Engaging citizens in education sector planning and review processes in DRC

Jacques T CONEPTJacques Tshimbalanga, CONEPT-DRC National Coordinator

The Coalition Nationale de l’Education Pour Tous en République Démocratique du Congo (CONEPT-DRC) operates through 50 member organisations, which represent an array of stakeholders, such as teachers’ unions, parents’ associations, NGOs, children’s and women’s rights groups, and researchers, and are located across all provinces in the country. DRC is the fourth most populous nation on the African continent, with over 71 million inhabitants. Among these, over 7 million children and young people of between 7 and 15 years are out of school,[1] most of them girls. This is partly a result of extreme poverty and long-term political conflict and violence, which has underpinned a lack of social services, infrastructure and poor governance. In this context, CONEPT has spent the past ten years at the forefront of campaigning for the right to education in DRC, and through CSEF we have worked to influence policy dialogue and holding the government accountable for efforts to overcome these immense challenges.

Towards citizen accountability

The education sector in DRC has been governed by different education sector plans, and supported since 2013 through funding from the Global Partnership for Education. Domestic financial commitments have previously been poor; however, the share of the total budget for education increased from 9% in 2010 to 16% in 2013.[2] Yet, the government has experienced challenges in terms of implementing the sector plans, and there has been limited engagement with relevant stakeholders, including civil society, in planning and policy processes. This is despite the emphasis of the current Interim Plan for Education (PIE, 2012-2015) on improving the governance of the education system.

In response to these challenges, CONEPT has been working to ensure broad public outreach on key education issues, to bolster citizen dialogue and enhance government attention to education. An important tactic we have employed has been to build a collaborative relationship with the media, in order to raise awareness among citizens and communities. We have produced a variety of newspaper articles and radio programmes focusing on issues such as early childhood, quality and inclusive education. In September 2013 I participated, on behalf of the coalition, in a television debate with the Minister for Education, Mr. Maker Mwangu Famba, to discuss the education reforms. Here I emphasised that political will is needed to ensure that the necessary domestic resources, services and infrastructure are mobilised under governmental efforts to achieve agreed education goals. It was also an opportunity to reinforce the message that education sector plans should be developed through dialogue with civil society, as is highlighted in the Dakar Framework for Action 2000.

Influencing education sector planning

CONEPT has also engaged in data collection, monitoring and research, in order to gather evidence to feed into policy debate around key education challenges in DRC. To ensure inclusive and participatory consultations, we have established a system to facilitate civil society review of policy documents, with a particular emphasis on incorporating inputs from marginalized groups. Based on these contributions, key findings and positions are submitted to the government in oral or written forms. This has helped to increase civil society’s profile and credibility, and led to enhanced recognition from decision-makers and more opportunity for civil society to engage.

At present, the government is preparing a new Education and Training Sector Plan (ETSP, 2016-2025), which is to replace the current PIE. In light of this, the government has asked CONEPT to coordinate inputs and feedback from civil society. In March this year we organised a National Forum on Education Policy and Financing to analyse the draft plan. As the official government-organised reviews were only conducted in the capital, Kinshasa, we also made sure to host five consultations in the provinces of Equateur, Bas Congo, Bandundu and Katanga as well as Kinshasa, ahead of the National Forum in March to capture inputs from grassroots level. In these processes we made use of GCE’s Planning Matters toolkit, which helped to build understanding around the various entry points civil society can use to engage with sector planning. The civil society consultations resulted in a submission advocating for enhanced domestic resources to education, with an emphasis on ensuring equity, and alignment of the full SDG 4 agenda to the national context. The proposal also argued for the government to support and strengthen Parents’ Committees (COPAS) and Schools’ Management Councils (COGES), which exist in almost all schools, in order to improve local school governance and accountability through citizen-driven monitoring activities.

As the elaboration of the new education plan is still under way CONEPT will be monitoring the process closely. We are hopeful that the meaningful participation of civil society will result in a responsive and relevant Education and Training Sector Plan for DRC that is implemented effectively and can help bring us closer to ensuring quality education for all.


[1] http://www.unicef.org/education/files/DRC_OOSCI_Full_Report_(En).pdf

[2] http://www.globalpartnership.org/country/congo-drc

Addis Ababa Action Agenda: More empty rhetoric than concrete commitments

Tanvir Muntasim writes from the Third Financing for Development Conference (FfD) in Ethiopia, where he represented ActionAid International and the Global Campaign for Education.

I arrived in Addis Ababa to attend the Third Financing for Development Conference full of optimism and high expectations. The Conference was expected to adopt a concrete set of principles and commitments that would set international financial systems on the right track, and outline how the ambitious Sustainable Development Goals agenda will be financed.

However, the reality turned out to be quite different. An impending sense of disappointment was pervasive during the CSO Forum that took place before the main event. Information kept trickling in that civil society’s presence (let alone participation) was being severely restricted. We then realised that most of the key decisions had already been made, and the remaining open issues would be decided behind closed doors with very select participants, while the discussions at roundtables and side events would have no impact on the final document. Additionally, during the plenary session, country delegations would read through speeches that have more to do with self-appreciation than the agenda at hand. Even here, however, civil society would have very limited space and rare opportunities to articulate their experiences and expectations. Under such a restrictive environment, civil society representatives demonstrated their innovativeness and commitment by finding various entry points to the country delegates and lobbying tirelessly for the one agenda that mattered beyond the reassertion of past rhetoric. That agenda is the formulation of a UN Intergovernmental Tax Body, to which every country would be a member, and would have an equal role to play in reforming deeply flawed global tax policies.

