United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization

Director-General calls for sustained investment in education at thematic debate on EFA

On Saturday 24 April 2009, the Director-General of UNESCO, Mr Koïchiro Matsuura, took part in the thematic debate of the 181st session of the Executive Board, focused on “UNESCO’s role as a lead agency for EFA and the coordination among convening agencies, with a special emphasis on EFA progress in Africa”.

The session was organized by the Chairman of the Board, Mr Joseph Olabiyi Babalola Yaï, with the participation of several high-level personalities, including Ms Naledi Pandor, Minister of Education of South Africa and chairperson of the joint Bureau of Ministers of COMEDAF and the Association for the Development of Education in Africa (ADEA) and Mr Jean-Pierre Ezin, Commissioner for Human Resource Development, Science and Technology, African Union Commission*.

“This debate is timely. International policy coordination is essential in the context of today’s deep financial and economic crisis. It is particularly important in the field of education, especially in Africa. EFA will simply not be achieved without a strategic focus on this highly diverse continent, and in particular, on the most vulnerable countries and groups”, Mr Matsuura said in his opening address.

The Director-General argued that since Dakar significant progress had been made in terms of greater collaboration and policy coherence among partners at the global level, in particular among the 5 EFA convening agencies (UNESCO, UNDP, UNFPA, UNICEF and the World Bank). However, he recognized that more needed to be done to reinforce collaboration on the ground. In this regard, he referred to the recent letter that the Heads of the 5 EFA convening agencies had sent out to field staff and Resident Coordinators, pledging to scale-up assistance in such priority areas as technical support, policy coordination, resource mobilization and information management. The Director-General noted that the 5 agencies would give particular focus to the most EFA-challenges countries (see Flash Info N° 063-2009*).

Mr Matsuura underlined the urgent need to increase support to Africa. “Tremendous accomplishments have been made in a number of sub-Saharan African countries since 2000. They are proof that the political will exists. The issue is to keep this momentum alive, to become more strategic in our interventions and align with national needs and priorities”, the Director-General said. He went on to give examples of how UNESCO was boosting its assistance to African countries, in cooperation with African regional organizations and economic communities, in such key fields as literacy, teachers and HIV&AIDS.

“The right to education is under serious threat right now. The financial and economic crisis could have devastating consequences for Africa. Our voice must be strong enough to convince countries and development partners that any cut in social spending or international aid could put a whole generation at risk and compromise the historic progress made in Africa since 2000. It is of enormous concern that the level of aid to basic education dropped by a stark 22 percent between 2006 and 2007. Despite donor promises to boost financing for Africa, aid to basic education on the continent amounted to just 1.8 billion dollars in 2007 – less than one-quarter of the sum needed to reach EFA. We must turn these trends around”, Mr Matsuura said in conclusion.

A series of common themes emerged from the day’s thematic debate. The first was the need to sustain progress in EFA and protect spending on basic education, both in domestic and external aid budgets. Second, participants highlighted the importance of addressing the whole EFA agenda – especially the neglected goals of literacy, early childhood care and education (ECCE) and quality, with particular emphasis on teachers. The need to pay special attention to equity and inclusion was likewise underlined. Board Members also urged a holistic approach to the education sector, underscoring the links between EFA and progress at the secondary and higher levels. Third, there was a very frank and constructive exchange on UNESCO’s role as lead agency for EFA. Participants welcomed the advances made in terms of global policy coordination, especially among the 5 EFA convening agencies, arguing that the challenge ahead was to translate this into more coherent and effective support at the country level. Particular emphasis was given to the need for increased technical assistance and capacity-development. It was agreed that UNESCO had a key role to play in this area. The importance of South-South cooperation as a catalyst for EFA progress was also recognized, with Member States again underscoring the unique contribution UNESCO could make – in particular as a networker and facilitator – in this regard.


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* Speaking at the morning session on UNESCO and EFA global coordination were: Mr Nick Alipui, Director, Programme Division, UNICEF; and Mr Birger Fredriksen, international senior consultant, and former UNESCO staff member and Sector Director for Human Development at the World Bank. Kevin Watkins, director of the Education for All Global Monitoring Report team, provided an overview of the implications of the economic crisis for EFA progress. Participating in the afternoon session on EFA challenges in Africa, were, alongside Minister Naledi Pandor and Commissioner Jean-Pierre Ezin: Mr Mamadou Ndoye, international senior consultant and former Minister of Senegal and Former Executive Secretary of ADEA; and Mr Lisardo Justiniano Garcia Ramis, former vice-Director, Central Institute of Pedagogical Sciences, Ministry of Education, Cuba, and former advisor to the governments of Venezuela and the People’s Republic of Angola. The Assistant Director-General for Education, Nicholas Burnett, provided comments at the close of each session.

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Author(s): Office of the Spokesperson - Source: Flash Info N° 075-2009 -  Publication Date: 28-04-2009

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