“We must ensure that the gains made in education in recent years are not lost, that the poorest and most vulnerable groups are not further marginalized, and that investing in education is part of the response to the crisis”, the Director-General stated in his opening address, referring to the global economic meltdown and the threat it posed to international efforts to achieve EFA. Mr Matsuura went on to underscore that the financial crisis must not serve as an excuse to cut spending on education, arguing that sustained investment was vital not only to protect the poor from the effects of the downturn, but also as a foundation for a more inclusive and sustainable economic recovery.
The Director-General provided an overview of EFA progress since Dakar 2000. He pointed to tremendous gains in expanding access to primary education, in particular in those regions farthest from achieving EFA. However, he noted that huge challenges remained, with deep inequalities in learning opportunities leaving some 75 million children still out of school and over 776 million adults unable to read and write.
Mr Matsuura called for action in four key areas. First, he urged the need for more joined up advocacy on development issues as well as stronger policy coordination on the ground. “The more evidence we can show about the indispensable role that education plays in achieving all the internationally agreed development goals, the more leverage and support we will have to make the case for increased spending on basic education and literacy”, he stated.
Second, the Director-General called for equity and inclusion to be given top priority. “What we need now are smart policies that target the most vulnerable and marginalized groups, and the neglected EFA goals”, Mr Matsuura said. He drew particular attention to the global literacy challenge, highlighting the progress that had been made under the UN Literacy Decade, but urging the need for much greater support for literacy on the part of all stakeholders.
The third issue Mr Matsuura raised was teachers. While many countries have taken courageous initiatives to recruit new teachers, there remains a massive shortage. Globally, 18 million new primary teachers will be needed by 2015 – 4 million in Africa alone. The Director-General informed Member States of the creation of a new Task Force to mobilize resources and coordinate action to address the teacher gap, which has been launched at the 8th meeting of the EFA High-Level Group in December, 2008 (see Flash Info N°183-2008*). He also noted the measures he had taken to strengthen UNESCO’s Teacher Training Initiative for Sub-Saharan Africa (TTISSA), which aims to assist countries in developing and implementing comprehensive teacher policies.
The urgent need to boost the quality and quantity of funding for education was the fourth and final issue Mr Matsuura raised. He said that the shortfall in external financing was currently estimated at US$7 billion annually, but warned that the actual figure was likely to be much higher. He explained that UNESCO would be monitoring closely the impact of the financial crisis on both national and international spending on education. The Director-General said that improved aid effectiveness was even more important in the current economic context, and pledged UNESCO’s full involvement in the follow-up to the Accra Agenda for Action. He also underscored the need for aid to be better targeted to those countries facing the greatest challenges, in particular those in conflict and post-conflict situations. The Director-General affirmed that UNESCO would keep the pressure on donors to meet their aid commitments, noting that the Organization was in discussions with Italy, the host of the next G8 Summit, to ensure that education figure prominently on the agenda.
“Education is one of the best development investments possible but it faces enormous challenges. We must ensure that governments make education a foundation of their social and economic development. This is all the more critical in the current economic context. “Act Together”, the slogan of the EFA High-Level Group in Oslo, sums up our mission as coordinator. We must act together with urgency, with our sister agencies, with national governments and with all our development partners to target the most in need – countries and individuals. This is the only path for building inclusive, flexible quality education, for delivering more effective literacy programmes, for protecting education in situations of fragility and for mobilizing more resources for education”, Mr Matsuura said in conclusion.
The Director-General’s intervention was followed by a wide-ranging debate with Permanent Delegates. All agreed that the financial crisis made sustained investment in education more important now than ever. They underscored UNESCO’s important advocacy role in this regard, in particular in the run-up to the G20 meeting in London and the G8 summit in Italy. There was also strong consensus on the need to give greater emphasis to teachers, as key to raising quality, as well as to adult literacy. Here, Permanent Delegates agreed that UNESCO had a lead role to play through awareness-raising, exchanging good practices, catalyzing support behind national literacy strategies and helping countries monitor and assess their literacy needs.
Author(s): Office of the Spokesperson - Source: Flash Info N° 028-2009 - Publication Date: 23-02-2009