Global financial crisis makes sustained investment in education more important than ever, EFA High-Level Group concludes at 8th meeting in Oslo

Global financial crisis makes sustained investment in education more important than ever, EFA High-Level Group concludes at 8th meeting in Oslo
  • © UNESCO/M. Ravassard

From 16 to 17 December 2008, the Director-General of UNESCO, Mr Koïchiro Matsuura, presided the 8th meeting of the High-Level Group on Education for All (EFA), hosted by the Norwegian Government in Oslo.

The meeting brought together Ministers of Education and Development Cooperation, as well senior representatives from multilateral agencies, civil society and the private sector, to boost political and financial support for EFA.

On 16 December, the Director-General addressed the opening ceremony alongside the Prime Minister of Norway, Jens Stoltenberg, Her Majesty Queen Rania of Jordan, His Royal Highness Crown Prince Haakon of Norway and the President of Senegal, Abdoulaye Wade. United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, also sent a video message.

“We gather at a time of both crisis and possibility. Recent years have witnessed rising inequalities between and within countries. The global financial meltdown, which risks hitting the world’s poor the hardest, could deepen these inequalities even further. But this crisis is also a call for reinforced global collaboration. It compels us to act together and shift the tide towards greater inclusion, equity and social justice. Times of crisis are also times of opportunity if we can demonstrate sufficient courage and political will, and articulate a clear vision of where we want our societies to be in 2015 and beyond”, the Director-General stated in his opening remarks.

While recognizing the progress many countries had made since 2000, Mr Matsuura warned that this was no time for complacency, arguing that on current trends 29 million children would still be out of school in 2015 and 700 million adults would be unable to read and write - only 10 percent fewer than today.

In this context, the Director-General called on education partners to redouble their efforts, signalling three priorities for action. First: to place equity at the centre of the EFA agenda. “Success should be measured by what policies do for the poorest 20 percent, in terms of access and in terms of learning”, Mr Matsuura said. Second: to improve quality. “This meeting will put the spotlight on teachers because without them EFA simply cannot be achieved”, the Director-General stated, calling for an international alliance to support countries in closing the teacher gap. The third priority, he said, was to respect the “Dakar compact”, whereby donors agreed that no country with a credible education plan would be left behind for lack of resources. Mr Matsuura noted that this promise had not been met. “Aid commitments for basic education have stagnated since 2004 at around 4 billion dollars, leaving an annual funding shortage of some 7 billion dollars. Unless donors act urgently to fill this gap, progress made since Dakar will be seriously jeopardized”, the Director-General warned. He underscored that the financial crisis must not serve as an excuse for reducing spending on education. “Any decrease in investment now will be difficult to make up for later on. If we want all children in primary school by 2015 we must act urgently. Education is not a quick fix. Education is a long-term investment”.

This message was echoed by other speakers, who insisted that an economic recession was not the time to cut spending but rather step up investment in human capacity as vital for sustaining poverty reduction efforts and spurring economic growth. Special emphasis was given to the need for greater support for girls’ education, which yields multiple benefits for individuals, families and societies as a whole.

After the opening ceremony, a high-level panel was held to discuss further the role of education as a driver for positive change. All panellists, representing different stakeholder groups, stressed the importance of education as one of the most important tools for development, urging the need to sustain the gains made since 2000 and calling for greater support for the poorest and most marginalized groups, in particular girls.

On 17 December the Director-General presided the High-Level Group ministerial meeting, alongside the Minister of Education of Norway, Mr Baard Vegar Solhjell. Participants shared experiences and good practices, exploring the types of measures needed to accelerate progress in the three key areas of equity and governance, teachers and financing. Discussions were informed by the 2009 Education for All Global Monitoring Report, the main findings of which were presented by the Report’s director, Kevin Watkins. A working lunch was also held on the girls’ education, chaired by the Minister of Environment and Development Cooperation of Norway, Mr Erik Solheim.

The ministerial meeting closed with the adoption, by consensus, of the Oslo Declaration. Reaffirming the centrality of education for development, the Declaration calls for concrete actions to enhance equity, increase financing – both domestic and external, and address the teacher gap. In support of the latter, participants endorsed the creation of an International Task Force on “Teachers for EFA”, as a voluntary alliance of EFA partners working together to help meet the global, and growing, shortage of teachers.

On the sidelines of the High-Level Group meeting, the Director-General spoke with several Ministers, including the Minister of Education of Malaysia, Mr Dato Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein, the Minister of Education of Indonesia, Mr Bambang Sudibyo, the Minister of Secondary and Higher Education of Senegal, Mr Moustapha Sourang, the Minister of State for Education of Nigeria, Ms Aishatu Jibril Dukku, and the Minister of Education of South Africa, Ms Naled Pandor. He also met with the Managing Director of the World Bank, Mr Graeme Wheeler, to discuss multilateral cooperation in EFA.

  • Author(s):Office of the Spokesperson
  • Source:Flash Info N° 183-2008
  • 19-12-2008
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