The Director-General said that the Working Group “is now an established annual forum for debating emerging concerns and taking stock of important trends and developments related to EFA.” It is also a “good illustration of UNESCO exercising its convening role to bring together a range of institutional and individual expertise to examine a number of EFA challenges in a spirit of shared commitment and joint action”, he added.
The Director-General informed participants of recent developments regarding the EFA Global Action Plan. The Plan, which UNESCO is elaborating in close consultation with the four convening agencies of Jomtien and Dakar (UNDP, UNFPA, UNICEF and the World Bank), seeks to strengthen inter-agency cooperation and coordination in pursuit of the six EFA goals. This work is in line with efforts towards greater coherence and complementarity within the UN system.
Mr Matsuura first of all drew attention to the meeting of the Heads of the EFA convening agencies, which took place on 12 July in the context of the UNDG Principals’ meeting in Geneva. Here, the Heads of the five agencies agreed in principle to continue to work together on the Plan “as a platform for collaboration and enhanced action in support of national efforts to achieve the EFA goals”. They also agreed that a more fully developed version would be presented to the next meeting of the High-Level Group in Cairo, Egypt, on 14-16 November 2006. The Director-General then informed participants of the outcomes of the G8 Summit, to which he had been invited. In the education outcome document “Education for innovative societies in the 21st century”, G8 leaders specifically welcomed UNESCO’s efforts to finalize the Global Action Plan, calling on UNESCO and the other EFA convening agencies “to support harmonization and alignment with national priorities, plans and targets and to utilize each organization’s unique capacities to eliminate duplication of effort and increase efficiency”.
Referring to his own remarks at the Summit session on Monday 17 July, the Director-General explained that he had placed special emphasis on the question of financing, arguing that while developing countries must themselves increase domestic resources to basic education, the estimated financial gap of US$12 billion could not be filled by domestic funding alone, and required significant increases in international aid commitments. “International efforts have recently risen to US$4.4 billion a year but that still leaves an estimated US $7.6 billion to be found annually”. In this context, Mr Matsuura noted that the Abuja Conference on Financing for Development in May had marked a significant step forward in mobilizing mutual commitment to basic education. The Director-General also said that further impetus would be provided by the outworkings of the Gleneagles pledges, the soon-to-be established UNESCO Working Group on Debt Swaps for Education, the expansion of the Fast Track Initiative (FTI), and the recent pledges of increased financial support to EFA on the part of some donor countries.
The Director-General then went on to address the main items on the Working Group agenda. The Working Group will examine some of the major obstacles to achieving EFA – namely: school fees; child labour; and HIV and AIDS. Mr Matsuura called on the Working Group to draw on its “expertise, experience and resources to assist developing countries in overcoming these [obstacles] in a systematic and coherent manner”. The Director-General also highlighted the importance of improving education service delivery in fragile states, asking the Working Group not only to focus on the short-term issue of the restoration of services, but also to consider the much longer-term and more complex question of re-building institutions. Mr Matsuura furthermore noted that the Working Group will provide recommendations concerning the implementation of the Global Action Plan, particularly at the country level. He informed the Working Group that over the coming two years UNESCO will coordinate a Review and Stocktaking of EFA Progress (RASEP) at national level, which aims to improve inputs into national policy formulation. Finally, the Working Group will be invited to consider the proposal to re-schedule its annual meeting until after the publication of the Global Monitoring Report, in order to better debate its messages and prepare the High-Level Group agenda.
Throughout his address, the Director-General placed strong emphasis on the importance of partnership for achieving the EFA goals. He referred to the progress that has been made in strengthening relations with civil society and the private sector, as well as the increasing synergy between the work of the Working Group, the High-Level Group, UNGEI and FTI. In particular, Mr Matsuura welcomed the participation of Mr Ad Melkert, Associate Administrator of UNDP (by video recording), and Ms Rima Salah, Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF, in the opening session of the Working Group. “Their participation demonstrates once again our common commitment to see the EFA goals achieved through strong partnerships and effective collaboration in the context of the MDGs and the wider development agenda.”