Civil society priorities at the World Education Forum

WEFBy David Archer, Head of Programmes, ActionAid and Board member of Global Campaign for Education. This is the first in a series of blogs leading up to and reacting to the World Education Forum taking place in Incheon Korea 19-22 May.

Over 250 NGOs will be meeting in Incheon in the days preceding the World Education Forum (WEF) – and they will also participate fully in the main event. Many of these organisations were also present in Dakar in 2000 and some were even present in Jomtien in 1990. Whereas government delegations will almost certainly be wholly new, surprisingly NGOs can offer real continuity – and through working with the Global Campaign for Education, they are developing an increasingly harmonised voice.

NGOs have already been actively contributing to and commenting on the Draft Declaration and Framework for Action (FFA) for the WEF. We particularly welcome the reassertion of education as a fundamental human right, the commitment to 12 years of free primary and secondary education, of which 9 years are compulsory, the focus on overcoming all forms of discrimination, the broad conception of quality and the centrality of teachers. We strongly support the commitment to align the final draft of the FFA with what emerges in New York summit in September –so long as the UN General Assembly does not diminish the present targets and that where ‘x%’ appears at present it is replaced by ‘all’.

Members of the Global Campaign for Education have been concerned that global and thematic indicators may narrow down the comprehensive vision of the Framework. We need an ambitious and holistic set of indicators which are consistent with existing human rights obligations and in line with the content and spirit of the post 2015 education targets. Particular attention is needed to ensure that there are diverse indicators for quality education that recognise and track inputs, processes and a wide spectrum of outcomes. Setting indicators is a political, not purely technical, process. The final approval of education indicators must be subject to appropriate democratic oversight.

quoteThe Framework for Action lays out important financing targets of 4-6% of GDP and 15-20% of budgets. We feel the focus needs to be at the upper end of this range and that in some cases countries will need to exceed these targets. It is refreshing to see the focus on domestic resources and especially the language on widening the tax base, ending harmful tax incentives and preventing tax evasion. However, stronger language should be introduced on international aid, including reference to a target of 10% of aid going to basic education (which was present in earlier drafts of the FFA) or at least a doubling of aid to basic education (from the present 4%), as well as in setting targets for increasing humanitarian aid. The Dakar pledge on financing should not be just quoted but boldly reasserted and delivered in practice.

GCE members particularly appreciate the language around strengthening public education systems and in general reject language that might justify or authorize privatisation and for-profit trends in education. We welcome and recommend the recent work of the UN Special Rapporteur in challenging privatisation and calling for greater regulation of education providers.

It is important that the WEF framework recognises the continuing challenges with access to education, including at secondary level, and we are keen to argue that no-one should separate access from quality.

One of the biggest challenges facing us now is to ensure equity in the provision of quality education. Ending discrimination in education, ensuring inclusion and promoting gender equality means ending inequalities in the quality of provision.

© UNESCO Kinshasa
Campaigners standing ‘Up For School’. © UNESCO Kinshasa

As civil society actors we appreciate the recognition of citizen-led accountability and civil society participation at all stages from planning through monitoring and evaluation, with participation that is “institutionalised and guaranteed”. However, too often, the spaces given for civil society participation are superficial and tokenistic. This must change. We must collectively challenge those countries where shrinking political space makes the assertion of civil society voices increasingly difficult and risky. There must be an end to the criminalization of activists and movements as this clearly contradicts the will of this FFA.

We welcome the commitment to focus on “well-qualified, adequately paid and motivated teachersand to the inclusion of teachers and their organisations in all stage of policy making, planning and implementation. For too many years people have been talking about learning while ignoring teachers. In future let us consistently focus on well trained and effective teachers as the central means for improving learning.

One of the biggest challenges is how the Framework for Action will link education with the broader sustainable development agenda. Here we believe that more can be done – we must go deeper in exploring the connections and must reposition education at the heart of the post-2015 agenda. We have yet to make a compelling enough case that education is not just one of 17 SDGs but rather a key facilitator for achievement of all the goals. We are pleased to see that this is an issue to be addressed in the Report out next year by the EFA GMR team. Fundamental changes are needed in the world and this requires a new generation of active global citizens with new knowledge, attitudes and behaviours – for which education is the essential catalyst.



  1. As with most discourse around the WEF (and that around the new SDGs), this otherwise very important contribution once again neglects — e.g., in what it “welcomes” (paragraph 3) — the essential starting point of achieving the WEF goals: early childhood development. In doing so, it neglects as well the civil society organisations which have been so active in ensuring (despite the disinterest of UNESCO) that ECD does, in fact, appear as a target under the education goal. What should be of particular concern among the NGO community in this regard is the complete illogicality of placing the UPE target (4.1) sequentially before the ECD target (4.2) which will again, as after Dakar, make formal schooling the most important target within the education goal — to the detriment as well of adult literacy, TVET, and teacher quality.

  2. It is pleasing to see the focus on teachers. However one must be aware that teacher and teaching are disjunctive concepts and that there are therefore many pathways to quality teachers and teaching. One training package will not be sufficient. This was tried at the competency based movement years ago and failed miserably. I have written extensively on this and assessment at the public level. Monitoring i.e. national assessments is another minefield of pseudo science

  3. Je soutiens la démarche démarche la Société Civile qui consiste à sensibiliser tous les acteurs du système éducatif et surtout le politique pour placer l’éducation. au centre des ODD. Je ne serais pas à Incheon mais je vais suivre les activités à travers votre blog.

  4. Dear David, I hope that Civil Society will offer strong alternatives to increasing emergence of the funding and promotion of low-cost private schools by World Bank and DFiD which can only heighten inequality and undermine public education reform.

    1. To read more about the World Banks agenda their latest blogs on the issue of equity offer no string argument in favour of their $10m USD funding to low cost private schools in Rwanda and Kenya and DFID are closely linked with the private education activities of Pearson International these activities must be public disclosed and subject to debate ate forums such as the WEF.

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