Countries are losing an incredible amount of resources through illicit financial flows, tax dodging and other underhand methods practised mostly by multinational companies. They exploit the loopholes of international tax policies and take away resources that could have been invested to strengthen public services such as education – hiring and training more teachers, better school infrastructure and other quality inputs. GCE (Global Campaign for Education) and its members have been very vocal about this issue – GCE’s 2013 report A Taxing Business gives an in-depth analysis of increasing domestic resources through taxation. Even in the strategy meeting held in Addis, the GCE allies decided to strongly support this proposed tax body, which has been a long-standing demand of developing countries. However, the most dismal outcome of the Conference was the strong resistance to this – primarily from OECD countries – and how this overpowered the demand of the majority. As such, the opportunity to make a groundbreaking commitment to concrete action to address systemic inequality was lost, and Addis ended as just another Conference without any progressive contribution to the ongoing development discourse.

While the Conference failed to deliver on these expectations, there was still further cause for concern. There were calls to strengthen the role of the private sector, including private finance and public-private partnerships, in order to help finance the post-2015 agenda. There is a fundamental contradiction in expecting private companies – whose aim is to maximise profit in the shortest time possible – to deliver on basic human rights. The private sector is given to invade the space previously reserved for state intervention, but without any clear regulatory, accountability or transparency mechanism. A joke that has already begun to circulate sums it up: the ‘Financing for Development’ conference has become ‘Developing for Finance’.

One paragraph in the outcome document is dedicated to education, and basically summarises previous development commitments, but with one important exception. It talks mostly about children, blissfully overlooking the almost 800 million adults who are still not literate. There is also no specific benchmark for financing public services; rather some very soft rhetoric about how States will be ‘encouraged’ to ‘consider’ setting appropriate spending targets.

All in all, the outcome on July 16th was hugely disappointing: a lack of genuine political will has been glaringly visible, corporate interests have been served, and the battle for realising basic rights and securing resources for development goals is far from over. The only bright spot in this dismal process has been the incredibly strong sense of solidarity among civil society, and the constant demonstration that we will not give up. We will continue the struggle because we are fighting for the highest stakes possible – the future of humanity.

Earthquake hinders education progress in Nepal

Purna Shrestha is Lead Adviser for Education at VSO International. Purna and his family are Nepalese, and he has been working with VSO and a number of small charities to support the relief efforts in Nepal.

Since the first devastating earthquake struck Nepal on 25th April, nearly 9,000 people are dead, thousands are injured and approximately 2.5 million people are now homeless according to the Government of Nepal’s Disaster Risk Reduction Portal. The Nepalese government and the international community are rushing to provide temporary shelter and safe learning spaces for children before the monsoon season hits from the end of June. I’m concerned for Nepal’s children who may find it hard to cope in such difficult circumstances.

Education at risk
Nepal has improved access to education in recent years. Eight out of ten 3-4-year-olds were accessing early childhood education and development services. The enrolment rate at primary school level (years 1-5) reached 96% (Ministry of Education: 2015). However, the recent earthquakes and over 300 aftershocks have set Nepal’s education system back by years. According to a post-disaster needs assessment carried out by the Ministry of Education, 8,242 schools have been affected, 25,134 classrooms have been completely destroyed and a further 22,097 classrooms have been partially damaged. This has led to the closure of schools and colleges in some areas for over a month, forcing more than two million children out of education.

The total damage to the country’s education system is estimated at US$ 313.2 million. Most of the costs incurred – US$ 280.6 million – relate to infrastructure damage. Demolition and debris removal, construction of temporary learning centres, child-friendly spaces and water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) facilities, plus school repair costs, total US$ 32.5 million. The cost of recovery and reconstruction in the education sector alone from 2016 to 2020 is estimated at US$ 414.8 million.

Although some schools have reopened, most classes have been taking place in ‘Temporary Learning Centres’ (TLCs). Destruction of family homes and mass displacement have severely impacted the mental health and well-being of Nepal’s children. Even students whose schools haven’t been badly damaged are too frightened to attend, due to the continuing aftershocks.

Girls are most at risk
Although these children need continuous relief in terms of food, clean water and shelter, we mustn’t forget that providing a basic education in the wake of a disaster- even in a Temporary Learning Centre – plays a vital role in a recovery situation. TLCs not only minimise disruption to a girl’s education, but they also protect girls from exploitation and abuse.

A recent media report in the Guardian suggests that tens of thousands of girls made vulnerable by Nepal’s earthquakes are being targeted by human traffickers. Prior to this disaster, the UN estimated that up to 15,000 girls were being trafficked from Nepal every year. I am horrified at this upsurge. The 14 areas worst hit by the earthquakes, like Dhading District, are now most at risk from human trafficking. Only last week, police reportedly intercepted 44 children travelling from Dhading to Kathmandu with adults who were not their legal guardians. Over 50 girls were rescued from the Indian borders since the first earthquake in April. If we don’t act now to create a safe school environment, tens of thousands of vulnerable girls could fall prey to human traffickers.

