Mr Matsuura opened the meeting on 11 December alongside the President of Senegal, His Excellency Abdoulaye Wade. Also present were the Prime Minister, Mr Cheikh Hadjibou Soumaré, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Cheikh Tidiane Gadio, and the Minister of Education, Mr Moustapha Sourang. Statements were delivered during the opening ceremony on behalf of the Heads of State of Bénin, Ghana, Mali and Nigeria. The voices of youth were also heard through the statements of four young children, who gave moving testimonies of their expectations, needs and hopes for education.
In his inaugural address, the Director-General underscored the importance of returning to Dakar seven and a half years after the World Education Forum in 2000, when 164 countries adopted the six goals of Education for All. “This is a moment to take stock of the progress made since 2000, and to identify the main challenges that remain at this halfway point toward the 2015 target date for achieving EFA”, he said.
Turning first to progress since Dakar 2000, the Director-General pointed to “real changes on the world map of basic education”. He highlighted the rapid rise in primary school enrolment, in particular in sub-Saharan Africa, the sharp drop in the number of out-of-school children, and the progress many countries had made towards achieving gender parity in primary schooling. “While there remains a long way to go to achieve universal primary education (goal 2) and gender parity (goal 5), there are strong trends in the right direction”, he said. However, Mr Matsuura noted that the picture for the other goals was less positive. He pointed to the general neglect suffered by the goals of adult literacy (goal 4), ongoing learning opportunities for young people and adults (goal 3) and early childhood care and education (goal 1). He also pointed to quality (goal 6) as in urgent need of greater attention.
With respect to EFA progress, the Director-General noted that the international scene was now much more conducive to achieving Education for All than it had been in the late 1990s. “We knew, when we met in Dakar ten years after Jomtien, that we could not fail again. Efforts were therefore made to set up a new structure, under the coordination of UNESCO, to drive EFA forward. These efforts have paid off”, he said, turning to identify three of the conditions that are now supporting progress in basic education. First, EFA has become a truly multi-stakeholder endeavour. Second, the international architecture has evolved considerably. Bilateral and multilateral donors, in particular, are more aware that aid to basic education is an essential part of investment in sustainable human development. Third, the creation of new international EFA mechanisms – namely the EFA Global Monitoring Report, the EFA High-Level Group and the EFA Working Group – has played a crucial role in maintaining and increasing momentum.
“The progress we have seen, and the many positive developments in support of EFA, enable us to speak of a real ‘Dakar effect’. As we meet for the second time in this city, we must once again drive the EFA agenda forward. Tremendous challenges lie ahead and 2015 is just around the corner. If we are to meet all of the goals, we must renew our commitments and step up our efforts”, Mr Matsuura enjoined. He went on to outline what he saw as the six main challenges ahead.
He stated that “first and foremost national governments must sustain their commitments, both in terms of policy priorities and budgetary decisions”. Second, donor agencies must honour the pledge they made in 2000 that “no countries seriously committed to education for all will be thwarted in their achievement of this goal by a lack of resources”. Here, the Director-General underscored that even of recent pledges are met, aid to basic education is only likely to reach US$6 billion by 2010. “This is still US$5 billion short of what the GMR estimates is needed annually to achieve EFA”, he said.
The third major challenge Mr Matsuura identified was inclusion. “If education really is to be for all, then we must give more attention to the learning needs of marginalized and vulnerable groups”. The fourth challenge was the quality of basic education. “Quality is a multifaceted issue. But many of us would agree that more trained teachers is a first priority. More than eighteen million new teachers will be needed by 2015 to achieve universal primary education – nearly 4 million in sub-Saharan Africa alone”, the Director-General said.
Fifth, was the need to make progress toward the neglected EFA goals. “EFA must be pursued in a holistic manner; young children, youth and adults cannot be left on the sidelines. Within this commitment to lifelong learning, Mr Matsuura argued that stronger connections needed to be forged with other aspects of education, including secondary education and technical and vocational education and training (TVET). The sixth and final challenge was to make sure all stakeholders work together coherently, both globally and at the national level.
“These are the main challenges ahead. Let us not underestimate them. But let us not either lose heart. With bold and concerted action they can be overcome”, the Director-General concluded.
The two day High-Level Group meeting took up these challenges, focusing in particular on the issues of inclusion, quality and EFA financing. Discussions were informed by the 2008 EFA Global Monitoring Report, as well as by the outcomes of the 8th meeting of the EFA Working Group in November 2007.
The Director-General chaired the closing session of the High-Level Group meeting, devoted to the adoption of the Communiqué. The Communiqué was drafted during the meeting by members of the International Advisory Panel, which the Director-General had established in May 2007 to provide support to UNESCO in the preparation, coordination and follow-up of the key EFA meetings.
The final text, adopted unanimously by the High-Level Group, sets out practical measures to achieve EFA by 2015, focusing on the areas of equity and inclusion and quality. Stating that domestic resources typically account for most of the education budget, the Communiqué calls on national governments to allocate 10% of their budgets to basic education. Taking serious note of the decline in external aid commitments to education in 2005 and of the annual funding gap of US$11 billion, the High-Level Group pledged to “work to maintain and increase levels of funding to education and basic education”, and to prioritize countries furthest from achieving the EFA goals. Emphasis was also given to the urgent need to raise the profile of basic education on international agendas, and to make more explicit the links between EFA and other major global issues such as the MDGs, climate change, sustainable development and public health.
It was agreed that the 8th meeting of the High-Level Group will be help in Oslo, Norway, from 16 to 18 December 2008.
Author(s): Office of the Spokeswoman - Source: Flash Info N° 198-2007 - Publication Date: 17-12-2007