Toward an Equitable Quality Education For All Framework
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• Educationists and international development scholars from different world regions and institutions are signing this letter to raise certain key considerations in relation to the direction of ongoing discussions on the post-2015 education framework.
• Since 1990, the ‘Education for All’ movement – which includes southern and northern states, international organizations, INGOs and international civil society networks – has had remarkable achievements. The number of out of school children has drastically fallen, early childhood education has seen great progress in many countries, gender gaps have narrowed importantly, and more and more children are moving from primary to secondary education and beyond.
• However, we are also aware that there is still a great deal to achieve, which means that the momentum around ‘EFA’ must be maintained and that the framework should be enhanced.
The importance of improving and maintaining the EFA framework
• Many stakeholders currently support the adoption of an integrated post-2015 education approach. In practical terms, this would mean harmonizing the ‘sustainable development goals’ with the EFA framework. Establishing a renewed set of internationally agreed EFA goals, aligned with a universal education goal, is both feasible and even desirable. It will contribute to facilitate monitoring of progress as well as to promote a higher profile commitment around education for development.
• Harmonization, however, should not mean subordinating EFA to a global development agenda that risks being diluted and simplified. The international education community, under the lead of UNESCO - as the single UN agency with an education mandate - should drive such an agenda-setting process. EFA partners need to work together for an improved, aspirational and up-to-date global educational agenda, guided by a rights-based approach, based on an adequately comprehensive understanding of how education systems work. Among other things, this means that the post-2015 education framework should go beyond a narrow focus on those components of ‘basic’ education that donors find palatable in an era of austerity; it should incorporate a broader and more comprehensive view of education and contemplate that different education levels, from early-childhood to higher and adult education, and understand that these are interlinked and feed into each other.
• Discussions about an integrated post-2015 education framework should not mean losing the ambition for the EFA framework, or even less renouncing the ‘EFA’ brand. Governments, donors, civil society organizations and local communities find a strategic ally in the EFA movement, and a powerful framework for advancing their aspirations of extending the right to education to the most marginalized populations.
• EFA imparts a high profile to education in international, national and local development strategies; it has achieved important and tangible results when it comes to advance the right to education worldwide in the last decades; and comes with a symbolic and political capital that we cannot afford to relinquish in the context of the ongoing global development debates.
• Building on the existing EFA goals and strategies is of utmost importance; this implies that these must be revisited, improved and updated, according to what has been achieved and learnt in the past decades.
Equity and high quality learning experience, as core priorities
• The EFA programme has made huge progress when it comes to improving access to education globally, even though more is needed to achieve the current EFA goals. The main challenges, now, are to ensure access for those children still out of school and to make sure that all children enjoy a quality education experience and of a stimulating learning environment.
• To do so, we need to go beyond emphasizing access and outputs – which are at the center of the current global discussion – and open up the ‘black box’ of the education process. Education process indicators such us those related to teachers’ training, pedagogy, available facilities and learning materials in schools, or teacher-students ratio might be taken into account to this purpose.
• An essential way of strengthening the post-2015 education framework, and EFA in particular, is to take equity more seriously. Today, it is widely accepted that equity goals do not enter in contradiction with ‘quality’ standards. International evidence shows that there is a strong relationship between equity and effectiveness, since those education systems that are more equitable are also those that get better results.
• Most documents that are circulating in the context of the post-2015 discussion often refer to the importance of equity, but this principle is rarely translated into specific and appropriate indicators. Equity indicators, based on the differences between females and males and income quintiles, to name but two dimensions, and in relation to different types of targets (including access, process, and outputs targets) need to be constructed within the future framework.
• From the equity point of view, the percentage of students enjoying free education should be also considered as a legitimate target. The advance of free education is key to guarantee the right to education for all, and is a necessary condition – although arguably not sufficient – for addressing school inequalities. In this respect, current efforts that would outsource the role of elected and accountable governments to provide free quality education to the private sector and for profit companies are neither equitable nor democratic.
• Similarly, the overcoming of all forms of discrimination in education must be placed center stage, as States have already agreed to do so when signing up to the 1960 UNESCO Convention ‘Against Discrimination in Education’.
• Unfortunately, the paucity of existing data on economic and other structural inequalities in international education databases makes it difficult for equity to be central dimension in the EFA framework at this point. Such an important absence in international datasets reflects that equity has traditionally had a low profile in global education agendas. The post-2015 debate opens up a window of opportunity to reverse such a trend and to think about more comprehensive ways or measuring educational development. If we adapt the final goals to available data, we will lose a great opportunity to redress the historical deficit in this terrain.
Universal goals, but context-sensitive processes
• While the post-2015 education framework, including its main goals, should remain universal, measuring and monitoring mechanisms have to consider different starting points and realities. Proceeding in this way would contribute to track educational progress in a more appropriate way, and to strengthen ownership over the EFA framework globally.
Ensuring a sustainable financing for EFA: New challenges, new formulas
• The development of a more aspirational EFA framework will introduce financing challenges.
• Apart from a few exceptions, the donor community has not fulfilled their international commitments with the ongoing EFA framework. In the next EFA round, donors will need to strongly commit themselves to the new action framework, strengthen existing aid coordination mechanisms such as the Global Partnership for Education, and deliver accordingly.
• At the same time, the EFA partners will need to engage in debates on alternative mechanisms of education funding. Global tax justice initiatives (such as debt conversion development bonds, or the Tobin tax) and progressive tax reforms at the country level can generate the necessary resources to finance EFA from both international and domestic sources.
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