Young people can inspire others
Despite this disaster, I’m inspired by how young people from all over the world have united in their commitment to help others. Nepalese and international students, youth-led NGOs, and young volunteers have all demonstrated their enthusiasm, compassion and humanity. Young people haven’t just responded to relief efforts in every earthquake-hit village, they’ve demonstrated innovation, courage and determination to restore Nepal. Their positivity has inspired others to get involved. One youth group started ‘Kathmandu Living Labs’, which mobilised more than 2,000 mappers across the globe to contribute to ‘OpenStreetMap’, which helps relief agencies target their relief efforts. Another group has initiated a crowd sourcing campaign HacktheQuake – an ideas hub for rebuilding, rehabilitation and reconstruction.

Building back better
Imagine if the earthquake – 7.8 on the Richter scale – had occurred during school time? It could have been even more disastrous. As it stands, over 80% of schools in Sindhuplachok have been completely destroyed. According to the Ministry of Education, nearly 250 schools need to be relocated to a safer area and the risk of flooding and landslides is still high. When Nepal rebuilds its schools, we must ensure they are resilient in the face of natural disasters and that they provide a safe environment for teaching. This crisis has created an opportunity to build more inclusive and safer schools for girls – building female toilet blocks will give girls the dignity and privacy they need and peace of mind for their parents. Improving disaster resilience is not only about ‘building back better’ from a structural perspective. It also requires a better curriculum, more textbooks and implemented safety procedures. Stringent disaster risk management training and planning is required at school and community level.

Not only is education vital in helping children overcome the trauma of a natural disaster, it is also critical in restoring a sense of normality and rebuilding hope. Education is a fundamental human right which must be provided and safeguarded by the State in order to give every child the best possible chance to realise their potential; despite the vast challenges they face, the people of Nepal will rebuild the education system and the country, but they still need your support to do this.


Reflections on the Nobel Peace Prize for Malala and Kailash

David Archer, Head of Programme Development for ActionAid International, & member of the Boards of the Global Campaign for Education and of the Global Partnership for Education.

On 10th December Malala Yousafzai and Kailash Satyarthi will attend the ceremonies to receive the joint Nobel Peace Prize for 2014. Much has been made of the decision to choose an Indian and a Pakistani, a Muslim and a Hindu, an older man and a young girl – and these contrasts are powerful – but what unites them more than anything is their passionate campaigning for education. Indeed this prize is recognition for the crucial role of education in building and preserving peace – and of the need to defend the right to education at all times.

Ironically it is the young campaigner, Malala, who is more widely known, owing to her personal story: her extraordinary bravery in standing up to the Taliban and the power of her speeches, not least at the UN General Assembly on her 16th birthday.

Kailash is less well known and most of the media coverage has focused on his work on child labour in India, bravely freeing children from conditions of slavery and abuse. What is much less known is the work Kailash has done for education. In 1998 the movement started by Kailash, the Global March against Child Labour, concluded that achieving universal education was the key positive solution to the outrage of child labour. As Kailash himself has often said “the best place for children to work is in school”.

As a result of this, in 1999 Kailash co-founded the Global Campaign for Education (GCE) – together with ActionAid, Oxfam and Education International. ActionAid was already running the “Elimu” campaign which focused on democratising education decision making – supporting stronger citizen oversight locally and forming inclusive national education coalitions to review and influence progress on education. Meanwhile Oxfam had launched their “Education Now!” Campaign, putting a human face on their work on structural adjustment and debt by focusing on education financing and demanding a global action plan.  At the same time Education International, the global federation of teachers unions, with 23 million members (at the time), launched a campaign called “Quality Public Education for All”, challenging the neo-liberal agenda and the creeping privatisation of education. The link with Kailash’s Global March Against Child Labour added a crucial dimension to the emerging Global Campaign for Education  (GCE), with a strong focus on the most excluded children and a commitment to mobilisation.

The initial focus of the GCE was to get the international community to recognise the scale of the global crisis in education – with over 100 million children out of school at that time. GCE argued for and secured in 2000 some ambitious Education for All and Millennium Development Goals that would address this crisis. Kailash became the first President of the GCE and served in that role through to 2011, helping GCE to evolve into a truly global, southern-led movement with national education coalitions now formed in over 80 countries. These coalitions in each country bring NGOs and unions together to hold their own governments to account for delivering on education rights. This is an unprecedented and exemplary movement, mobilising millions of people, with its headquarters in South Africa. There have been many dramatic successes, for example with campaigns to end user fees leading to huge surges in enrolment so that today there are 50 million more children in school than there were 15 years ago.

Kailash has been at the heart of this movement and remains on the international board of GCE. He played a key role in the development of Education Fast Track Initiative and its evolution into the $3 billion Global Partnership for Education. At all times he has emphasised the need to keep up our efforts to reach the hardest to reach:  the most excluded children, those working in appalling conditions as child labourers, the children with disabilities and those affected by conflict.

