News bulletin board of UNESCO's Education Sector
No. 18
 
Welcome to the electronic news bulletin board of UNESCO's Education Sector, informing you about UNESCO's activities in the field of education and in particular the follow-up to the World Education Forum in Dakar (April 2000). Please forward it to other interested colleagues.

Contents (6 March 2001)

---> A COMMON UNDERSTANDING ON EDUCATION FOR ALL

---> EFA COMMON UNDERSTANDING BACKED BY NGOs

Attachments in this issue

---> OPENING SPEECHES BY UNESCO's DIRECTOR-GENERAL: (28 FEBRUARY AND 2 MARCH 2001).

 
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A COMMON UNDERSTANDING ON EDUCATION FOR ALL

Straight talk characterized the two-day consultation meeting (28 February - 1 March 2001), of education and financial experts gathered at UNESCO to discuss how to develop partner co-operation in support of the Dakar Framework for Action.

UNESCO's newly-appointed Assistant Director-General for Education, John Daniel, departed from the cautious words generally used at international gatherings, jokingly echoing an American president: "It's the implementation, stupid!" He promised to be a tireless advocate for education for all (EFA) and pledged his troops, both in headquarters and the field, to get rid of bottlenecks. Ruth Kagia of the World Bank spoke for many when she said "It is time we EFA actors organized ourselves: What are our challenges? What are our specificities? How are we to work together?"

With these questions in mind participants agreed on a common understanding on a framework for international co-operation to reach the goals agreed at Dakar.

The meeting of some fifty representatives of bilateral and multilateral agencies discussed the conceptual part of the UNESCO-developed paper Development Partner Cooperation in Support of Education for All: Rationale and Strategies. This paper is a response to the Dakar pledge that "no countries seriously committed to education for all will be thwarted in their achievement of this goal by a lack of resources." It will, in its final form, constitute a valuable framework within which all partners of the EFA movement could support national efforts. Many bilateral agencies plan to align their development policies to this important tool. It was also planned to bring it to the attention of the upcoming G8 meeting in Genoa, Italy (July 2001).

Educators learn new roles

The first priority, participants agreed, was to anchor the EFA movement in wider poverty reduction strategies such as the Highly Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Initiative and the Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSP). "We need to think outside our educational skins,” said Steve Parker of the United Kingdom Department for International Development. "A year ago we were all designing projects. Now educators are learning new roles as dialogue partners and facilitators of cross-sectoral activities. It's a steep learning curve." The challenge, participants agreed, was to ensure that EFA remained the bedrock of this process.

Another priority was to redefine relationships within and between international agencies, and between them and the countries where they work. Sector-wide approaches, becoming a reality in many countries, and donor co-ordination were discussed as ways of improving these relationships. As Ingemar Gustafsson of Sweden said, "We need to make effective use of comparative advantage of individual agencies and design the division of labour."

Resource mobilization

There is more to resource mobilization than finance, the participants agreed. Effective use of existing resources, human and institutional, depends on qualified staff for their efficiency. Capacity-building was considered a paramount activity.

Lack of external funding was often less of a problem than the lack of capacity within countries to absorb and manage it, participants said. The need for countries to use their domestic resources efficiently was also underlined. Jean-Michel Severino, Adviser to UNESCO’s Assistant Director-General for Education, saw it as a "Catch-22" situation: "The money required to achieve EFA, even if it were doubled, could not currently be used because of countries' incapacity to absorb it." Birger Fredriksen of the World Bank added. "We could be more effective by helping countries use their own resources efficiently than by granting loans."

Global financial needs

Co-ordinated sector support should be tailored according to countries, agencies suggested. The meeting identified three clusters of countries that should be targeted: HIPC countries that benefit from debt reduction schemes, non-HIPC poor countries and countries in crisis, and middle-income countries.

HIPC countries: Some 40 per cent of debt relief is slated for education in the eighteen sub-Saharan African countries that benefit from the HIPC Initiative. However, since external aid represents only a small proportion of funds needed, countries must also put their own resources into EFA.

Non-HIPC poor countries and countries in crisis: Countries that lie outside the scope of the debt relief initiative are in risk of financial isolation since the international community has fewer instruments for dialogue with them. Countries in crisis face a graver risk as bilateral and multilateral agencies are reluctant to work with them. "It's hard to do business with a country that has no government," one participant said. The meeting was, nevertheless, reminded that the EFA movement should be concerned about the millions of children in war zones who are effectively denied the right to education.

Middle-income countries: Neither poor enough to benefit from poverty reduction programmes, nor rich enough to afford expensive loans, middle-income countries including those with large populations to educate represent a dilemma for the EFA movement. Participants suggested softer loans for this cluster and pointed out that EFA should not be exclusively driven by the poverty debate.

EFA plans

The importance of national EFA action plans was underlined as a necessary step to start the flow of external aid. Many countries were however facing "action plan fatigue" due to repeated requests in recent years to draw up national plans. It may suffice, the meeting agreed, to adapt existing plans to the Dakar Framework for Action.

The role of UNESCO

Participants perceived UNESCO’s role as facilitating and co-ordinating the EFA movement, providing intellectual leadership and sharing knowledge. Monitoring progress towards EFA was also regarded as a vital part of UNESCO’s mandate. Increased advocacy for EFA was urged by many participants. Advocacy, however, whether for the press, for policymakers or for the public was considered to be not just UNESCO’s but "everyone’s business".

EFA COMMON UNDERSTANDING BACKED BY NGOs

"I value the critical voice of NGOs and its watchdog role vis-a-vis governments and agencies. I firmly believe that NGOs have an important advocacy role to fulfil and that they strengthen the EFA movement through their rich, innovative experiences at the micro level and their strong relations with wider civil society." With these words, UNESCO Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura welcomed some forty representatives of education NGOs to a consultation at UNESCO Headquarters on 2 March. "UNESCO wishes to create a collective dialogue among all partners of the EFA movement," stated Mr Matsuura.

The consultation began with a briefing on the two-day meeting of financial experts and concluded with the NGOs backing up adding their seal of approval to the consensus reached at that meeting.

The NGOs sole reservation concerned private funding which, they believed, risked undermining the responsibility of the state to provide EFA for its citizens. Private financing was, in their view, best used to build bridges and fill in gaps.

More recognition for NGOs

Elie Jouen of EducationInternational argued that governments did not always recognize NGOs as partners: “NGO involvement in the design of national action plans was the exception rather than the rule.” He recalled that the Dakar Framework for Action insisted on the involvement of civil society. Participants also requested that governments be more transparent about the flow of aid and in their dealings with donors.

The timeframe for completion of national action plans was considered unrealistic by some. "Rushed action plans in the past have led to failure of some programmes," commented Amina Ibrahim of Action Aid Nigeria. "Donors become disenchanted and cut off funding."

Communication between NGOs and all EFA actors needed radical improvement, it was claimed. Systems and mechanisms were needed, not only to improve communication but to mainstream the innovative work of NGOs into the formal system.

Meeting the needs of millions of children and adults is a challenge on a daunting scale requiring new ways of working. Peter Buckland of UNICEF recommended creating small task teams with members drawn from the whole EFA spectrum to focus on specific issues, one at a time, with an agreement to disband when the task was completed.

Closing the meeting, John Daniel again referred to the division of labour between agencies and NGOs. Citing another US president, he quipped: "I’m a great believer in the phrase: ‘you can achieve anything provided you don’t care who takes the credit’."

This Bulletin Board was prepared by Teresa Murtagh and Jean O’Sullivan

 
Contact: Anne Muller (a.muller@unesco.org)