February 27, 2016

Taking stock of EFA to look forward to SDG 4

Written by UNESCO, EFA Global Monitoring Report

Every child, no matter whether their country is rich or poor, whether they live in a village or a city, should be going to school today.  Yet despite the 2015 deadline to provide ‘Education for All’ this isn’t happening.  Our collective failure to reach global education goals means that 124 million children and adolescents are being denied their right to attend school.

Global progress to achieve Education for All (EFA), while impressive, simply hasn’t been good enough.  Just a third of countries have achieved all the measureable EFA goals, the majority unsurprisingly high-income countries in Europe and North America.

Although ‘universal primary education’ has been a catchphrase for decades, especially since 2000, our latest EFA Global Monitoring Report shows that almost half the world’s countries are failing to get children into primary school. Where the biggest change was needed – in the poorest countries – the least change is apparent. The GEM Report’s Worldwide Inequality Database on Education shows that the poorest children are five times less likely to complete primary education than their richer peers. Sub-Saharan Africa is home to the majority of countries furthest from reaching the goals.

Yet progress has advanced far beyond where we would have been without the MDGs and EFA agenda agreed in 2000. 34 million more children are now estimated to have gone to school for the first time that wouldn’t have had the trends of the 1990s persisted.

However, that was the ‘low-hanging fruit’.  By failing to go the extra mile to close disparities the most disadvantaged have been left behind.  Boys still out number girls in primary school in over a third of countries and millions miss out on education because they live in conflict-affected countries.

Blurred financial priorities have been a major factor undermining progress.  Donors have not kept to their promise to resource education ambitions. Few countries have prioritised education within their budgets and education-in-emergencies receives a pittance – just 2% – from humanitarian aid. The annual financing gap for education over the next fifteen years is US$39 billion. Governments and donors have to work out how to bridge this funding gap while continuing to come up with new avenues of investments.

Some countries against all the odds, have made remarkable progress.  After 11 years of conflict, Sierra Leone, since 2005, managed to halve the number of children who had never been to school while significantly reducing child labour. Uganda, where for many years the Lords Resistance Army recruited children as child soldiers or slaves, scrapped school fees, greatly improving access to education for the most disadvantaged including girls and orphans.

In Afghanistan, where the Taliban banned the education of girls, enrolment in primary school has leapt from 4% to 87% since 1999.  In the midst of a devastating earthquake, Haiti managed to educate 200,000 children in temporary learning spaces and over 500,000 children received basic learning materials.  Education even in the most extraordinary circumstance can happen.

Yet Education for All movement was never just about getting children into primary school.  The remit was far wider. Children were to be provided with an education of good quality with qualified teachers, decent classrooms and relevant materials. Access to quality early childhood care and education, where the foundations for learning are laid, was to improve.  Illiteracy rates among adults were to be halved and young people and adults were to have equal access to learning and life skills.  We now know that while strong progress has been made on many of those goals the agenda is far from finished.

The past fifteen years of monitoring progress toward the EFA goals have given us invaluable information. We now have a much better sense of which policies are more or less effective.  We know where resources, finances and political will have to be ramped up and where it needs to be targeted.

 We have a golden opportunity here to take what we have learnt and to apply it to the new Sustainable Development Goals, ensuring we avoid making the same mistakes again. It is time for education to be put at the heart of development.  It is time to close the funding gap on education and for the most disadvantaged to be prioritised.   On behalf of the 124 million children still waiting for their chance to go to school we must ensure we complete unfinished business while we embark upon our new expanded goals.