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


NGOs and EFA: a personal view
By Clinton Robinson

  I walked into the EFA Forum Steering committee in Paris for the first time in 1997, wondering why NGO representatives had not been there from the start (1991). Anyway, at least we were there now. Round the table were several UN agencies and some Western donors - money, power, influence. Jackets and ties. Noblesse oblige. And the South? A few individual experts with good things to say - where are the southern governments? I thought they were the big national players in education.

  A southern representative mentions that adult education and literacy in their country is entirely in the hands of NGOs. That's true elsewhere too, but it doesn't seem to be much on the agenda of the meeting - more about statistics of primary school enrolment. That's OK to give an idea of access to education, what about quality and relevance? What about local culture and language? What about designing education that fits with women's workload and daily schedule?
  It's not long before I start asking where the voice of civil society has been all this time. Some response. I am back the next year with the same message, other colleagues now giving support. Things move fast. We commit ourselves to the assessment - some case studies on the qualitative issues forgotten by the official process - gender, community participation, partnerships, teachers' perspectives and so on. We speak up again and get a role in helping draft the Declaration, the framework for action for the next push forward in EFA.
 So far, so good. Now what? Can we keep the grassroots firmly in view as we discuss global initiatives? As we take part in discussions about money and structures, can we emphasise the soft side of education - the diversity of human experience and culture, the richness of language and history, the huge human potential which goes to waste if education isn't really for all.
  How has the decade affected my own organisation, SIL International? We were represented at the Jomtien conference in a tentative sort of way. As an organisation, we were at the time discussing what our role should be in literacy and education for all. We were well known for our work in linguistics and translation, and were not sure how to respond to the many new requests to expand our literacy and educational work. Early in the decade, we took a decision to commit ourselves more strongly in these areas and this has drawn us closer to the EFA agenda.
  For those of us working with minority and indigenous communities, the EFA decade seemed the best hope that they would finally be included in the 'all' for whom education was now intended. Our hopes have not been fulfilled. EFA has been held too tightly to the breast of multilateral institutions and their member governments. Civil society and the marginalised populations they work with were left on the edges during most of the decade. For instance, it has been difficult to keep adult literacy and education on the agenda.
  I think I am basically an optimist. We can't give up. As NGOs and civil society, we should go on working and we should go on talking with those who don't take the initiative to talk to us. By our work and our words, we must challenge the way in which international and national structures work - can they be opened up so that they bring commitment, but not control? Let's open up space for education to take root with local people so that it really is education for ALL.

Clinton Robinson is co-chair of the UNESCO-NGO Collective Consultation on Literacy and Education for All. He works for the Summer Institute of Linguistics


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