Education has moved up on the political agenda over the past 12 months and more children than ever are enrolled in primary school. However, higher spending and more targeted efforts are required to meet the ‘large and urgent’ EFA challenge by 2015, concluded the sixth meeting of the High-Level Group on Education for All (EFA) held in Cairo, Egypt from 14-16 November 2006. During the meeting, organized by UNESCO, some 20 education ministers from developing countries, top officials of multilateral and bilateral agencies, leaders of NGOs and representatives of the private sector discussed strategies to increase funding from national and external sources, to better respond to the HIV & AIDS epidemic and to improve cooperation and coordination to achieve the EFA goals.
The Communiqué, adopted at the end of two days of discussion, recommends that countries spend 4% to 6% of national income on education, and that donors raise levels of predictable and long-term financing to reach the $11 billion required annually for universal primary education, adult literacy and early childhood care and education.
High-Level Group members committed themselves to a stronger focus on early childhood care and education (ECCE) and advised that governments and aid agencies increase funding to ECCE substantially above current levels.
Recognizing the links between the early years and future achievement in school, participants committed themselves to expand enrolment in early childhood programmes, develop comprehensive national policies on ECCE, increase partnerships and foster a holistic approach to the needs of the child, drawing on the recommendations of the 2007 EFA Global Monitoring Report.
Acknowledging that education is key to achieving the Millennium Development Goals, participants called for stronger integration of education sector planning with broader development objectives at both national and international level. They stressed the central role of education in responding to the HIV & AIDS epidemic and urged that stronger links be developed between education sector planning and the commitment to universal access to HIV/AIDS prevention, care, treatment and support by 2010.
Drawing on findings of the 2007 EFA Report, participants recognized that progress has been made since 1999, with over 37 million more children in primary school, the abolition of school fees in a number of countries, and increased aid to education. But progress towards gender parity has been too slow, and requires more targeted efforts to remove barriers to girls’ access to school.
The Communiqué calls for “innovation and new investment” in adult literacy, characterizing the current situation in which one adult in five lacks literacy skills as “unacceptable” and a “shameful loss of potential”. It emphasizes the need for resources to eliminate child labour and strategies to recruit and train 18 million new teachers by 2015.
Participants underlined that poverty and social exclusion remain major barriers to achieving the EFA goals and recommended measures to favour the poorest populations, including orphans and vulnerable children affected by HIV & AIDS. The Communiqué also calls upon EFA partners to support education in post-conflict and fragile states.
The High-Level Group meeting welcomed the Global Action Plan on EFA which commits key international agencies to work more closely at international and national levels.
The government of Senegal will host the next High-Level Group meeting on EFA on 11-13 December 2007. The venue is highly symbolic: the EFA goals were adopted in 2000 at the World Education Forum in Dakar; next year’s meeting marks a mid-way point and will focus on an overall review of EFA progress.