Education for all: Is the world on track? Some personal reflections on the first EFA Global Monitoring Report, 20 years back

Twenty years ago, on this day, we went into the first office at UNESCO. Within the space of five months, from June to October 2002, the first Education for All Global Monitoring Report (EFA GMR), Education for All – Is the world on track? was written and published, virtually from scratch.

An international report team was recruited, dedicated international funding secured, working procedures and accountability within UNESCO determined, editorial independence nailed down, and an international editorial board created. None of these essentials – and more – were met easily. But met they were, through evolving partnerships across UNESCO and its Institutes, allied to the energy and dynamism of a team of 12, a mix of seconded UNESCO staff and external researchers and practitioners in the field of basic education, led by the GMR’s first Director, Professor Christopher Colclough. It was a creative, energising and demanding time.

But the back story behind the creation and inception of the EFA GMR was complex. The long road that led to its development was neither straight nor smooth.

The World Conference on EFA at Jomtien in Thailand in 1990 gave a gentle nod in the direction of regular international policy reviews and evaluation, but the mid-term report of the International Consultative Forum on EFA at Amman in 1995 was clearly constrained in its findings by major deficits in the availability and quality of education and development data.

By the end of the 1990s, however, political and technical interest in monitoring progress towards the achievement of global development goals had heightened. In planning for the World Education Forum at Dakar in 2000, the educational content of a variety of reports was recognised: The State of the World’s Children Report of UNICEF from 1980; the World Development Report of the World Bank from 1978; the Human Development Report of UNDP from 1990, plus UNESCOS’s Annual Statistical Yearbooks. There was nothing sufficiently comparable, however, for education; an authoritative report designed to chart progress year on year, interrogate strategies designed to address key policy challenges, and, to promote accountability, nationally and globally.

In the event, in 2000, the Dakar Framework for Action determined that UNESCO’s Institutes (UIS, IIEP, UIE – now UIL – and IBE) should produce ‘a monitoring report’. This was not received well by those who had argued in the lead up to Dakar for a separate independent report. This disquiet intensified after the first UNESCO report was published in 2001. On receiving the report in Paris in October 2001, the High Level Group on EFA proposed a fundamental re-think on the objectives and framework for the monitoring report. It charged UNESCO with coordinating the response to its proposals. In February 2002, an inter-agency/country representative group, chaired by UNESCO, agreed that an editorially independent report, situated in, and working with UNESCO, should be launched without delay. Four months later, in the first week of June, work began on the first report.

Practical considerations aside, the first task in Paris in the summer of 2002 was to agree broadly on the template for the new report and to decide quickly on its core theme. Its underlying thesis – elaborated in Is the World on Track? was that ‘there is a fundamental identity between securing EFA and achieving development,’ establishing from the outset a central tenet of subsequent reports.

The immediate imperative was to show how progress could and should be monitored against EFA and other goals, assess gains since Dakar, and interrogate the degree to which the planning for, the resourcing of, and the commitment of the international community through aid and better coordination was making a difference or not.

There was no time to explore a single theme in depth, the hallmark of subsequent reports. The report assessed the national and international response to Dakar’s EFA commitments; and, in so-doing began to experiment with ways of determining the extent to which the world – its regions and countries combined – were on track for achieving all six EFA goals, taken as a whole. A modest precursor for the many tools that have been developed over the years by GMR/GEM Report, including WIDE and PEER.

In late November 2002, Chris Colclough presented Is the world on track?, at the second meeting of the High Level Group, in Abuja, Nigeria. While not spelt out explicitly,  this was the first opportunity to hold the international community to some account; notably, national governments and international development agencies. Chris highlighted both educational, financial and political deficits, which would need to be addressed for EFA goals to be achieved in their entirety. Some countries were defensive about their national data, as recorded in the report, others emphasised their strong political commitment to EFA. But it was clear that the power and influence of the High Level Group was limited beyond pronouncements at its annual meeting.

Tired at the end of the year, there was little respite for the GMR team and for UNESCO. There were many lessons to be learned from the six month crash course in producing a global report but the development of the next report, Gender and Education for All: The leap to equity, was the first priority.

Those of us who participated in the first three years of the report like to believe that solid foundations were laid for the GMR and its successor, the GEM Report, in 2016. Over 20 years, an important record and resource has been developed, and the scope and range of its products diversified. Questions around impact and the Report’s contribution to accountability are much more difficult to assess. At a time, however, when education is under numerous threats worldwide, the importance of speaking truth to power with regard to realising rights, capabilities and lifetime opportunities has never been more important.

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See the 20 year timeline of the EFA GMR / GEM Report


1 comment

  1. Compliments on a good piece recalling the challenges of launching the GMR in 2002. However to put things in proper perspective, the contributions of the then DG K. Matsura and ADG John Daniel deserve a special mention. They provided us in the EFA Division all the necessary resources, full support and clear directions to make this happen in quick time.Their leadership was critical for the production of an independent, authentic ,balanced and high quality report in 2002 and beyond. The first Editorial Board chaired by the eminent Indian educationist Anil Bordia brought key stakeholders together in a joint effort. The initially fraught relationship between UIS and the GMR team on the question of shared responsibility for providing reliable, up to date statistics & data, its analysis & interpretation was a particular challenge and so was the accommodation of diverse views of civil society as well as voices from the South.

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