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September 4th, 2004
Handbook: Education for All

Research for this piece was conducted during the summer of 2003.
By Adrienne Kupper

According to data from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), one out of every five school-aged children, approximately 115 million, in developing countries is not enrolled in primary school. Seventy percent of illiterate people live in Bangladesh, Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Nigeria, and Pakistan. One out of four women in the world cannot read.

The international community has made a commitment to change these statistics by providing education for all, striving to achieve the basic human right of education for children and adults worldwide.

Part 1: What is Education for All (EFA)?

World Conference on Education for All

In 1990, representatives from more than 155 countries convened in Jomtien, Thailand, to create strategies for addressing the issues of education, literacy, and poverty reduction. Using the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a basis for their work, participants in the Jomtien conference set out a statement of goals to provide all children, especially girls, with the basic human right to an education and improving adult literacy around the world.

The result was The World Declaration on Education for All (EFA). This declaration called for countries, by the end of the decade, to meet the basic learning needs of all children and adults; provide universal access to education for all learners; create equity in education for women and other underserved groups; focus on actual learning acquisition; broaden the types of educational opportunities available to people; and create better learning environments for students, which include nutritional, medical, physical, and emotional support systems. To achieve these goals, the declaration stated that it was required that countries develop social, cultural, and economic policies that support the achievement of the declaration; mobilize both existing and new economic and human resources; and strengthen international solidarity for providing all people with the basic human right to an education. All participating countries were required to create Action Plans that detailed how they were going to meet the goals of the Jomtien declaration, and by 2000, basic education in more than 180 countries had been evaluated as part of the EFA 2000 Assessment.

World Education Forum

Delegates gathered for the World Education Forum in Dakar, Senegal, in April 2000, where the results of the assesment were released. After having reviewed the data gathered, it was clear that while gains had been made, there were still major steps that needed to be taken to achieve EFA. These delegates, from 164 countries, adopted the Dakar Framework for Action and renewed and strengthened their commitment to the achievement of quality basic education for all by the year 2015.

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At the opening of the World Education Forum held in Dakar, Senegal, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan launched a 10-year initiative on girls’ education, stating that “educating girls is a social development policy that works.”
Credit: UN photo

Part II: What Are the Goals of EFA?

Six Milestones Set in Dakar

1. “Expanding and improving comprehensive early childhood care and education, especially for the most vulnerable and disadvantaged children.” It is essential that all young children have a safe and caring learning environment to begin their educational, physical, and emotional development. Toward that end, governments are responsible for creating policies to provide for early childhood care and education as part of EFA action plans.

In some countries in Central Asia and Eastern Europe, a combination of financial crises, political instability, and the changing role of the state has contributed to the decline in enrollments in early childhood care and education programs during the 1990s.

2. “Ensuring that by 2015 all children, particularly girls, children in difficult circumstances and those belonging to ethnic minorities, have access to complete free and compulsory primary education of good quality.” Countries are obligated to provide universal primary education to all children, regardless of the child’s race, gender, ethnic background, or financial situation. While striving to increase enrollment, countries must improve and sustain quality educational opportunities that provide students with effective learning outcomes.

To achieve universal primary education in Mexico, the responsibility of providing basic education was shifted from the central government to local states through constitutional reforms, and a new education law was adopted in 1993.

3. “Ensuring that the learning needs of all young people and adults are met through equitable access to appropriate learning and life skills programmes.” Children must have a variety of educational opportunities available to them in order to develop values and skills. They need to learn how to participate fully in society, gain knowledge about risks to their educational development and how to avoid these risks (such as drug abuse and HIV/AIDS), and they should be provided with continuing education.

4. “Achieving a 50 percent improvement in levels of adult literacy by 2015, and equitable access to basic and continuing education for all adults.” Adults also have the right to a basic education so that they can raise their standard of living and be empowered to be active citizens in their society, and governments must provide resources and programs for adults to gain basic literacy skills for these purposes.

Zambia launched a national literacy campaign in 1990 and improved its adult literacy rate from 55 percent in 1990 to 68 percent in 1996.

5. “Eliminating gender disparities in primary education by 2005, and achieving gender equality in education by 2015, with a focus on ensuring girls’ full and equal access to and achievement in basic education of good quality.” Access to education must be made available, as well as safe educational environments, appropriate curricula and textbooks, and teacher training to provide equality in teaching and learning practices.

To tackle gender disparities in education, Pakistan’s national action plan to achieve EFA stipulates that all new primary schools must have student ratios of 60 girls to 40 boys, and the percentage of women teachers should be 70 percent.

6. “Improving every aspect of the quality of education, and ensuring their excellence so that recognized and measurable learning outcomes are achieved by all, especially in literacy, numeracy, and essential life skills.” Countries and EFA partners must strive to improve things such as teacher training, curriculum, learning facilities, and assessment programs.

The Dakar conference also set forth strategies to achieve the goals, which included plans for ongoing observation and monitoring of EFA progress, and tasked UNESCO to coordinate the global efforts. By 2002, nations were to submit strengthened action plans, and they were assigned to be members of regional forums that provide an opportunity for assessment of countries’ progress on a continuous basis. In Dakar, strategies for funding EFA plans were also developed.

Part III: How Much Will EFA Cost?

Because basic education is a human right for all children and adults, providing it is a universal human responsibility. The Dakar Framework for Action calls for a global approach to financing EFA, with much of the funding coming from countries themselves, as well as from the international community, the World Bank, and additional private funding sources.

