United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization

Director-General opens EFA Mid-Term Review Conference for the Arab States Region

On 19 February, the Director-General of UNESCO, Mr Koïchiro Matsuura, opened the EFA Mid-Term Review Conference for the Arab States Region in Doha, Qatar.

The three-day meeting was co-organized by UNESCO and the Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development, and inaugurated in the presence of the Her Highness Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser Al Missnad, founder of the Qatar Foundation and UNESCO Special Envoy for Basic and Higher Education. The Deputy Prime Minister of Qatar, Abdulla bin Hamad Al-Atiyah delivered a keynote address at the opening ceremony, which was attended by over 100 participants, including the First Lady of Mauritania, Madam Khattou bint al-Boukhary, Ministers of Education from the Arab States region, as well as representatives of UN agencies, the World Bank and regional intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations.

In his inaugural speech, the Director-General paid tribute to Her Highness Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser Al Missnad for her inspiring leadership in promoting EFA, not only in Qatar and the Arab States, but throughout the world. “Last year, we joined hands here in Doha to organize the UNESCO Regional Literacy Conference for the Arab States region, which many in this audience attended. Today, I am delighted that UNESCO and the Qatar Foundation have come together again behind another major initiative in support of regional efforts to achieve Education for All”.

The Director-General noted that the aim of the Conference was to assess progress towards the six EFA goals. “It is to show how far the Arab States region has come since 2000. It is also to identify the critical challenges that remain and the strategies by which they can be overcome”, he said, explaining that participants could draw in their discussions on two major reports: the 2008 EFA Global Monitoring Report, and its regional summary for the Arab States; and the EFA Mid-Term Review for the Arab States, “Sharpening Our Tools”, produced by UNESCO Beirut. The Director-General also referred to the rich partnerships and networks for promoting education in the region. “Today’s meeting seeks to build upon and strengthen this regional momentum for EFA”, he explained.

Mr Matsuura welcomed the real progress countries in the region had made since Dakar. “Since 2000, Arab States have stepped up efforts to meet the basic learning needs of their populations. […] In the region, over 11% more children entered primary school in 2005 than in 1999, creating a net enrolment rate of 83%”, he said. However, the Director-General also noted that “while the region is definitely moving in the right direction, progress is not fast enough to achieve all six EFA goals on schedule and appears to be slower than in the decade following Jomtien. Some countries – in particular least developed countries and those in situations of conflict or post-conflict – face very serious challenges in providing Education for All”.

The Director-General pointed to three key challenges ahead. The first was how to reach the unreached. “While Arab States have made significant strides in enhancing access to primary education, there remain 6 million children out of school”, Mr Matsuura said, and called for targeted measures to meet the needs of excluded groups such as the children of migrant workers, children with disabilities, and children in situations of post-conflict or post-disaster. In particular, he highlighted the needs of girls, who in 2005 accounted for three out of five of primary school-age children not enrolled in the Arab States.

The second issue Mr Matsuura emphasized was quality, which he said was both vital to meeting the needs of today’s increasingly competitive and knowledge-driven societies, as well as a key vehicle for promoting social equity, stabilizing conflicts and building mutual understanding and respect. He drew special attention to the need for more and better trained teachers.

The Director-General finally urged that attention be refocused on the whole EFA agenda. “The fact that two of the EFA goals – universal primary education and gender equality in education – were included among the Millennium Development Goals has helped to bring them to forefront of the development agenda”, he said. However, he noted that as a result, other goals – equally important to EFA – had tended to be neglected, in particular adult literacy, which he said was a serious problem for the region: “Around 30% of the adult population cannot read and write – 57 million in total. This is one of the highest rates of illiteracy in the world, and represents a major brake on development”.

Mr Matsuura argued that national leadership was key to addressing these challenges. Yet he also underscored the importance of international support. Affirming UNESCO’s commitment and solidarity, the Director-General called on other partners to scale up their assistance. In particular, he appealed to donors to invest more in education, especially at the basic level. In this regard, he noted as “very encouraging” the emergence of new Arab donors in the region, expressing his hope that “this support will increase, and be extended to other regions”.

In conclusion, the Director-General informed participants that he would carry forward the outcomes of the Conference to the next meeting of the EFA High-Level Group in Oslo, Norway, in December 2008.

The Mid-Term Review Conference discussed progress across all six EFA goals, along with key issues such as education finance and management and the provision of education in conflict, post-conflict and emergency situations. At the close, participants issued a strong declaration of commitment to EFA, identifying the policies and priorities needed to achieve success in the region.

During his stay in Doha, the Director-General met with Her Highness Sheikha Mozah to discuss the growing collaboration between the Qatar Foundation and UNESCO in the fields of education and culture. He also signed a Letter of Intent with Sheikha Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, Chairperson of the Reach Out to Asia (ROTA) Foundation, aimed at strengthening cooperation between UNESCO and ROTA in the area of education, and in particular EFA. Mr Matsuura went on to attend the 3rd annual meeting of ROTA’s Board of Trustees and a ROTA fund-raising dinner, held in the presence of Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabr Al-Thani, Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Qatar.

Author(s): Office of the Spokeswoman - Source: Flash Info N° 021-2008 -  Publication Date: 22-02-2008

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