Kailash was one of the first people to celebrate Malala’s emergence as a formidable campaigner for girls’ education. She has put the issues on the global agenda more effectively than anyone, capturing the imagination of the world’s media and of the general public. Indeed, Malala has reached people at an emotional level that has helped to transform the case for education, making it one of the defining struggles of our times.

The Nobel Prize comes at a key moment for education campaigners as we come up to the deadline for the education goals which were set back in 2000 for achievement in 2015. It is now clear that these goals will not be met as 57 million children are still not in school and the quality of education for many others is shockingly poor. The key challenge is for governments and donors to learn from what worked and what did not – and then to place education at the heart of the post-2015 sustainable development goals.  As the Nobel Peace Prize makes clear, education is not just a good in itself – it is absolutely central to the achievement of wider goals of peace, development and justice.


New out of school figures show there is no chance the world will reach EFA by 2015

Aaron Benavot, Director, EFA Global Monitoring Report.

The new data are in and confirm any remaining doubt: there is no chance, whatsoever, that the world will meet its pledge to ensure that every primary age child is in school by 2015. According to a new EFA Global Monitoring Report and UIS paper, 58 million children, roughly between the ages of 6 and 11, were still excluded from school in 2012. Making matters worse, this figure has barely changed since 2007. So there has been almost no progress at the global level for several years.

The lack of progress is mainly due to the situation in sub-Saharan Africa, where about 30 million children are out of school. Most of these children will never even set foot in a classroom and many of those who do, will drop out. Across the region, more than one in three children who started primary school in 2012 will leave before reaching the last grade.  Girls face the greatest risk of exclusion, and account for more than half of African children out of school.

Africa simply cannot keep up with the rising demand for education. Since 2000, the region’s school-age population grew by 35% while it fell by close to 10% in the rest of the world. So in just over a decade, the region was faced with an extra 36 million children, who needed space in already crowded classrooms. No other region is faced with such high population growth.

But while the news is bleak, it should not lead to further inertia. On the contrary, we must use the data to mobilize the resources required to enable all children to enter and complete school and learning well. We should also look for inspiration in countries that are managing to buck the global trend, despite difficult circumstances. From Ghana to Morocco, a closer look at the data reveals that 17 countries managed to reduce their out-of-school populations by almost 90% in little over a decade. How? By combining political will with bold action and smart policies.

For some countries, the first step is to abolish school fees, as in the case of Burundi, where the percentage of children enrolled in primary school rose from 54% to 94% in just six years.

Then there are the hidden costs of education, such as school uniforms and books.  Here we learn from the experience of Latin America, where countries such as Nicaragua are providing financial support to families struggling to keep their children in school and seeing enrolment numbers shoot up.

At the same time, there are school budgets to consider. Ghana, for example, doubled its education spending and saw the number of children enrolled in school rise by 70% between 1999 and 2013.

But money alone won’t resolve the problems. We must find innovative ways to ensure that children don’t just start school but complete a full cycle and learn relevant knowledge and skills.  If the conditions for learning are poor, children and their parents will vote with their feet and leave school before finishing their education program. Part of the answer, as demonstrated by Morocco and Guatemala, lies in integrating local languages and cultures in curricula and ensuring that it addresses the needs and aspirations of children and their families.

For countries affected by conflict, Rwanda has shown that investing heavily in education as a means to heal the effects of its unrest, including providing special funds for the education of orphaned children, and securing donors to fund a policy providing free and compulsory education for nine years, halved the percentage of children who had never been to school.

Obviously every country faces a unique set of circumstances but the data show that real progress is possible when appropriate policies are put into place.

These messages must not be dismissed. The EFA GMR paper released just a few weeks ago showed that aid to education has fallen by 10% since 2010 – precisely at the time when it is needed most. Some cynics will tell you that this is normal given the ongoing financial shocks. But overall aid levels fell by just 1% over the same period. It is worrying in the extreme to see both international aid and out-of-school numbers moving in the wrong direction.

Last week’s GPE conference showed that the messages had resonated to some extent with donors and governments, but still not enough to reach the Partnership’s initial fundraising target. There is much work to be done. These stagnating numbers must be a wake up call for governments, who must work hard to fill the finance gap by increasing their domestic resources for education. They should take motivation from the positive changes out paper lists as happening in other countries that they could follow. Donors should be aware of the shape of the downwards trend of both aid and out of school numbers. They should take note of the tried and tested policies for increasing access and recognise that real tangible change could be delivered through these changes with their support.

So it is time for action. We may have missed the 2015 deadline but we cannot dismiss our commitments to the world’s children.


Evaluation of the Civil Society Education Fund shows good progress of civil society engagement in education

This post was originally published by the Global Partnership for Education. 

Civil society is increasingly playing a key role in the international political arena – from the promotion of environmental policies and sustainable development, to conflict prevention and peace building. Education for development is not an exception to this trend. Already at the 2000 World Education Forum in Dakar, international organizations, governments and other key stakeholders “pledge[d] to ensure the engagement and participation of civil society in the formulation, implementation and monitoring of strategies for educational development” as one of the core strategies to achieve the Education for All (EFA) goals.

New evidence on the important role of civil society

The involvement of civil society in education is important as it supports aid effectiveness and makes policy processes more democratic. A recent evaluation of the first stage of the Civil Society Education Fund  (CSEF),by the Globalization, Education and Social Policy Research Center of the Autonomous University of Barcelona provides new evidence in this respect.

