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“Four Factors for Accelerated Progress Towards EFA Goals” says Satyarthi

Addressing the Sixth High Level Group Meeting on Education For All from 12 – 14 November 2006 in Cairo, Egypt Mr. Kailash Satyarthi, President, Global Campaign for Education and Chairperson, Global March Against Child Labour said:

Honourable Chair, Director General, Mr. Peter Smith, Excellencies, Panellist, Sisters and Brothers

I would like to begin by congratulating and thanking Education For All (EFA) partners for their remarkable accomplishments since Dakar. Global Campaign for Education (GCE) would like to acknowledge with deep appreciation the achievements of the poor countries, specially the countries of Sub-Saharan Africa, donor countries, inter-government agencies and UNESCO’s leadership.

We are pleased to see the progress that has been during the period, notably,

  • The number of children out-of-school has dropped to around 80 million, meaning that between 40 million and 50 million more have entered the school gates (taken into account population growth) - this has changed the lives of those children and their chances to avoid a life condemned to ignorance and poverty.
  • Aid to education is growing, and it is increasingly targeting primary education in poorer countries. It rose from 1 billion to 2.7 billion.
  • User fees have been eliminated in a number of countries, including many in Sub-Saharan Africa. This has opened doors of learning to millions who would otherwise have been denied the chance to go to school.
  • The number of child labourers dropped from 246 million to 218 million.
  • We believe that the high-level political events of 2006 have built on the momentum established since 2000. Education For All, and the Fast Track Initiative once again received endorsement at the milestone political events of the year such as G7 and G8.
  • There have been also a number of high-level announcements of additional funds for primary education, most significantly by the UK.
  • Poorer countries have clearly shown their willingness to plan ambitiously for the future, by preparing 10 years plans in period following the Abuja Financing For Development Conference in May 2006.

But still a number of critical challenges remain.

  • The world has already missed the gender parity goal of the Millennium Development Goals.
  • 90 countries have not yet abolished user fees.
  • We are not moving nearly quickly enough to get all children to start school by 2009 at the latest – necessary if we are to achieve even the minimal targets of universal primary completion
  • The fact that a minimum $11 billion will be needed each year to secure universal primary completion by 2015 and allow for some provisions for adult literacy and early childhood care and education. GCE believes that the total may well be more if we want to ensure that children in the hardest-to-reach situations are enables to realise their rights to an education
  • There are still 218 million child labourers in the world today, how long will we keep on saying that they don’t fall into the education agenda?
  • Almost billion adults lack minimum literacy skills
  • There has been little if any attention paid to the whole EFA agenda by the international community and national governments.
“You say we are poor, so we can’t go to school. But if we don’t go to school, how can we get out of poverty. We are not responsible for poverty, so why should we be victimised for it. If you don’t act now, it would be too late in our lives. Our childhood would be completely ruined.” Dhara is one of the 80 million who are calling for urgent action from all of us.

I would like to highlight four key factors for the accelerated progress towards EFA goals. The first and foremost is a sense of urgency. My Indian organisation Bachpan Bachao Andolan organised a month-long intense campaign “From Work To School”. It observed its one-month on 10 November in the presence of the President of India. It was followed by a human chain in Delhi at the historic India Gate. 14 year old Dhara was among those hundreds of children who stood hand-in-hand with the Chief Justice of India. When the boy was questioned by the media, he challenged, “You say we are poor, so we can’t go to school. But if we don’t go to school, how can we get out of poverty. We are not responsible for poverty, so why should we be victimised for it. If you don’t act now, it would be too late in our lives. Our childhood would be completely ruined.” Dhara is one of the 80 million who are calling for urgent action from all of us. Denial of education is not a mere failure of state policies or planning. It is a denial of their fundamental human right. It is denial of their present and their future. We have been hearing the rhetoric time and again that the children are our future. But why don’t we understand that they are the present, they are today, they are NOW!

The second factor is the moral accountability to the children. How many promises have been made and how many of them are kept. Children are not the subject of politics to be played with. The leaders have to be honest to them. Both those who promise to deliver money and those who spend, should feel a deep sense of moral accountability to the children. Children may not come and question your performance but their very existence symbolised the existence of God, so all of us are primarily accountable to them.

