Civil society education advocates kick off global meeting in Tunisia

“There could be no more important time for civil society to be at the forefront of advancing the right to education,” asserted UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Education, Stefania Giannini, at the opening of the 9th Global Meeting of the Collective Consultation of NGOs for Education 2030 (CCNGO-Education 2030), in Hammamet, Tunisia on 3 December 2019. Over the course of 2 days, the over 150 participants deliberated on how to strengthen inclusion and equity in education as a human right and public good.

Speaking alongside Tunisia’s Minister for Education Mr Hatem Ben Salem, and the President of the Global Campaign for Education, Mr Refat Sabbah, she said the upcoming SDG decade requires stronger political buy-in, reinforced partnerships and wide societal mobilization beyond the education community to ensure that we deliver on the promise of Agenda 2030 to leave no one behind.  Ms Giannini stressed three connected priorities for action and acceleration: prioritizing inclusion in all legal, policy and planning frameworks, empowering teachers and financing education as a public good.

With the majority of countries off track to meet SDG4 in 2030, Tunisia’s Minister of Education Mr Ben Salem urged that education regain its place as strategic choice for all nations, with civil society playing a lead role in this mobilization. “As soon as education is weakened, extremism is reinforced” he said, warning that investments in security and infrastructure are happening at the expense of the education sector where results only become visible in the longer term but are essential for humanity’s future. “I appeal to everyone to mobilize to put education back as a national and international priority,” calling on UNESCO to lead in realizing this and shaping a new vision for education. 

Fostering a culture of inclusion

Inclusion calls for transformation in the practice of education.  “We need to move away from the beaten track and find new solutions,” said Refat Sabbah, President of the Global Campaign for Education. “Inclusion requires cooperation between governments and representatives of the education sector in the broadest sense, not least civil society, to modernize our curricula to respond to modern day challenges before us.”

In the face of deep inequalities and forced displacement Mr Abdelbasset Ben Hassen, President of the Arab Institute for Human Rights, stressed the need to reflect on education as an ethical tool and a way out of crisis. In partnership with the Tunisian Ministry of Education and UNESCO, the Institute has worked to make education a key pillar in the democratic transition in Tunisia, through analyzing curricula from a human rights perspective, training policymakers and introducing of citizenship clubs in schools.  

Changing mindsets is part of building a culture of inclusion. Plan International’s Helen O’Reilly described work with boys and girls to change the status quo and make them advocates for gender equality in their communities. Plan is working with governments and international partners on gender responsive education sector planning, with impact on teaching, learning, curricula and school environments.

 “The dilemma is that there can be no inclusive school system in the context of a society that excludes,” said Vernor Munoz, former UN rapporteur on the right to education. ”Inclusion must be part of public policy.”  This calls for supporting teachers to implement inclusion on a daily basis, a priority emphasized by all speakers, especially in the context of the digital revolution. It also calls for the meaningful engagement of children, including the most marginalized, in school policies, said the youth delegate from Save the Children Norway, Beate Oegaard.

Cooperation is key to success

Mr Refat Sabbah assured that the Global Campaign for Education is working to strengthen civil society’s capacity to implement SDG4. “We need to broaden the scope of cooperation to reduce gaps in education system. Only through networking can we ensure free compulsory education for all and have a real impact on development.”

Wrapping up the opening panel, Ms Giannini called on the CCNGO “to partner around advocacy, to show the cost of educational deprivation and build capacity to influence policy.” She paid tribute to civil society’s actions, affirming that “authentic partnerships must be built with civil society – you are key for realizing the 2030 Agenda and its 17 goals”.

The CCNGO is UNESCO’s key mechanism for partnership, dialogue and reflection with civil society organizations. It counts some 300 members ranging from national organizations to regional and global coalitions and networks.