Interview with Mr Qian Tang, Assistant Director-General for the Education Sector.
Mr Qian Tang of China, a specialist in secondary and technical education, was nominated Assistant Director-General for the Education Sector on 14 June 2010. He is a career educator and diplomat who has been instrumental in mobilizing donor resources for Education for All and promoting South/South cooperation in education.
What do you bring to the job of Assistant Director-General for the Education Sector?
Well, unlike most of the other ADGs appointed by the Director-General, I am not new to UNESCO! My career so far in the Organization has given me a keen understanding of the challenges faced by the Education Sector. What I bring to this job is a desire to build a strong Sector and lead it to achieve the goal of promoting peace and sustainable human development through education. Like the Director-General, for whom education is a top priority, I want to see UNESCO clearly identified as a global leader in education. People around the world rely on the Organization to help them have happier, more fulfilling lives. I personally was lucky enough to benefit from a good education and would like to see the same opportunity become a reality for everyone.
What do you hope to achieve during your time as ADG?
In a word, I want UNESCO to be seen as the ‘first port of call’ in all education-related matters.
This will involve, among other things, repositioning the Education Sector, speeding up progress towards achieving the six Education for All (EFA) goals and gearing up for 2015 and beyond. Until and beyond this deadline, the Sector will focus on improving education quality. All countries – whether they are poor, middle-income or rich – struggle with this core issue.
Finally, we need to return to the original, holistic vision of EFA and redefine our global coordination role in the EFA movement.
UNESCO is the only UN organization with a mandate that covers all aspects of education. What is the status of the Education for All movement, which UNESCO leads?
Education for All (EFA) was originally a holistic and inclusive vision of learning throughout life. As you know, the six EFA goals are wide-ranging targets which include early childhood care and education, primary education, youth and adult skills, adult literacy, gender parity and quality education.
However, there was a narrowing of focus over the years. Perhaps because of the two education-related Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), EFA became associated with two issues - universal primary education and gender equality – and with developing countries only. Donors followed suit. But national planning needs a holistic approach - not artificial separations between education sub-sectors!
UNESCO must now promote a new ‘expanded vision’ of EFA and help countries to see education and learning as a single interlinked system. It can kick-start this process by sending a strong message at the September MDG summit (where UNESCO is leading the education-related MDG 2). It is a key opportunity to demonstrate how education can contribute to achieving all the MDGs. Beyond September, we are planning to work more efficiently with our partners to improve our global coordination system.
Is ‘repositioning’ another word for reform?
No, absolutely not. Repositioning the Education Sector as the global leader in its field just requires some adjustments to ensure better teamwork and partnerships as well as the support of Member States. The work on the Sector’s four priorities for 2010-2011 (literacy, teachers, skills development for the world of work and sector-wide planning) will continue, while gender and Africa will still be our over-arching themes.
Will repositioning the Education Sector affect UNESCO’s support to countries?
I believe the Education Sector needs to be more country-driven in regard to policy and planning. I envisage revitalizing its working methods to achieve stronger field operations, stronger country-level partnerships and stronger support to our 20 priority countries. UNESCO’s intellectual leadership can be credible only if it is anchored at the country level, building bridges between research, standard-setting, policy development and implementation. The Sector should also bring a long-term perspective to the reconstruction of education systems affected by conflict and natural disasters - as UNESCO is doing in Haiti
UNESCO’s visibility is another important issue – we need to send out clear, concise messages that can be picked up by the media. So we need to spot opportunities to communicate more and better on our education programme. More awareness among stakeholders will attract more funding and ultimately ensure that UNESCO is seen as the global authority in education matters.