Ten things you need to know about Education for All
1. EFA is a right
In 1945, the countries that founded UNESCO signed a constitution expressing a belief “in full and equal opportunities for education for all.” Since that time, it has been part of UNESCO’s mandate to make those opportunities a reality. Several legally binding instruments enshrine education as a right, beginning with the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights which states that “everyone has the right to education” (Article 26). Today, the aim remains unchanged: to give everyone the chance to learn and benefit from basic education – not as an accident of circumstance, nor as a privilege, but as a RIGHT.
2. EFA is everyone’s concern
Under the leadership of UNESCO and four other UN agencies (the United Nations Children’s Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, the United Nations Population Fund and the World Bank), the world came together in 1990 in Jomtien, Thailand, to adopt a new vision of basic education. In response to slow progress over the decade, 164 governments and partners met again in 2000 in Dakar, Senegal to re-affirm their global commitment and adopt the six Education for All goals. These goals express a comprehensive view of education, from early childhood care and development to literacy and life skills for youth and adults. Three of the goals are timed: providing universal primary education, increasing adult literacy levels by fifty percent and ensuring gender equality in education – all by 2015.
3. EFA is a development imperative
Education opens doors for all individuals and communities. It is a foundation for reaching all of the Millennium Development Goals adopted in 2000 because it is central to giving children, youth and adults the knowledge and skills to make informed decisions and acquire better health, better living standards and safer, more sustainable environments. As the 1996 Delors Report expressed, education enables us to know, to do, to live together and to be. In other words, education allows us to reach our full potential as human beings. A world of peace, dignity, justice and equality depends on many factors – education is central among them.
4. EFA really is FOR ALL
Discrimination still persists against girls and women in education. Today, more than 55% of out-of-school children are girls, and two-thirds of adults without access to literacy are women. Special efforts – from recruiting female teachers to supporting poor families to making schools more girl-friendly – are needed to redress the balance. Other groups have also been neglected, including indigenous populations and remote rural groups, street children, migrants and nomads, the disabled and linguistic and cultural minorities. New approaches must be tailor-made for such groups – we cannot expect to reach them just by increasing opportunities for standard schooling.
5. EFA is for all ages and in all settings
The six EFA goals place special stress on enabling everyone to benefit from basic education – from young children at home and in pre-school programmes, through primary education, to adolescents, young people and adults. Education for all emphasizes that no person is too young to start learning or too old to acquire basic literacy and numeracy skills. As learning does not always occur in formal education situations, begins well before primary school and continues throughout life, families and communities must be encouraged to foster environments that set the stage for education. In fact, basic education strengthens what families and communities can undertake and prepares the way for greater opportunities and choices in the next generation.
6. EFA means inclusive quality learning
The motivation to learn or to overcome learning difficulties only comes when education is seen to be worthwhile – and this depends on its quality. Going to school or attending a non-formal adult learning course should result in knowledge, skills and values that the learner can put to good use, with a sense of being able to accomplish goals that were unattainable before. A quality education is crucially dependent on the teaching/learning process as well as on the relevance of the curriculum, the availability of materials and the conditions of the learning environment. Thus, importance is placed on providing education that is responsive to a learner’s needs and relevant to their lives.
7. EFA is making remarkable progress
The annually published UNESCO EFA Global Monitoring Report (GMR) monitors progress towards the six EFA goals, compares the state of education across countries and identifies trends. Recent editions give proof of the remarkable progress we have seen in education since 2000 and show that these education targets are achievable. More children are in school than ever before – and more girls are enrolled than ever before, although the 2005 gender parity goal has been missed. Primary school enrolments have increased dramatically in sub-Saharan Africa and in South and West Asia, regions farthest from achieving the goals. The number of secondary students has risen substantially - more than four times the increase in the number of primary students. In about 70 countries out of 110 countries with data, public spending on education has increased as a share of national income. Other goals such as expanding early childhood care and education (Goal 1) and promoting learning and skills for young people and adults (Goal 3) are harder to measure, but it is clear that efforts to develop appropriate policies are bearing fruit.
8. EFA still faces many challenges
Progress towards the EFA goals is not currently fast enough to meet them by 2015. According to recent calculations, approximately 75 million children are still not enrolled in school and an estimated 776 million adults (16% of the world’s population) have not yet had the opportunity to learn to read and write. Of those students enrolled in school, millions drop out or leave school without having gained the most basic literacy and numeracy skills. Additionally, pupil/teacher ratios in many countries are in excess of 40:1 and a severe teacher shortage exists, with an estimated 18 million teachers needed globally to achieve Universal Primary Education by 2015. Moreover, education is not benefiting all, and opportunities for adolescents and out-of-school youth remain low in many developing countries. Poverty, geographic isolation, gender, language and ethnicity are some of the main obstacles blocking the road. Increasing the number and quality of teachers, improving school and education system management, reaching disadvantaged and marginalized groups, tackling the impact of HIV and AIDS – all this will require more intensive and innovative ways of delivering learning opportunities.
9. EFA needs support from everyone
Meeting the EFA goals requires money, people, technical know-how, functioning institutions and, last but not least, political will. UNESCO works to sustain international momentum through annual EFA Working Group and High-Level Group meetings and coordinates international efforts. Aid agencies and the development banks, such as the World Bank, are now putting increasing resources into education, although there is still a long way to go to meet the estimated need for achieving the primary education goal – US$7 billion per year in external aid – let alone for reaching the other five goals. Harmonization is curcial – more importance is being placed on aid that is aligned with national development goals. Civil society is a key partner, both in lobbying for increased funding and in offering alternative learning opportunities for neglected populations. Knowledge sharing, collaboration and capacity building are essential to accelerate progress, and coordination must increase so that joint efforts are effective and resources are used as efficiently as possible.
10. EFA has a multiplier effect
By enabling individuals to become more effective in initiating, managing and sustaining positive change in their lives, education has a tremendous multiplier effect that brings lasting benefits to families and communities. The reverse is also true, as on average a child whose mother has no education is twice as likely to be out of school as one whose mother has some education. Education for all is thus essential, and is the foundation for giving all persons a better chance of success, for overcoming gender discrimination and other forms of injustice.