Education must be made free: 2015 Education Report!

The number of children and adolescents out of school fell by half since 2000

Progress in gender parity, particularly in primary education

There are still 58 million children out of school and 100 million children not completing primary education

Inequality in education has increased with the poorest shouldering the heaviest burden

At current rates, only half of all children in low-income countries may complete lower secondary education by 2030

Education must be free for all children: fees for tuition, textbooks, school uniforms and transport must be abolished

It is 15 years since the ambitious Dakar Framework was launched to ensure Education for All (EFA). So what has happened with those six education goals agreed in Dakar? The 2015 EFA monitoring report developed by an independent team and published by UNESCO looks back at the last 15 years of investment and commitments in education in over 500 pages.

Speaking on the release of the report, UNESCO’s director general, Irina Bokova, said “tremendous progress has been made but the 2015 aims will not be met.”

What do the charts say?

The attractively designed report, launched a month before the World Education Forum in Incheon states that an estimated 34 million more children will be in schools due to faster progress since Dakar. The world’s poorest children are four times more likely not to go to school than the world’s richest children, and five times more likely not to complete primary school, especially in conflict zones. Poor quality of education at primary level leaves millions of children without basic skills. According to the report, just one-third of countries have achieved all the measurable goals. Below is a set of infographics from the report.

1_universal_primary_enrolment 7_all_goals_deadline 5_illiteracy 4_inequality 3_out_of_school_childrenB

Education and the SDGs

Beyond 2015, with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) coming into force, future education targets for education must be specific, relevant and realistic, suggests the report. The current discussions on the post-2015 agenda may be offering just such an opportunity, time is running out and the focus will be on Incheon. The Dakar Framework has been ambitious. In many countries, even the core goal of achieving universal primary education will remain out of reach without concerted and committed efforts.

Efforts since 2000 to advance education around the world became almost synonymous with ensuring that every child is in school. Political commitment to EFA suffered once the MDGs became the dominant development agenda. High-level political engagement took a back seat while global and regional conferences became the main fora that failed to hold countries and the international community accountable.

The result was excessive emphasis on universal primary education. As the EFA and MDG target of universal access to primary education was more applicable to the poorest countries, other nations found it less relevant. The focus on universal primary enrolment meant less attention to other crucial areas, such as education quality, early childhood care and education, and adult literacy.

School Children, Santafe, Colombia @SixDegrees

School Children, Santafe, Colombia @SixDegrees

The push for private education and the contradictions

The education report has been bold in recommending that education should be made free for all children. It urges governments to complete the education for all agenda and at least one year of pre-primary education should be compulsory. Ghana is one country that has abolished fees that led to an increase in number of children in pre-school participation.

However, the recommendations contradicts the global push for privatising education. A 2014 report – The Role and Impact of Private Schools in Developing Countries supported by UK government aid agency DFID and which included authors from the EFA monitoring report group states that private schools outperform state schools on many counts. It says there is ‘strong’ evidence that teaching is better in private schools while the other evidences supporting the private argument are termed ‘moderate’. DFID says that private sector is now part of the education system, businesses are investing and there is discussion for donors to increase funding to private schools.

The DFID funded report ran into a controversy among academics and there is currently a major debate going on. In an education forum UKFIET, many academics informed that the relevance and appropriateness of private schools to achieving EFA goals is doubtful. The reviewers identified that general conclusions on the impact of private schooling is difficult because of the diversity of the private school sector and there was the significant gaps in the DFID supported study. The 2015 EFA report acknowledges that knowledge, evidence, and, policies have been developed over the years; but is critical of these developments. They did not come from the education sector and not related to the EFA goals but focused towards private sector education.

The money gap: failure of donors & governments

One expected result of the Dakar process was that credible plans would help mobilize financial resources for EFA. Many countries spent more on education, including in low-income countries. Between 1999 and 2012, 38 countries increased their spending by 1 percent or more of their national income. Many of these countries; heavily depended on international aid fell significantly short of required funds. The report rues that education is not a priority in many national budgets; governments and donors neglected funding for EFA goals. Donors who made commitments largely failed to deliver aid and achieved just 1 of the 13 aid targets. There has been no international coordination and distribution of aid for education.

There are no clear education finance targets within the SDGs and experts are not sure if such targets will be established. There is an annual US$22 billion finance gap for quality pre-primary and basic education for all by 2030. With the focus on private system of education, it is unsure if there will be enough finances to ensure education for all.

An user on Youtube, Will Gourley aptly captured the state of education -Under viewed and under discussed global issue, that needs our whole hearted attention

Education is a human right according to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1989 and the World Declaration on Education for All, 1990, (popularly called the Jomtian Declaration, after the popular Thai resort) but in terms of fulfilling the right, it is not moving much in the right direction similar to other human rights issues.

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