionAid. David joined ActionAid in 1990, the year of the original EFA meeting in Jomtien. He was closely involved in strengthening civil society engagement on Education for All, and helped co-found the Global Campaign for Education in the build up to the World Education Forum in Dakar.

The World Education Forum in Dakar in April 2000 was a momentous occasion for NGOs and teacher unions, who coordinated more effectively than ever before to advance a common agenda on education. The previous September had seen the formation of the Global Campaign for Education (GCE), bringing together key actors who all demanded an urgent response to the global crisis in education. When GCE first declared that there was a crisis, the response from the UN system was more or less to say “Crisis? What crisis?” Yet despite the promises made a decade earlier in Jomtien, over 100 million children were not in school and there were major concerns about quality and equity. It can be argued that the Dakar Framework for Action would have been much weaker had it not been for these concerted civil society efforts.

GCE_LOGOThe Global Campaign for Education (GCE) initially brought together four key actors. ActionAid was already running the “Elimu” campaign which focused on democratising education decision making – supporting stronger citizen oversight locally and forming inclusive national education coalitions to review and influence progress on education. Meanwhile Oxfam had launched their “Education Now!” Campaign, putting a human face on their work on structural adjustment and debt by focusing on education financing and demanding a global action plan.  At the same time Education International, the global federation of teachers unions, with 23 million members (at the time), launched a campaign called “Quality Public Education for All”, challenging the neo-liberal agenda and the creeping privatisation of education. Finally the Global March Against Child Labour, a broad alliance based on mass mobilisation in the Global South (formed in 1997) came to see universalising education as key to ending child labour. National coalitions on education from Brazil, Bangladesh and Kenya also joined the founding meeting of GCE.

The Global Campaign for Education was initially conceived as a short term campaign to put pressure on the global community in 2000 around the failure to achieve education for all. Everyone recognised the potential gains from working together, even though there were clear tensions on certain issues. For example, the unions saw some NGOs as agents of privatisation, undermining the professional status of teachers. At several points the meeting could have fallen apart. But a core statement was agreed and areas of dispute were set aside. Over the next months, through extensive consultation, detailed base-line positions were developed to influence the World Education Forum. These baseline positions were used to make systematic inputs into the early drafts of the Dakar Framework for Action. GCE members worked to secure strong statements from the official NGO pre-meeting; and GCE representatives (from India, Senegal, Brazil and the UK) were elected into positions on the final drafting committees.

©UNESCO/B. Desrus
©UNESCO/B. Desrus

During the World Education Forum in Dakar, key GCE members were linked by a network of mobile phones, providing hourly updates on main developments in different side sessions, committees and working groups. Daily briefings and review meetings were held. Indeed there is little doubt that the civil society voices, through GCE, were far better organised, prepared and informed than most of the governmental or donor representatives. And the impact was significant. Below are a few examples where GCE positions helped to move the early drafts and influence the final Dakar Framework:

Early drafts of the Dakar Framework for Action Final Framework for Action text – influenced in line with GCE baseline positions
“Affordable” not free education Free and compulsory education by 2015
NGOs as service providers CSOs as full partners in policy dialogue, planning, and monitoring
EFA structures did not provide for participation or representation of Southern governments or civil society in the South EFA structures to be democratised and streamlined. Focus is on building from National EFA Forums upwards, with civil society engagement specified as essential at all levels;
No clear / time-bound national level follow up National EFA plans by 2002 developed by government through transparent and democratic processes
Overwhelming focus on UPE National plans to address all six dimensions of EFA including adult literacy, early childhood, gender equity and quality.
No provision made for monitoring implementation of Dakar framework; Strong emphasis on high level annual review.  Civil society involvement in national monitoring.
No concrete targets for increased aid to education Onus on donors to “ensure that resource gaps are filled” for all countries that have sound plans
HIV&AIDS mentioned in passing only Separate strategic objective on HIV&AIDS and recognition of importance / scale of implications.
Business as usual for EFA structures Commitment to a “refocused” UNESCO and to democratising and decentralising EFA.
Quality gap not linked to equity gap Language on “equity in quality” adopted but still no concrete targets
No commitment to change in donor practices Donor support to be predictable, “consistent, coordinated and coherent”
No concrete targets for increased domestic spending National plans to include appropriate budget priorities

Immediately following Dakar the GCE pledged to continue, in order to ensure that the agreed upon Framework for Action was delivered in practice.  Since then the movement has strengthened: national education coalitions have emerged in over 80 countries, each committed to holding their own governments to account for delivering on Education for All. But education is still in crisis and in 2015 we will need this movement to be stronger than ever!

– Read the other blogs in this series by Maris O’Rourke, Clinton Robinson, Abhimanyu Singh, Birger Fredrikson, Sheldon Schaeffer, Svein Osttveit and Cream Wright.



  1. David, thanks so much for sharing your historical and institutional memories of this important movement. Fascinating to see the early versions of the Dakar framework. It’s so important to remember where the EFA and GCE movements have come from, especially those of us who weren’t around in those days, to guide us as we continue the fight. So much has changed, and yet so much is still the same….

  2. David
    This is brilliant peace, reminding us what happen and why. I cannot agree more with Katie when she said “it is important to remember where EFA and GCE movements have come from….”. Thus we need to work even harder and better as now we are even confronted with new threats to education such as insurgency in Northern Nigeria “Bokoharam”; the ISIS in Syria and Iraq; the gun totting in US; domestic violence and so on. All these are compounding the “Education Crisis”. So 2015 should bring in a stronger GCE to lead the process as happen in Dakar 15 years ago.
    But most importantly we need to salute people like you David Archer; as your passion for education has grown since then and have advocated to GPE, World Bank and wider donor communities to support civil society at national, regional and global levels making our voices heard loud and clear.

  3. Thanks David for the review of the EFA agenda and its implementation. It appears the “Education crisis” remains, with some of the children from families living in poverty failing to access education due to the increasing privatisation in some African countries (including Zimbabwe). This trend contradicts governments promises on making “education as a basic right” as reflected in Constitutions and policies. Something therefore needs to happen beyond the good intentions.

  4. Thanks David for your review. I, like the others, think this review brings to light how far education has come since the original Dakar framework. I believe this valuable information should be available to practitioners and academics so that they are able to understand what their work is contributing to and also to help shape future policies and interventions. Looking back and learning how far we have come can provide insight into how we plan for the future.

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