Friday, February 13, 2009

After EFA: What Next

Last night in our seminar, UNESCO: Agenda for the 21st Century, we conducted a role playing exercise in which the students debated future priorities for the global educational system.

Education for All (EFA) has been the basis for international efforts in education since 1990, complemented by the educational Millennium Development Goals and the Fast Track Initiative. Universal primary education was to be achieved by 2015, with a broader agenda that focused on lifelong learning as well as schooling.

While there has been great progress towards universal primary education, there are many nations which will not achieve that goal. Moreover, the quality of education has often suffered from the expansion efforts, and many observers feel that there is a dramatic need for better education as well as more education. Similarly, there are huge needs for educational opportunities for youths who are out of school, for trade and vocational educational services, for growth and improvement of higher educational systems, for better opportunities for girls' and women's education, for education for the disabled, and for more and better educational opportunities for marginalized groups and for the poor.

My co-coordinator of the course, Frank Method, make the point that there surely should be some global agreement reached on priorities for education after 2015. It will surely take several years to achieve such an agreement. The question was posed: "what can UNESCO do now and in the near future to help the world reach such an agreement, and further, to reach an agreement that will be effective in promoting education worldwide?"

There are a number of things UNESCO can do, including:
  • Continuing the monitoring of EFA so that the negotiations will be based on a clear understanding of what has been accomplished and what remains to be done;
  • Providing a forum for Ministers of Education and others to discuss the issues and opportunities now, before agreements have to be formalized;
  • Supporting educational planning efforts in member countries so that they will enter the negotiation process with a clear picture of their internal priorities and of the potential roles of donors, civil society and the private sector in achieving their educational goals;
  • Networking via National Commissions for UNESCO, Associated Non-Governmental Organizations, University Chairs and Networks and other means to stimulate wide discussion of the future priorities within the global community of educators and those interested in education;
  • Mobilizing and publishing expert advice through seminars and publications; and using the media to bring the matter to the attention of the general public and to promote public interest in the priorities for future efforts to promote education.
It seems likely that a well defined sequel to EFA will help:
  • to stimulate global efforts to improve education, and
  • help governments, donors, NGOs and others to coordinate their efforts to achieve greater efficiency and relevance.
On the other hand such efforts could easily founder by lapsing into platitudinous generalities, by failing to offer enough benefits to the various participants to engender compromise, by failing to recognize the legitimate interests of the key participants, or by degenerating into fruitless controversy over the sources of funding or the locus of control.

The conclusion: UNESCO can and should play a useful role now and in the next few years in helping its member nations to reach a useful accord on the sequel to EFA.

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