The Civil Society Education Fund (CSEF)

The Civil Society Education Fund is a development project funded by the Global Partnership for Education and managed by the Global Campaign for Education. Its main goal is to provide support to national education coalitions (NECs) across the world to enable them to promote the EFA goals. These coalitions are networks of civil society organizations made up of non-governmental organizations, teacher unions, parents associations, and grassroots organizations.

As a result of the Civil Society Education Fund, nine new national education coalitions were created and a total of 45 coalitions received support to develop advocacy strategies in Africa, Asia and Latin America and the Caribbean. Dozens of research projects and training courses to strengthen advocacy initiatives were carried out. On average, the member numbers in national education coalitions more than tripled, making these coalitions more inclusive and legitimate civil society representatives. More women than ever before became involved in the leadership of NECs at different levels. The number of staff and volunteers in these organizations almost doubled.

In terms of policy representation, almost all coalitions that took part in the CSEF were recognized as legitimate interlocutors by governments and the wider aid community. They were invited to join technical committees or local education groups to discuss education priorities and develop education plans.

Successful country examples of civil society involvement

A few in-depth country studies provide insights in how civil society has impacted the national education debate. In Bolivia, for example, the national coalition helped to include disabled people in the national education policy framework. In Cambodia, Sierra Leone and Malawi, coalitions successfully campaigned for more public investment in education, and in Sierra Leone civil society involvement led to the abolition of students’ fees. In Mozambique, thanks to the national education coalition, the most vulnerable students are now reflected in the education policy agenda and the government agreed to reform budget-tracking procedures.

The effects of the CSEF have not been uniform everywhere.

The evaluation of the CSEF found that in general civil society initiatives work better in countries and regions where civil society organizations have developed necessary  skills to be involved in monitoring and evaluation exercises, or to manage their financial and human resources effectively.

Moreover, the level of policy impact depends on many factors such as the participatory culture in the country, level of governmental support, tradition of cooperation in the civil society field and the willingness of teachers unions and non-governmental organizations to work together.

Future challenges for civil society in the post-2015 context

As we get closer to 2015, it becomes evident that many countries will not be able to achieve the EFA goals. Pressure from civil society will be important in the final push within the current EFA action framework, but will be particularly crucial in the post-2015 scenario.

The involvement of civil society in EFA-related processes will require civil society coalitions to diversify their funding sources and generate long-term resource mobilization strategies.

The financial crisis has reduced traditional donor governments’ investments in education, which implies that civil society organizations should put more pressure than ever on international donors to make sure they fulfill their commitments within the EFA framework.

However, they will also need to engage in ongoing debates on alternative funding sources for education. Advocating for more progressive in-country tax reforms and building alliances with tax justice movements could be a new strategic focus. Debt conversion, development bonds, the financial transaction tax or diaspora bonds, when applied in line with the Paris Declaration principles, could also be innovative ways to increase education funding for civil society coalitions.

What’s next?

Until now, ‘more resources for education’ has been an important claim of civil society organizations in the ‘Education for All’ context. However, important debates on education policy reform beyond the call for more resources have started and more questions will have to be answered. Is the legal framework in countries conducive to – or hindering – the right to education? What are the most appropriate financing policies to achieve the EFA goals effectively? How could education equity and quality be promoted simultaneously? How should teachers be trained and what should their professional status be? Should low-cost fee schools be considered an ally or an obstacle for quality education for all? Civil society needs to be prepared to engage in debates of this nature. Through the development of research and knowledge management capacities, national coalitions should be able to position themselves in relation to these and other fundamental education reform questions.

Bringing the voices and problems of the most vulnerable population to the discussion table is the most important function that CSOs can fulfill.

As such, the EFA movement, and the post-2015 debate in particular, can benefit greatly from building stronger, more inclusive and more capable civil society coalitions. The Civil Society Education Fund will continue to strengthen the work that has been done so far and engage with civil societies worldwide on challenges going forth.

Antoni Verger, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona

The right to education must be at the heart of the post-2015 agenda

Camilla Croso is the General Coordinator of CLADE and President of the Global Campaign for Education

The Thematic Consultation on Education reveals disputes about the meaning of the education we want

2015 is the deadline to achieve the educational goals agreed in the international arena – the six Education for All (EFA) goals agreed at Dakar, and the two education-related Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

This date is fast-approaching;  some progress is evident, especially with regard to children’s access to primary education, but, at the same time, progress towards several other EFA goals has stagnated, and, moreover, we have seen setbacks such as a decrease in international aid to education. A more detailed assessment regarding progress towards the goals can be found in the 2012 Education for All Global Monitoring Report.

In order to discuss the priorities and efforts necessary to move closer to achieving the targets before 2015, as well as to draw up a post-2015 EFA agenda which ensures that States fulfill their obligations to ensure the realization of human rights including education, the United Nations has been holding a series of virtual and face to face consultations.

