COMMON UNDERSTANDING ON EDUCATION FOR ALL
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.
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.
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."
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
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
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.
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.
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.
role of UNESCO
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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