This is the sixth in a series of blogs taking a retrospective view of the EFA agenda and its implementation. This blog looks back to Jomtien through Dakar and the MDGs, then to the future and post-2015 agenda. It is written by Sheldon Shaeffer, former Director of UNESCO’s Regional Bureau for Education, Bangkok.
Few people would have guessed in 1989 when plans were being laid for the World Conference on Education for All (EFA) in Jomtien that it would help set in motion a process which, by 2014, has led to dozens of conferences, organised by dozens of institutions (academic, multilateral, bilateral, INGO, and private sector), and produced hundreds of recommendations for goals and targets for the post-2015 international development agenda.
The Jomtien Conference did not, by itself, create the notion of international goals. But its expanded vision for education, and the ultimate influence of its six suggested “dimensions” (which later became national targets) resulted in many national action plans and new monitoring processes. These in turn led to the Dakar World Education Forum of 2000, its Framework for Action, and a set of even more explicit international education goals. This then added to the process that led to the Millennium Development Declaration endorsed by the United Nations Millennium Summit in September 2000, and eventually (derived from an earlier OECD publication, “Shaping the 21st Century”), to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
This historical process was not necessarily a seamless one. The MDGs, unlike the broader, more visionary Declaration, were not developed in a systematic and consultative manner. This, plus the need to include goals from many different sectors, led to a document which left out most of the Dakar EFA goals and focused only on universal primary education and gender equality.
The differences between the Dakar EFA goals and the MDGs led to some confusion at the national level. Ministries of Education were asked to develop EFA action plans and reporting processes based on the broader range of Dakar goals. But at the same time they were required to contribute to national MDG programmes, based on the two MDGs education goals, and to multi-sectoral reports on the progress toward the MDGs. In many countries, given their long association with EFA and their participation at the Dakar Forum, Ministries of Education devoted more of their attention to the EFA process and did not feel particular ownership of the larger MDG agenda.
Confusion has increased in the lead up to 2015
As 2015 approaches, uncertainty over the new development agenda has increased. One source is whether, and in what ways, to reconsider the MDGs post-2015:
- to keep them intact but extend their deadline,
- to fine tune them in order to take into account goals already largely achieved or to reflect more realistic – or more ambitious – targets,
- to add to them important dimensions which many critics thought had been neglected (e.g., early childhood development, the right to work),
- or, especially after the Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in June, 2012, to fundamentally reformulate them as Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
What is EFA’s role in the new goals post-2015?
Another source of confusion has been the role of EFA in the MDG/SDG process. Should there continue to be a separate EFA framework after 2015? Or should this framework and process be more closely linked to – or even encompassed by – what will presumably be a major education goal in the new set of SDGs of 2015?
The discourse around what any post-2015 EFA goals/targets should be (or if there should even be a new EFA framework) I believe was delayed by the attention paid by UNESCO and the Secretary General to his Global Education First Initiative), which aims to accelerate progress towards achieving the 2015 goals, partly because UNESCO felt that its Member States were more interested in this acceleration process than in the post-2015 discourse. This delay meant that many conferences and commentaries concerning the post-2015 agenda initially neglected education, paid scant attention to potentially important sub-targets, and/or considered education a cross-cutting issue that did not warrant a goal of its own.
As of now, concerted efforts to establish a separate global SDG for education appear to have borne fruit. The draft SDG on education in the submission of the Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals to the Secretary General and the draft overarching EFA goal endorsed in UNESCO’s Muscat Agreement in Oman in May of this year are almost identical – each mentioning equitable, quality, inclusive education, and lifelong learning.
Victory in the war for a strong post-2015 global education development framework still remains in doubt
But there are many who continue to desire a smaller set of more manageable and measurable goals, and there are still many small but substantive differences between the EFA and SDG proposals which need to be sorted out. So although an initial battle might have been won, victory in the war for a strong post-2015 global education development framework still remains in doubt. This has been made clear by UNESCO which has been urging Ministers of Education – who are generally not involved in drafting the post-2015 SDG agenda in New York – to make clear to their delegations at the United Nations to continue to advocate for a strong education framework.