In March 2013, the Thematic Consultation on Education in the Post-2015 Development Agenda took place in Dakar, Senegal. The Global Campaign for Education (GCE) participated, along with the Latin American Campaign for the Right to Education (CLADE) and regional education networks from Africa (ANCEFA), Asia (ASPBAE) and Arab Countries (ACEA), as well as allied organizations such as Education International and ICAE. About 100 people were present, mostly representatives of international organizations, various UN agencies, and representatives of civil society, of the private sector and academia. There was an underrepresentation of Member States, with approximately only ten attending the meeting. UNESCO and UNICEF coordinated the meeting, supported by the governments of Canada and Germany, along with the Hewlett Foundation.

The fundamental debate underpinning the meeting was the purpose of education. Although there seemed to be a consensus in recognizing education as a fundamental human right and the State as the guarantor of this right, two major views seemed to be in dispute.

The first view focused on the framing of the core purpose of education as employability, and especially emphasized the obtaining of skills and of measurable learning outcomes, determined and measured through internationally-led processes and mechanisms. This position reflects the principles at the heart of the World Bank 2020 Education Strategy, ‘Learning for All’.

The second, the perspective of scholars, some UN agencies and civil society representatives who were present at the Conference, stressed the need to reclaim and replace at the center of debates the broad purpose of education as a human right, as enshrined in international human rights instruments – to which Member States have already overwhelmingly subscribed: the full development of people, their access to decent work, their full participation as citizens and the promotion of democracy and peace.

Underpinning this argument are the incontrovertible principles of free and universal education.  It is from these basic premises that the development of legal frameworks, public policies and educational goals must be drawn.

Civil society representatives underlined throughout the event that if education is in fact considered from a human rights point of view, its various dimensions must be recognized. In this regard, we invited participants to revisit the conceptual framework developed by Katarina Tomasevski, former UN Special Rapporteur on the right to education, and embraced by the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in 1999. We stressed, then, that the quantitative and qualitative dimensions of the right to education are inseparable, and core elements such as the following must be considered:

(1) Availability: The existence of sufficient and well provisioned educational institutions (are there enough in number and conditions, and geographically well distributed?).

(2) Accessibility: Free and full access to education, without discrimination.

(3) Acceptability: The appropriateness and relevance of education (are the content, educational materials and processes relevant?; do they value the history and culture of the national and local context?; do they promote non-discrimination and inclusion?; are relationships dialogical, democratic?; does education promote critical thinking, imagination, creativity?; does education promote learning in all spheres of knowledge?; do teachers have decent working conditions and good training? Are they socially valued and recognized as autonomous professionals? etc.).

(4) Adaptability: The ability of educational institutions to respond to the local context and the individuals of the educational community (are schools adapted for people with disabilities? do they respond to the local context? etc.).

Finally, the civil society representatives stressed the importance of learning outcomes, provided that the concept of learning is broad, that it is not overly-focused on measurability, it does not mean an international standardization of curricula and assessments and it does not deny the importance of teaching and learning processes, and that schools be recognized as places where human rights and democracy are exercised.

One of the interesting points of consensus at the meeting was the importance of emphasizing other levels of education beyond primary, particularly considering early childhood education, secondary education and lifelong learning. Although the latter was mentioned throughout the conference, only civil society made explicit mention of the right to education of adults. Other interesting points of consensus were the importance of focusing on equity and in overcoming all forms of discrimination as well as the importance of valuing teachers and the teaching profession.

The final outcome document of the meeting collects and reflects these debates, and proposes as an umbrella education goal, or “super goal” as named at the end of the meeting, for the post-2015 development agenda:

“Equitable, quality, lifelong education and learning for all.”

This meeting was an important step in the consultation process of how the right to education will be framed in the post-2015 agenda of the MDGs and EFA, but it is not definitive. There is still a significant way to go before its final definition, and civil society will work to ensure that education as a fundamental human right will prevail.

To read more about GCE’s post-2015 work and to download the Discussion Paper on Education Post-2015 please click here.

The Final Document of the 2013 Dakar Meeting can be downloaded here.

General Recommendation 13 of CEDAW Committee (1999) can be downloaded here.


Take a stand for teachers: children are in schools but not learning – who’s to blame?

Purna Shrestha is Education Policy and Advocacy Adviser for VSO International

Getting children in low-income countries into school is only half of the job; many children leave primary school without acquiring basic knowledge, skills and competencies – such as reading, mathematics, critical thinking and problem solving. The fact that up to three quarters of children, who have spent two or three years of schooling in some low-income countries, have not learned to read and write indicates the level of learning crisis. In order to ensure that every child has opportunities to exploit her full potential, the education she receives must be of good quality.

Although there is no universal agreement of what ingredients a quality education comprises, during VSO’s recent Valuing Teachers research projects, in Mozambique and Zanzibar the competence, commitment and qualifications of teachers were the most important factors mentioned by most stakeholders as needing to change before the quality of education can be raised. While teachers are often blamed by governments for failing to provide a good quality education to children, there is a lack of global commitment by donor agencies and governments to build a fully trained, well-supported teaching force. There is also a lack of commitment to ensure other inputs, such as adequate teaching and learning materials, a conducive teaching environment, manageable class sizes, better terms and conditions for teachers and parental involvement in children’s learning. A good quality education for all will not be possible without a sufficient number of well-trained teachers to teach children in school.