The third factor is the policy coherence and coordination. We see a serious disjoint in the international and national policy arena. Tell me how come IMF keeps imposing their conditionality on poor countries, and others offer a bit of funding and demand much. Not one or two but dozens of countries especially in Africa and South Asia are compelled to spend three-four times in international debt services of the total educational expenditure. We still fail a child and her problems without a holistic approach. Think of a child who is trafficked and enslaved in a country. There are several ministries and departments who are supposedly involved in addressing her concerns, labour, social justice, education, finance and even a few more. Their convergence and coordination is not easy, eventually that girl has to suffer. Coherence in policy therefore is a must.

The fourth key factor is partnership. I am not referring to this phrase for mere courtesy or involving stakeholders for service delivery alone. I demand a genuine critical partnership among various stakeholders. The governments have to genuinely partner with civil society and the private sector in all EFA processes – including planning, implementation and monitoring. A culture of partnership has to be evolved and deepened with true mutual trust. I ask how many governments honestly partner with communities, teachers, NGOs and children.

National education plans must reach out to all children regardless of their circumstances. Countries’ long-term education strategies should take account of the specific contexts and circumstances of each country, and must be drawn up with the participation of a range of national civil society stakeholders, including teachers unions and NGOs.

Recognising this, we would expect that a rights-based plan might include some or all of the following elements:

  • Elimination of user fees and other charges including PTA fees: There are ample evidences that countries like Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda have opened doors to millions of children with just one political decision. If abolition of user fees can help in changing the fate of children, why doesn’t the international community shows this political will? What stops you? We are not so poor- equivalent of only one percent of global military expenditure of enough to educate all the children.
  • Provisions for income support and cash transfer to poor and rural households to end reliance on child labour: there are many examples, Bolsa Escola now Bolsa Familia in Brazil and a few more countries have shown their leadership benefiting 6 to 7 million children in Brazil alone. That has not only guaranteed retention in school, but economic and social empowerment of women. We have a good example for India, wherein there is a very popular Mid-Day Meal program, which benefits millions of poor school-going children; giving big temptation of their families for sending them to schools. A poor country like Bangladesh has initiated similar food for education programs and other incentives to the girls, and now we all know that Bangladesh has achieved gender parity, dismantling the myth of poverty.
  • Specific measures to enable girls, disabled children, those affected by HIV/AIDS and children in special circumstances, such as indigenous people or nomadic people, to access education:
  • Improvements to teacher recruitment, training remuneration and working conditions:
  • Programmes to ensure that over-age youth and adults get a second chance at education, particularly through adult literacy programmes:
  • Expansion of secondary schooling:
  • Programmes to ensure that pre-school children can access early childhood care and education:

I understand the apprehensions of the donor countries in putting money in fragile states. But the vicious circle between education and fragile-ness cannot be ignored. The countries under insurgency or civil wars need greater support. If their children are not given quality education now, they will always remain fragile. If almost half of the out-of-school children fall in these states, how can the EFA goals be achieved?

I would also like to underline the importance of quality outcomes. This is not possible without quality teaching and quality learning. GCE does not support the use of untrained educators or para-teachers. Teachers have to be properly trained and well paid.

All of this of course comes at a cost. Poorer countries must demonstrate their political commitment by making available adequate domestic financing. Government spending on education should be 6% of GDP, with at least half of this amount being for basic education and 20% of budgets to education.

Rich countries can and must play their part. We believe that FTI provides for the best framework for channelling their support. Donors must rally around a single sector plan addressing the entire EFA agenda, ensuring that funds are responsive, predictable and available over the long term. They must also use their influence on the international financial institutions, especially the IMF to ensure that:  

  • Poor countries have sufficient fiscal space to enable long-term sustainable investment in public education systems
  • Public sector wage caps do not prevent recruitment of urgently-needed teachers and other public sector workers.

By this collective effort, we believe, as I hope all of you here do, that the dream of Education For All is achievable.

I will close by reminding you of the words of Lusibilo, a Malawian school-child work took part in the Big Hearing in GCE’s Global Week of Action this year, saying:

“Have you asked me what I need as a pupil? As you sit confidently in front of others do you think of what I need to also sit in that chair in future?"

Kailash Satyarthi... the seeker of truth
Copyright © 2014 Kailash Satryarthi