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EFA partners give their views > Angela W.Little
 Maris O. Rourke
 Angela W. Little
 Judith L. Evans
 Denise Lievesley
 Victor Ordonez
 Clinton Robinson
 O. J. Sikes


Personal Reflections on the EFA Decade
By Angela W. Little

  In April 2000 the World Education Forum will meet in Dakar, Senegal, to review progress towards the vision for Education for All (EFA) presented at the Jomtien conference in Thailand in 1990. My involvement in the EFA process over the past decade has taken several forms - as researcher, analyst, evaluator, teacher, conference convenor, practitioner, planner. This article presents a set of personal reflections on EFA.

  My first lesson in what came to be known as EFA was learned some time before the Jomtien conference itself. It was a lesson about the role of advocacy in making education happen. At a meeting convened by UNICEF in New York, James Grant convinced UNESCO, the World Bank and UNDP that they should jointly mount a fresh commitment to the achievement of education for all. In contrast to the previous commitments to Universal Primary Education made regionally and under UNESCO's mandate, in Addis Ababa, Santiago and Karachi some thirty years earlier, this commitment would be global. Significantly it would involve political and financial commitment from four powerful United Nations agencies.
  The tone of the meeting was upbeat. Buoyed up by UNICEF's successful immunization programme of the previous decade, Grant was particularly optimistic about the prospects for EFA. I was surprised by his confidence. The discourse of global advocacy, finance and policy, of global targets and of dialogue with Kings and Presidents, was unfamiliar. And education for all seemed to me to be a very different proposition from immunization for all. Far removed from the day to day realities of education in poor countries, ambitious targets of EFA by the Year 2000 were being discussed in New York. I felt a little uncomfortable. No one could doubt the ethical nature of the target. But how realistic were the vision and the targets for all countries? Where was the analysis of the conditions that lead, in different contexts, to the achievement of EFA? Was the problem merely a question of finance? What conditions needed to be or be put in place to translate the vision of EFA into reality? And what kind of education, and more especially what kind of learning, based on whose values and for whose ends?
Thinking about implementing EFA
 These questions were to remain with me throughout the decade as I worked in one way or another for EFA. The goals of United Nations agencies, and global and regional banks seemed to be remote from the day to day realities of making EFA happen on the ground. Convinced that many potentially fruitful discussions between different stakeholders were being frustrated by an absence of shared language, I set about some modest building of bridges of understanding. My particular concern was to open the black box of learning and educational change for those more comfortable with questions of the external efficiency and effectiveness of education. Questions of the contribution of EFA to societal and economic change and development were related but separable from questions about the conditions that lead to EFA. And while acknowledging the indispensable role of educational finance as one such condition, there seemed to be me to be very many more of equal if not greater importance. At Jomtien (1) I proposed a simple scheme to aid non-educationalists to think about education and learning. Learning for all on the ground could happen only when students had reasons to learn, when they and their parents valued the content and outcomes of learning, and when teachers learned to effectively build bridges between culturally unfamiliar and familiar knowledge.
  Developing the theme at a conference at the Institute of Development Studies in Sussex I suggested that international goals and targets might meet the needs of international financiers who, remote from the day to day implementation of EFA, needed to understand an incomprehensible reality.(2) I suggested further that world declarations can often succeed in mobilizing international financial resources for national system-level reform. But whether that reform is matched by changes in the organization of relationships on the ground, in the classroom, requires an understanding of local culture by international and national planners and policy-makers, and access to resources and professional support by teachers; twin conditions observed all too seldom. I became even more convinced of the need to build bridges between the different discourses of the social sciences, and especially between economists on the one hand and anthropologists and cultural psychologists on the other. Culture and Learning,(3) (edited with Bob Teasedale (and based on the work of our PhD students), and Education, Cultures and Economics: Dilemmas for Development,(4) (edited with Fiona Leach and based on an Institute of Education conference in 1995), contribute to this end.
Doing EFA
  Meanwhile I was determined to bring together practitioners who for many years prior to Jomtien had been striving to achieve many of the goals embedded in the EFA declaration, especially those of access to and quality in primary education. Listening to some officials in development agencies in the early 1990s, one might have imagined that EFA was a new concept, a new goal of society, a new objective for development projects. And yet for years many policymakers and practitioners in different parts of the globe had been working for this concept within national policy and programmes and within international projects.
  The potential to learn from the experience of implementing EFA was immense, a fact which led to our Institute of Education conference in 1991 at which the implementors of six primary education programmes in five countries reflected on their experiences of conditions for success and failure. Financial security was indeed a condition of success but so too were strong educational leaders at the school and system level. Teachers who understood the home cultures of their students, teachers who engaged in low-cost materials production were important.(5) Micro-systems for planning and monitoring the implementation of activities also appeared to be critical for the empowerment of implementors on the ground. I emphasise the term micro-systems for monitoring, as these were systems developed near the ground by implementors for implementors(6).
  Lying somewhere between implementation near the ground and EFA targets set by international agencies are national policy, national plans and national budgets for EFA. As we approach the end of the Jomtien decade there are some who feel that the commitments made by some national leaders to the World Declaration on EFA were mere lip service. Even policies for EFA are empty political gestures if not matched by detailed and implementable plans and budgets for educational access, quality, relevance and efficiency. Yet planning for EFA requires changes in internal practices and budgetary procedures that are by no means automatic. To bring about change in systems to support EFA, a critical mass of Ministers, permanent secretaries, planners, managers and accountants need vision, dedication, commitment and hard work. And in decentralised systems of educational planning and management these needs are magnified several times over (7,8).
Analysing EFA
  As a researcher perhaps the most satisfying reflection over the past decade has been the systematic analysis of a particular case of achievement of EFA.
  Sri Lanka is hailed for high standards of education and other aspects of human and social development, despite rather modest levels of economic growth. At Jomtien, Sri Lanka's success in achieving near universal access to free primary education was noted. Less well known is the part played in this success by the plantation community. Historically, much of the achievement in EFA in the country as a whole was underpinned by economic revenues generated by the labours of the plantation community, a community which itself benefited little. Yet, even among this community, the picture has been changing over the past twenty years. Over the period 1981/2 to 1996/7 the national literacy rate as a percentage of the population aged 5 and over has increased from 85.4 to 91.8 per cent. Among the plantation community the increase was from 64.8 to 76.9 per cent; and among plantation females from 52.6 to 67.3 per cent.
  Labouring to Learn: Towards a Political Economy of Plantations, People and Education in Sri Lanka(9) analyses the achievement of EFA among the Sri Lankan population as a whole and among the plantation community in particular. The impact of Jomtien on progress in the plantation schools in Sri Lanka in recent years has been slight. Of much greater importance has been the specific nature of national and local politics over the past two decades. The broader ethnic crisis and charismatic leadership of the plantation trade union cum political party have played an important part in the story of educational progress and the achievement of EFA. This is not to say that Jomtien and EFA have played no part. They have provided an enabling framework for those external agencies that continued to support the development of schools in the plantations through the Ministry of Education. Without the finance the Ministry would have been unable to support development. Without Jomtien and EFA, external agencies may have been unable to convince domestic constituencies to support the Ministry over such a long period of time.
  Which brings us back to New York, Jomtien, advocacy and analysis. Labouring to Learn demonstrated that in the case of one marginalized community at least sustained educational progress has depended on a complex interplay of forces for change - economic, political, social and cultural - originating at the local, national, regional and global level. It suggested that the EFA declaration may have contributed to progress. Advocacy for progress is one of the factors in the analysis of progress at the national and sub-national level. At the same time, it would be an error, in this case, to overplay its influence. A world declaration may be a necessary tool in the struggle for human progress and in the mobilisation of international finance. But it is certainly not sufficient in determining what happens nationally and locally on the ground.(10)
  And so to Dakar - where a global assessment of progress towards EFA and a further commitment to EFA will be made. Let those who participate in this arena review, reflect and commit to a global ideal. Let them analyse the diversity of conditions that have made EFA possible in different contexts. And let them also encourage a diversity of regional, national and local commitments, targets, plans, strategies and actions. The realization of global ideals and, more especially, the realization of national and local ideals require the design and implementation of local plans.
  And let Dakar encourage a discussion of who 'says' as well who 'pays' for EFA. In the past, who pays for EFA - as between parents, communities, organizations, national governments and international agencies - has tended to exercise many more minds than who 'says' for EFA. Naturally money becomes the 'bottom-line' question for those whose job it is to hatch, match and despatch financial resources for education. But finance is a means to the end of EFA. Other, and possibly more fundamental, questions are: Who wants EFA and why? What will be its content and method? How will it be assessed? Who is planning it? Who is managing it?
Angela W. Little is a professor of education in the University of London.
Please note that this article was published in the EID Review 99, Educaton and International Development Group, Institute of Education, University of London. Website:
1 Understanding Culture: a precondition for effective learning. Roundtable paper presented at the EFA Conference, Jomtien, 1990, Paris, UNESCO, pp 73