Shortages of trained and motivated teachers

Globally, we need an additional 1.7 million teachers to achieve universal primary education by 2015. The shortage of well trained and well supported teachers is a major barrier to learning. According to the UNESCO Institution for Statistics (UIS) latest projection, globally we will need to recruit a total of about 6.8 million primary teachers to achieve universal primary education and maintain the current workforce. Countries in sub-Saharan Africa with increasing primary enrolment will need to recruit the equivalent of 63% of their current teaching workforce within the period 2010-2015. For example, Eritrea will have to increase the teacher recruitment by 24% whereas Malawi needs to increase the teacher force by 14%.

Rachia Abubakoni is a qualified teacher working at Wungu School – the school she went to as a child. She became a teacher as she wanted to help girls & boys in the community where she was born to have the opportunity she almost missed out on.

When these countries are faced with increased pupil enrolment rates and scarce resources, governments struggle to address teacher shortages. Government, communities and non-government organisations have tried to address dramatic teacher shortages by applying different strategies: employing a new cadre of teachers with lower academic qualifications; providing less pre-service training; and appointing teachers under different terms and conditions (usually under less secure temporary contracts).  However, deployment and support to teachers is often inadequate to meet the needs of the marginalised. While such strategies are argued as a quick fix efficiency measure to address qualified teacher shortage, in the long term, it comes with a price – such strategies will lead to the decline in the status of teaching profession.

It is wrong to expect children’s learning improvement when teachers do not have adequate subject knowledge and lack pedagogical skills to teach children how to learn. Because of unemployment, well-trained teachers may consider a teaching job on lower terms and conditions but their motivation and commitment to the teaching profession erodes when they find it difficult to make ends meet. They cannot give full time on preparing lessons because their job is insecure. Teachers who have to worry about their work and employment situations are unlikely to be effective in inspiring and mediating children’s learning.

Take a stand for teachers!

Our future depends on teachers. Without teachers, education for all will never be a reality. VSO has been highlighting the pivotal role that teachers play in improving the quality of education through our Valuing Teachers research and advocacy initiative since 2001.

If governments, international financial institutions, and donors care about children’s learning, VSO calls them to invest in well-trained and well-motivated teachers. The Global Partnership for Education must help governments to develop costed teacher workforce plans agreed with parliaments and civil society. This is to meet the full gap in trained teachers and deploy those teachers equitably by developing and using effective education management information systems at central, local and school levels.

VSO is working with UN agencies such as UNSECOUNICEFILO , teachers’ unions and civil society organisations to raise the status of teaching profession and address global trained teacher shortage. VSO is a member of the International Taskforce on Teachers for Education for All and Global Campaign for Education (GCE). VSO supports the global campaign “Every Child needs a teacher” launched by GCE and Education International  and is a member of the reference group of UNICEF’s initiative on teachers for marginalised children by social group and location.

I am proud to stand for teachers because I would not be where I am today and be able to write this blog if I had not received valuable guidance and knowledge from some inspiring teachers that I have met.

Purna Shrestha, Education Policy and Advocacy Adviser, VSO International


Education hope at UN General Assembly week

First published on Plan International website – with thanks to Plan International

Nigel Chapman, Chief Executive Officer, Plan International

27 September 2012: It has been interesting for me, especially as a former journalist, to witness the frenetic behind-the-scene workings of the UN General Assembly this week.

I have spent the last 48 hours with our specialist policy and advocacy team. Our ambition is to align our Because I am a Girl campaign ambitions for girls and quality education with the Education First initiative which the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has just announced.

Among the policy makers and education specialists, there is excitement and hope about Education First. For years education has been perceived to have taken something of a back seat to the very high level UN priorities of childhood and maternal health and child survival.

Shocking figures

There has been no education equivalent of the Every Woman, Every Child strategy, which has attracted many prestigious backers and new funds. The very low levels of aid funding given to education – in the low single percentage figures – is surprising and shocking, when there appears on the surface to be a consensus about the importance of education in lifting communities and children out of poverty.

At a side-meeting organised by the Global Campaign for Education, there were shafts of light about the struggle education has had to get its fair share of attention and resources.

The ostensible focus of the discussion concerned how we close the trained teacher gap. The UN’s new Special Envoy for Education, former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown, shared some startling figures about the shortage of trained teachers: some 2 million globally of which around half of this huge deficit is in Africa.

Girl education gap

Only 400 girls aged 14 to15 are in school in South Sudan, home to 10 million people

In South Sudan (the world’s newest country and one of its poorest) there are only 400 girls aged 14-15 in school when there should be some 100,000 – one in 250. There are more girls in 3 secondary schools in Oxford, UK, where I live than in the whole of South Sudan, which has a population of 10 million people. I found it almost impossible to comprehend the scale of that gap.

Brown’s contribution tees up a very thoughtful speech from Amina Mohammed, the Secretary General’s special adviser on post 2015 Development Planning, and former Nigerian Minister. She tells a fascinating story of how the nuanced goals around Education for All, which was launched in the 1990s, became overtaken by the priorities of the Millennium Development Goals – especially MDG Goal 2, with its emphasis on school access at primary level.

In the view of many, there was an unfortunate trade off: access is of course vital but it is not guarantor of a decent education. As Amina put it, we have put “children through education, but not education through them”. Governments by implication could tick the access numbers box but we all know that is a crude indicator of the success of an education system.

