This blog looks back to the World Education Conference in Dakar in 2000 from the perspective of Abhimanyu Singh, Director UNESCO, Beijing. In the years leading up to Dakar, Abhimanyu was national EFA coordinator for India, rapporteur for the Asian region, and chaired the global drafting committee at Dakar. This is the second in a series of blogs taking a retrospective view of the EFA agenda and its implementation.
As we gathered in Dakar in late April of 2000, there were high expectations coupled with a general sense of disappointment about the slow progress towards the EFA goals adopted at Jomtien in 1990. The Dakar Framework for Action revived the flagging EFA agenda with renewed international commitments for financing EFA, six time-bound goals and twelve operational strategies. A lot has been achieved since, but the unfinished task remains daunting. At this juncture it is worth reflecting on the process and outcomes of Dakar and the lessons that could help shape the post-2015 global education agenda.
Much work had gone into the preparation of the Dakar Forum in 2000. A bottom up, participative and consultative process was initiated through the preparation of National EFA Assessment Reports. This culminated in numerous sub-regional synthesis reports, regional synthesis reports for five regions; and a draft Dakar Framework for Action. My first recommendation to those working on new education goals post 2015 is to learn from the nature of this process, which gave the Framework credibility, legitimacy and a universal appeal.
When we came together in Dakar it was decided that two separate drafting committees would work simultaneously – one on the substance and the other on the governance structures – reporting independently to the Director General of UNESCO.
The Drafting Committee on the substance of the Dakar goals and strategies worked in an open, flexible and inclusive manner. In retrospect a key decision was to accede to the last minute request of NGOs to include one of their representatives on the committee. Eventually the team representing civil society organizations played a crucial role in ensuring that the Dakar Framework reflected the principles of shared responsibility and accountability.
At the Committee meetings, the developing countries promised stronger leadership to prepare well-resourced EFA plans after Dakar. The international community agreed to work to increase external financing for basic education, prioritizing those regions and countries where the EFA challenges were greatest. This became the genesis for the launching of the EFA Fast Track Initiative (FTI,) now called the Global Partnership for Education (GPE). The commitment to support 66 eligible countries with additional donor funding of US $2.1 billion for ECCE and primary education was made recently in GPE’s Second Replenishment Pledging Conference in June and covers the next four years from 2015-18. Other elements of the EFA agenda remained relatively under-funded.
The proposal for establishing a Global Fund for Education was also mooted at Dakar. This did not find favour, but was revived by the 2012 report of the UNSG’s high-level panel on global sustainability. Although this has not received much attention so far, it is likely to re-surface in the debates on funding the more ambitious post-2015 education agenda, especially in the context of declining aid for basic education and the emergence of new donors and aid mechanisms.
The second Drafting Committee looked at governance structures and sought to address concerns about weak monitoring and accountability. It had the strong backing of several major donors. Their recommendations were, however, not fully endorsed by the plenary of 164 States. The States proposed alternative arrangements asking UNESCO’s Director-General to convene a group composed of the highest level of leaders from government and civil society “to serve as a lever for political commitment and technical and financial resource mobilization” – now reflected in paragraph 19 of the Framework.
Nevertheless States did accept the important recommendation that the Group be informed by a monitoring report to hold the global community to account. In its first meeting in 2002, the High-level Group on EFA decided to institute the EFA Global Monitoring Report. Housed in UNESCO with generous funding from a group of donors, the GMR has achieved global recognition as an independent and influential monitoring publication. Nevertheless the expectation that the GMR would stimulate preparation of annual monitoring reports to assess EFA progress within countries and regions has not yet materialized. In this context it may be observed that the National EFA Assessments in 2000 and even now tend to rely on the work of individual consultants or a few chosen experts at the national level rather than drawing on a pool of expertise from across the country, including civil society. My second recommendation is to augment capacities of member states and additional funding, particularly for local language publications.
In retrospect, my own opinion is that the Dakar Framework, in asking States to develop national EFA Plans by 2002 (see paragraph 9), placed an unnecessary and unfair burden on developing countries. Several developing countries, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, were obliged to rely on international consultants to meet this deadline. National EFA Plans were sometimes prepared separately from countries’ national education plans and often did not include specific financial commitments. My third and final recommendation would suggest that there should be no insistence on States preparing separate national plans to implement the post-2015 education agenda. Practicality and realism are key.