Education International
Education International

Unite diary: UN meetings focus on education

published 30 September 2013 updated 30 September 2013

With little more than 800 days left to reach the Millennium Development Goals, the education focus sharpened dramatically late last week as the UN General Assembly held a special event to review progress made.

While the world has come a long way since 2000, progress has been uneven and has, in fact, stalled in many countries. Progress on goal 2 on Universal Primary Education has slowed markedly in the last few years and 57 million children remain out of school.

Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has placed education high on his agenda through his Global Education First initiative, devoted to access to education, quality of learning and global citizenship. He said: “Our efforts are bearing fruit. Education is regaining its rightful place on the global agenda...But we must do more – much more. Educating the poorest and most marginalized children will require bold political leadership and increased financial commitment.”

The Heads of State and Government agreed to scale up their efforts to reach the goals by 2015. They also agreed to join efforts to ensure a strong post-2015 agenda, including a renewed commitment to poverty eradication and sustainable development. For the outcome document, click here.

Earlier, an event marking the one-year anniversary of the Secretary General’s Global Education First initiative gathered a number of high-level respondents. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina of Bangladesh said education is a key priority and must remain free and compulsory. She also highlighted the shortage of trained teachers as a threat to the provision of quality education.

Young education rights campaigner Malala Yousafzai called for action: “Instead of sending tanks, send pens. Instead of sending soldiers, send teachers. This is the only way that we can fight for education…” The lack of funds was highlighted as the main threat to education for all, with aid for education having dropped for the first time in a decade, and World Bank President Jim Kim concluded that the commitment to education has to be reflected in domestic budgeting.

During the week, the Global Partnership for Education and the UN Special Envoy on global education, Mr Gordon Brown, have organised bilateral meetings to coordinate and accelerate education financing in a number of countries that are struggling to meet the targets.

Simultaneously, a number of side events organised by civil society actors drew attention to human rights in the discussions about a post-2015 framework. Concern was expressed that human rights are too often referred to in passing, or as the historical backdrop against which new goals are formulated, but there is little recognition of what a human rights approach would entail in practice. In many ways, this issue remains one of the most controversial on the post-2015 agenda.

A new development framework is fundamentally about ensuring the human rights and dignity of all people, and EI’s engagement in these processes is based on human rights in general and the right to education in particular. At the same time, we are worried about the limited understanding of what the right to education implies, with, for instance, “affordable education” being discussed without any recognition of what that would mean for the right to education.

Throughout the week here in New York as international leaders gathered for the General Assembly and a host of meetings on myriad subjects, the private sector was the focus of intense interest concerning both MDG progress and a post-2015 agenda. EI and other advocates for access to quality education for all worked to maintain a focus on the obligations of the state.  There is a need to challenge the assumption of public financing not being available, and to examine the responsibilities and the potential role of the private sector, especially when it comes to accountability.

At an event on global partnerships organised by the government of Indonesia, Maria Angela Holguin, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Colombia, stated that it now is up to the governments to ensure a post-2015 development agenda that balances the social, economic and environmental dimensions of development.

Ahmad Alhendawi, UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy on Youth highlighted education as one of the main priorities for young people across the world, and called for access beyond primary education and a new emphasis on quality education for all, including vocational education.

As the week came to a close, it is clear that advocates need to keep the elements of quality and equity in the public eye, as a priority for nations in their public investments and for the global community in their aspirations for quality education for all.

Antonia Wulff