The Global Education for All Meeting, which took place this week in Muscat, Oman, was the last major international gathering to help shape a post-2015 agenda before next year’s World Education Conference in Incheon, Republic of Korea. The meeting aimed to reach a provisional agreement on the post-2015 global education agenda based on the goal and seven targets of the EFA Steering Committee Joint Proposal.
The Republic of Korea is an ideal choice for a showcase global education meeting, given its exemplary achievements over the past two generations. But the choice of Oman for such a meeting was equally apt. Back in 1970, just over a generation ago, the female adult literacy rate was an astonishingly low 12%. In 2010, it was 82%.
The hosts certainly understated their achievements, which show what can be done with strong will and with financial support that matches such ambition. Yet at the meeting, the reasons for Oman’s progress in education did not seem to have resonated with some of the participants, as was made obvious by some of the bones of contention.
One clear area where differing opinions are apparent is on how goals are to be financed. Poorer countries expressed their commitment to sign up to a target that will make their governments increase their spending on education. However, they pointed out that the target was not balanced: even if they increase spending, some of them will not be able to afford fast progress based on their own resources only. They asked for the target to include a commitment from richer countries to help fill the gap – but some richer countries would not accept such a clause in the final statement.
Some cautious participants put the interests of their countries or constituencies above everything else. For example, some countries were concerned that the basic education target would expect them to offer an extra year of compulsory education.
Some non-government organizations insisted that a reference to teacher motivation be included but would not respond to calls for teachers to commit to their share of responsibility. And yet others insisted that references to particular technical terms be included in the targets, even if these are not necessarily understood by many.
As a result, the adoption of the final statement of the Global EFA Meeting was postponed by two weeks. For an education agenda that is introducing the concept of global citizenship, which calls upon individuals to understand complex systems and make decisions in a collaborative way, this was a poor showing. This is especially the case considering that the statement would have represented a non-binding expression of good will.
In common with almost all participants, the EFA Global Monitoring Report would have also preferred to see clear references to equity incorporated into all the targets. This is expected to be clarified in the next two weeks. But otherwise, as some participants observed, the Joint Proposal did express the consensus reached so far. Looking ahead, there is a long way to go before the global sustainable development goals are agreed. The biggest risk is that the education community appears at this stage not to have a common voice on key issues – and therefore misses the train.
The train is in New York where the Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals is preparing its proposal on the post-2015 global development framework to submit to the United Nations General Assembly in September. Many of the draft education targets of the Open Working Group are not in line with the EFA Steering Committee Joint Proposal targets. The common interest is to reach an agreement in time so that all governments and EFA partners begin to speak with one voice at the Open Working Group deliberations.