Quality teaching

So, like a pendulum, the post MDG debate will move to balancing the easily measurable (access) to issues of quality with one focus being on how we close that quality teacher gap. And that means persuading national governments to spend more of their own budgets on the quality and number of teachers, with aid budgets providing support for strategic planning.

Paying teachers is not a one off cost: it is recurrent and so aid can only have a limited impact.
It will not be enough for politicians to turn all misty eyed when they remember the name of the teacher who shaped their education and turn a blind eye to the fact that a lack of teachers means their local school is overcrowded with enormous class sizes.

If they don’t act, the kids will not be in the fortunate position to remember the names of their teachers. They simply won’t have any and those that have a teacher will continue to see them leaving in despair.

Nigel Chapman, Chief Executive Officer, Plan International

Plan International is a member of the Global Campaign for Education.

Join Plan’s Because I am a Girl campaign: Raise Your Hand to support girls’ right to education



David Archer, Head of Programme Development, ActionAid

Today, as Presidents and Prime Ministers gather in New York, the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon is launching an unprecedented special initiative called “Education First”. This is driven by his own personal experience: because education transformed both his own life and the fortunes of his country, Korea. The aim is to galvanise new action on education, getting all children into school, improving the quality of learning and fostering global citizenship. There are powerful messages, bold communications, stark statistics and strong arguments put forward in this initiative, but is that enough?

Certainly there is much to be welcomed in placing education squarely on the agenda of Heads of States. Too often debates on education become technocratic, a refuge for specialists and experts – and the big picture is lost. Education can and should be the most powerful equalising force in a country – and so the direction of education reforms should be open to inclusive democratic dialogue. But too often key decisions are taken behind closed doors in Ministries of Education without public awareness let alone open consultation. In low income countries the direction of education reforms is often set by Ministry officials in discussions with the officials of donor agencies such as the World Bank – and without systematic involvement of national citizens and civil society organisations. This limits the ownership and appropriateness of policies that emerge and the feasibility of their implementation. Higher level political involvement and more vigorous parliamentary and media debate on education is urgently needed. In this context any high-level renewal of international attention to education is welcomed but the key challenge is to translate this into sustained changes at the national and local levels. Education requires strategic long term investments and only delivers returns after many years so we need to ensure that this new initiative moves beyond short-term, headline-grabbing into practical long term action.

Ban Ki Moon’s initiative is particularly refreshing for its recognition of the role of teachers – drawing attention to the need to recruit 2 million more trained teachers, to re-prioritise training and professional development and to re-dignify the profession. This should be obvious but it is astounding how many international education policy debates fail to focus on teachers. In recent times there has been much attention placed on measuring and assessing learning outcomes. In contrast this initiative could help us to focus on actually improving learning outcomes. But to do this against a backdrop of decades of underinvestment in teachers, Education First needs to be unequivocal in putting high quality teachers at the very top of its agenda. Again there is no quick fix or low-cost solution. This requires a long term commitment – to ensure that there are more teachers who are better trained and better supported.

Ban Ki Moon is not arguing for the status quo. He is calling for education that is transformative – that is relevant in an inter-dependent and ever changing world and that can help to build a more just, tolerant and peaceful future. For him education is not just about passing on a narrow set of skills but about building understanding and values, empowering students, fostering cooperation and building active citizenship. This is an expansive and positive vision.

But to achieve this vision of vibrant global citizenship it will be necessary for Education First to promote and protect active citizenship within the process from the start. This needs to be guaranteed at every level – involving civil society organisations more systematically than they have been to date in the governance and implementation of the Education First initiative. It means Education First using its high level leverage to actively promote a new era of open public dialogue on education at national level. It means championing the involvement of teachers, parents and students themselves in decision making at school level. The United Nations Secretary General could helpfully add his voice more strongly to the call for democratisation and active citizenship within education decision making.

In the past ten years over 100 national education coalitions have sprung up around the world – linking teacher unions, NGOs, faith based groups, social movements and others who are concerned to put education higher up their domestic political agenda. Linked together through the Global Campaign for Education (www.campaignforeducation.org) these coalitions have a crucial role to play in translating the vision of Education First into tangible change for communities, for schools and for children. These coalitions and campaigns thrive on clear targets and benchmarks against which they can hold their government and other actors to account.

But in the initial documentation of Education First there is no commitment to specific financial targets – despite the fact that there is growing consensus on what these should be. Is your government spending at least 20% of its national budget on education – or 6% of its GDP (and is this being independently tracked)? Are donors making long term commitments and spending at least 10% of their aid budgets on basic education? On average today most donors spend only 4% of their aid for basic education, far below what most taxpayers expect – and most of that money supports short-term projects rather than providing the predictable support that is needed for governments to invest in more trained teachers. Delivering on these financing targets and supporting inclusive decision making processes in education need to be seen as the real tests of whether the United Nations, governments and donors are truly putting education first in practice!

David Archer, Head of Programme Development, ActionAid

Twitter: #DavidArcherAA

Every Child Needs a Teacher: Closing the Trained Teacher Gap is a report produced by the Global Campaign for Education and Education International.

Published by the Guardian Poverty Matters Blog, 27 September 2012