The freshly released GMR, “Education for All 2000-2015: achievements and challenges” shows that only a third of countries reached all of the measurable Education for All goals. Only half reached the most watched goal of universal primary education.
While the goals themselves may have been missed, however, this assessment of national and international efforts reveals only part of the story. Before we draw definitive conclusions as to the success of Education for All, let’s consider new GMR analysis in the latest Report that examines the extent to which the curve of EFA change may have been bent upwards in the years since Dakar. In other words, has the pace of education progress quickened over the past 15 years?
Carrying out this exercise does not necessarily mean that all progress found can be credited to the Education for All movement. However, it does provide a stronger basis to evaluate the record of the movement before we move on to look at the SDGs. And the world will be closer to key targets than if previous trends had continued.
For pre-primary education the pace of progress picked up significantly after Dakar. The GMR shows that 70% of countries were at least two years further ahead than if enrolments had continued to grow at the rate observed in the 1990s. In fact, if enrolment growth had maintained at the same rate as in the 1990s, the global pre-primary enrolment ratio would have reached 40% by 2015; instead, it is expected to be 57%. In South and West Asia, the pre-primary gross enrolment ratio is projected to be up to 66%; on pre-Dakar trends, it would have been just 32%.
Developments since Dakar also led to an increase in the proportion of children who will have had access to school for the first time in low and middle income countries. Overall, it is estimated that 34 million more children born before 2010 will have had access to school for the first time by 2015, compared to what would have happened if the previous trend had persisted.
The GMR also shows that if primary education enrolment had grown at the same rate as in the 1990s, the primary net enrolment ratio in sub-Saharan Africa would have been 67%; instead, it is expected to be up to 84%.
It is also projected that by 2015, the proportion of children who will have completed primary school in low and middle income countries will have increased by two percentage points beyond what would have been expected if the prior trends had continued. This translates into 20 million more children born before 2005 who will have completed primary school. And we still lack information on all children affected by changes since 2000 since many of them are still in school. Thus, the full effect of post-2000 interventions may well prove to be higher.
Progress towards gender parity appears to have accelerated in primary education, although parity would have been achieved at the global level even on pre-Dakar trends. Accelerated improvement made a particular difference in the Arab States and sub-Saharan Africa.
Likewise, the rate of progress also quickened at the secondary education level, even if parity would have been achieved on pre-2000 trends. There was particular progress in the Arab States and South and West Asia. By contrast, there was no improvement in sub-Saharan Africa, where large disparities at the expense of girls exist, nor in Latin America and the Caribbean, where disparities at the expense of boys have persisted.
We must not forget the context, when giving the overall results of Education for All. The 2015 GMR points to particular factors in the international context since the year 2000, which contributed to the pace of change. These include, for example, favorable demographic trends in some regions, positive economic growth during much of the period, and changing gender attitudes and norms. The evidence also points to several coordination mechanisms, campaigns and initiatives in the global education community that influenced policies and practices over the decade.
It also shows that financing was clearly inadequate compared with the scale of need. As the education and development community gathers in the coming months to agree on ways of implementing the new sustainable development education goal, it needs to take stock of these findings. Even at the slightly accelerated pace observed after 2000, universal lower secondary education will only be achieved towards the end of the century unless those countries furthest from the target raise their financing of education to nearly 6% of their national income – and unless external financing steps in to close the remaining $22 billion financing gap.
Taking this backdrop into consideration, it is clear that the claim made in the Dakar Framework that achieving EFA by 2015 was ‘a realistic and achievable goal’ appears exaggerated in retrospect, even if reduced to a narrow set of targets. Yet, modest progress was achieved, effectively bringing additional millions of children and adolescents into school. This is a source of optimism, and should help mobilise new energies, as we establish new targets for the next 15 years.