2 Education and Development: Macro Relationships and Microcultures, Institute of Development Studies Silver Jubilee Papers, no 4, Sussex, 1992, pp 24 (ISBN 0 903715 74 0)

3 Culture and Learning (ed. with G.R.Teasedale), Prospects, Vol XXV, no 4, UNESCO (ISSN 0033 1538)

4 Education, Cultures and Economics: Dilemmas for Development (ed. with F.E.Leach), New York, Garland Books, 1999, pp 403 (ISBN 0-8153-2783-8)

5 Beyond Jomtien: Implementing Primary Education for All (ed. with W. Hoppers and R. Gardner) Macmillan, pp 262 (ISBN 0 333 59441 X )

6 Insider Accounts: the monitoring and evaluation of primary education projects in Sri Lanka, Education Division Monograph No 65, SIDA, Stockholm (ISSN 0283 0566)

7 Planning Guidelines for the development of medium and long term provincial education plans, Ministry of Education and Higher Education/Primary Education Planning Project, Isurupaya, Sri Lanka, 1999, pp 92 (ISBN 955-8264-00-8)

8 Primary Education Reform in Sri Lanka, Educational Publications Department, Ministry of Education and Higher Education, Isurupaya, Sri Lanka, forthcoming, 2000

9 Labouring to Learn: towards a political economy of plantations, people and education in Sri Lanka, Macmillan Press, 1999, pp 324 (ISBN 0-333-67429-4)

10 Post-Jomtien Models of Educational Development: Analysis vs Advocacy, Key note address at the Nordic Association of Educational Researchers in Developing Countries Annual Conference, May 1999, Vasa, Finland
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