Director-General opens 9th meeting of the Working Group on EFA

Director-General opens 9th meeting of the Working Group on EFA
  • © UNESCO/P. Lagès

On 12 November 2008, the Director-General of UNESCO, Mr Koïchiro Matsuura, opened the 9th meeting of the Working Group on Education for All (EFA) at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris.

The Director-General began by issuing a strong call for global solidarity in response to the current financial crisis. “We cannot rob today’s children of a future tomorrow. Education is a human right that is fundamental for better health, nutrition, livelihoods, social cohesion and economic growth. As key EFA stakeholders, all those present today share the responsibility to assure that education remains high on the political agenda, and that national public spending on education and international aid do not decline”, he enjoined.

Mr Matsuura noted that 2008 had been marked by tangible efforts towards reinforced international cooperation. He welcomed the recent commitments by the G8 and the European Union in support of basic education. He also applauded the pledges made by world leaders and partners at the UN Summit on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in late September, in particular the promise of US$4.5 billion to educate 15 millions children over the next three years. “This is a very encouraging and welcome effort. We now have to make sure that these pledges are implemented to reach the world’s poorest children”, Mr Matsuura said.

The Director-General recognized that promising steps had also been made towards improving aid effectiveness at the Accra High-Level Forum in early September, and signalled the need to build on this progress at the forthcoming Doha Conference on Financing for Development. During the Conference, UNESCO and the Government of Qatar will organize a side meeting on “Financing Education to Achieve the EFA Goals”, to address the critical funding needs of countries facing conflict, post-conflict and post-disaster situations. Mr Matsuura finally underscored the renewed efforts among the five EFA convening agencies to strengthen cooperation at the country level, building on the EFA Global Action Plan.

Turning to global progress on EFA, the Director-General said that the 2009 edition of the EFA Global Monitoring Report, “Overcoming inequality: why governance matters” *, sounded an alarm bell. While the Report documents rapid advances in a number of low-income countries towards universal primary education and gender parity, progress is not fast enough to achieve the EFA goals on target. On current trends there will be at least 29 million children out of school in 2015. “The situation in sub-Saharan Africa warrants our utmost concern”, the Director-General stated, noting that despite recent advances the continent remains home to nearly 50 per cent of the world’s out-of-school children.

Mr Matsuura also lamented that certain goals continue to be neglected. This is the case for early childhood care education, life skills programmes for youth and adults and – in particular – adult literacy. “If current trends continue, over 700 million adults will still be illiterate in 2015 and de facto excluded from full social participation. This situation is utterly unacceptable in the twenty-first century”, he stressed.

“The Report is clear: business as usual is not sufficient”, Mr Matsuura said, arguing that “much more has to be done to address the deep disparities that continue to undermine EFA progress”. The Director-General called for “bold governance and policy reforms to break down the barriers facing the disadvantaged”. He also said that more and better quality financing was imperative, and that investment must be pro-poor. “At present, public spending too often reinforces inequalities, with wealthier regions and groups better placed to attract financing than more disadvantaged sections of society”, Mr Matsuura stated. “The need for greater equity likewise applies to international aid”, he said, noting that aid to basic education was stagnating, and that donors were not giving enough priority to the poorest countries that confront the greatest challenges. “While this year has seen strong commitments to basic education, in the main this represents the reaffirmation of past pledges. Donors have not signalled the massive scaling up of aid that is needed to fill the external financing gap. Many donors need to urgently rethink their aid allocations, and significantly increase support to basic education in low income countries”, the Director-General urged.

In conclusion, Mr Matsuura called on the Working Group to think critically and creatively on the EFA experience since Dakar and on the most strategic way forward. “It is your role to agree on key policy recommendations to take forward to the EFA High-Level Group, which will meet one month from now in Oslo”, he said. The Director-General noted that four main thematic topics had been chosen for discussion in Oslo: 1) the role of education in meeting global challenges and the MDGs; 2) teachers; 3) equity and governance; and 4) finance. “We are looking for agreement in Oslo on an action-oriented declaration with deliverables that will get all countries on track to achieve the EFA goals by 2015”, Mr Matsuura told participants.

The Working Group on EFA is charged with providing technical guidance on key EFA issues and developing recommendations to be considered at the annual meeting of the EFA High-Level Group. Bringing together representatives from government, bilateral and multilateral agencies, civil society groups and the private sector, it constitutes a unique forum of experts to advance the EFA agenda.

* The 2009 edition of the EFA Global Monitoring Report will be officially launched on 25 November at the International Conference on Education in Geneva. An advance copy of the Report was made available under embargo to all members of the Working Group.

  • Author(s):Office of the Spokesperson
  • Source:Flash Info N° 159-2008
  • 13-11-2008
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