This approach is meant to be more than simply a way of funding specific educational programs. It is a way of reducing poverty and providing for sustainable development, while building institutional, human, material, and financial resources. It also favors a partnership in which organizations that are providing aid make long-term commitments, and countries that are receiving aid use such funding to fulfill their action plan to meet EFA as well as national goals. In addition to traditional methods of official development assistance and lending, it also encourages more creative methods of providing assistance, such as debt-relief programs. It is proposed that all countries attempt to meet the United Nations’ target for international development assistance of at least 0.7 percent of their GNP and also increase their allotment for basic education funding. Another option is for countries to follow the 20:20 initiative, which advocates that development partners allocate 20 percent of their assistance for basic social services and aid recipients allocate 20 percent of their budgets for such use.

The World Bank, UNESCO, and OXFAM have each calculated the additional EFA financial assistance that would need to be provided to countries, and the yearly amount varies from an estimated $8 billion (OXFAM) to $15 billion (UNESCO).

The World Bank is a primary funder for EFA initiatives. As of March 2003, it had provided assistance of approximately $10 billion toward 153 projects in 82 countries. The Bank has also made commitments for new assistance that total approximately one billion dollars per year.

The G8 nations — Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States — have also committed to funding EFA. At the G8 Summit in Genoa, Italy (2001), it was stated the these member nations would provide resources to support poverty-reduction programs, assessment systems, and teacher training, as well as encourage private sector support for infrastructure, materials, and technology.

Because basic education is a human right for all children and adults, providing it is a universal human responsibility. The Dakar Framework for Action calls for a global approach to financing EFA, with much of the funding coming from countries themselves, as well as from the international community, the World Bank, and additional private funding sources.

This approach is meant to be more than simply a way of funding specific educational programs. It is a way of reducing poverty and providing for sustainable development, while building institutional, human, material, and financial resources. It also favors a partnership in which organizations that are providing aid make long-term commitments, and countries that are receiving aid use such funding to fulfill their action plan to meet EFA as well as national goals. In addition to traditional methods of official development assistance and lending, it also encourages more creative methods of providing assistance, such as debt-relief programs. It is proposed that all countries attempt to meet the United Nations’ target for international development assistance of at least 0.7 percent of their GNP and also increase their allotment for basic education funding. Another option is for countries to follow the 20:20 initiative, which advocates that development partners allocate 20 percent of their assistance for basic social services and aid recipients allocate 20 percent of their budgets for such use.

The World Bank, UNESCO, and OXFAM have each calculated the additional EFA financial assistance that would need to be provided to countries, and the yearly amount varies from an estimated $8 billion (OXFAM) to $15 billion (UNESCO).

The World Bank is a primary funder for EFA initiatives. As of March 2003, it had provided assistance of approximately $10 billion toward 153 projects in 82 countries. The Bank has also made commitments for new assistance that total approximately one billion dollars per year.

The G8 nations — Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States — have also committed to funding EFA. At the G8 Summit in Genoa, Italy (2001), it was stated the these member nations would provide resources to support poverty-reduction programs, assessment systems, and teacher training, as well as encourage private sector support for infrastructure, materials, and technology.

Part IV: What’s Been Achieved So Far?

A Progress Report

The data from UNESCO, included in the EFA Assessment 2000 and the 2002 EFA Global Monitoring Report, show both positive and negative results.

Progress has been made toward the EFA goals since the Jomtien Conference in 1990. Primary school enrollment rose from 599 million in 1990 to 681 million in 1998, with 10 million more children enrolled in school each year. There has been an increase in available programs to meet the needs of all learners, such as the Farmers’ Schools in Asia to help circulate agricultural knowledge and practices, and the skills training schools for women in India. To close the gender gap in education, countries like Benin have waived school fees for girls living in rural areas and begun a media campaign to sensitize parents to gender issues. Slight gains have also been made in adult literacy; while 75 percent of adults were literate in 1990, 80 percent of adults were literate in 2000.

Despite these gains, there is still much more to do, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and some Arab states. In regards to early childhood care and education (ECCE) programs, 36 countries have gross enrollment rates (GER) of less than 20 percent, and 20 countries are below five percent; three quarters of these are sub-Saharan African nations. There was also a decline in ECCE enrollment in countries in Central Asia and Eastern Europe; the most dramatic GER decline was in Kazakhstan, with 72.3 percent enrollment in 1990 and 11.4 percent enrollment in 1999. As of 1999, 115.4 million school-age children were not enrolled in school, and many countries had GERs below 70 percent — a majority of these countries are located in sub-Saharan Africa, with Angola, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Eritrea, Guinea, Niger, Sierra Leone, Sudan, and the United Republic of Tanzania reporting the lowest GERs.

With these gains and shortcomings, is the world going to meet the three measurable goals of EFA — universal primary education, gender equality, and halving adult illiteracy rates — by 2015? Eighty-three countries are indeed expected to reach the Dakar goals by 2015, but more than 70 countries will not succeed if they continue at their current rate of progress. Twenty-eight countries may not achieve any of these three measurable goals; two-thirds are sub-Saharan African nations along with India and Pakistan. Using data of what has been achieved up to this point, and if these nations continue to progress at their current rates, universal primary education will not be achieved in 57 countries, gender parity will not be reached in 31 countries, and cutting adult illiteracy rates by 50 percent will not be achieved in 78 countries.

While there are a number of challenges to achieving the Dakar goals in many countries, there is the hope that with increased funding and support nations that are currently lagging behind will be able to mobilize their resources to meet these goals by 2015. The World Bank, for example, has created the EFA Fast Track, providing more financial support to 18 countries and policy assistance to five that are at risk of not reaching the universal primary education goal by 2015 without this added help.

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