The Thematic Consultation on Education reveals disputes about the meaning of the education we want
Camilla Croso, General Coordinator of Latin American Campaign for the Right to Education (CLADE) and President of Global Campaign for Education (GCE) | Translated by ICAE | Revised by GCE | Lea este análisis en español aquí
2015 is the deadline to achieve the educational goals agreed in the international arena – the six Education for All (EFA) goals agreed at Dakar, and the two education-related Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
This date is fast-approaching; some progress is evident, especially with regard to children’s access to primary education, but, at the same time, progress towards several other EFA goals has stagnated, and, moreover, we have seen setbacks such as a decrease in international aid to education. A more detailed assessment regarding progress towards the goals can be found in the 2012 Education for All Global Monitoring Report).
In order to discuss the priorities and efforts necessary to move closer to achieving the targets before 2015, as well as to draw up a post-2015 EFA agenda which ensures that States fulfill their obligations to ensure the realization of human rights including education, the United Nations has been holding a series of virtual and face to face consultations.
In March 2013, the Thematic Consultation on Education in the Post-2015 Development Agenda took place in Dakar, Senegal. GCE participated, along with CLADE, and regional networks of Africa (ANCEFA), Asia (ASPBAE) and Arab Countries (ACEA), as well as allied organizations such as Education International and International Council for Adult Education (ICAE). About 100 people were present, mostly representatives of international organizations, various UN agencies, and representatives of civil society, of the private sector and academia. There was an underrepresentation of Member States, with approximately only ten attending the meeting. UNESCO and UNICEF coordinated the meeting, supported by the governments of Canada and Germany, along with the Hewlett Foundation.
The fundamental debate underpinning the meeting was the purpose of education. Although there seemed to be a consensus in recognizing education as a fundamental human right and the State as the guarantor of this right, two major views seemed to be in dispute.
The first view focused on the framing of the core purpose of education as employability, and especially emphasized the obtaining of skills and of measurable learning outcomes, determined and measured through internationally-led processes and mechanisms. This position reflects the principles at the heart of the World Bank 2020 Education Strategy, “Learning for All”.
The second, the perspective of scholars, some UN agencies and civil society representatives who were present at the Conference, stressed the need to reclaim and replace at the center of debates the broad purpose of education as a human right, as enshrined in international human rights instruments – to which Member States have already overwhelmingly subscribed: the full development of people, their access to decent work, their full participation as citizens and the promotion of democracy and peace.
Underpinning this argument are the incontrovertible principles of free and universal education. It is from these basic premises that the development of legal frameworks, public policies and educational goals must be drawn.
Civil society representatives underlined throughout the event that if education is in fact considered from a human rights point of view, its various dimensions must be recognized. In this regard, we invited participants to revisit the conceptual framework developed by Katarina Tomasevski, former UN Special Rapporteur on the right to education, and embraced by the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in 1999. We stressed, then, that the quantitative and qualitative dimensions of the right to education are inseparable, and core elements such as the following must be considered:
(1) Availability: The existence of sufficient and well provisioned educational institutions (are there enough in number and conditions, and geographically well distributed?).
(2) Accessibility: Free and full access to education, without discrimination.
(3) Acceptability: The appropriateness and relevance of education (are the content, educational materials and processes relevant?; do they value the history and culture of the national and local context?; do they promote non-discrimination and inclusion?; are relationships dialogical, democratic?; does education promote critical thinking, imagination, creativity?; does education promote learning in all spheres of knowledge?; do teachers have decent working conditions and good training? Are they socially valued and recognized as autonomous professionals? etc.).
(4) Adaptability: The ability of educational institutions to respond to the local context and the individuals of the educational community (are schools adapted for people with disabilities? do they respond to the local context? etc.).
Finally, the civil society representatives stressed the importance of learning outcomes, provided that the concept of learning is broad, that it is not overly-focused on measurability, it does not mean an international standardization of curricula and assessments and it does not deny the importance of teaching and learning processes, and that schools be recognized as places where human rights and democracy are exercised.
One of the interesting points of consensus at the meeting was the importance of emphasizing other levels of education beyond primary, particularly considering early childhood education, secondary education and lifelong learning. Although the latter was mentioned throughout the conference, only civil society made explicit mention of the right to education of adults. Other interesting points of consensus were the importance of focusing on equity and in overcoming all forms of discrimination as well as the importance of valuing teachers and the teaching profession.
The final outcome document of the meeting collects and reflects these debates, and proposes as an umbrella education goal, or “super goal” as named at the end of the meeting, for the post-2015 development agenda:
“Equitable, quality, lifelong education and learning for all.”
This meeting was an important step in the consultation process of how the right to education will be framed in the post-2015 agenda of the MDGs and EFA, but it is not definitive. There is still a significant way to go before its final definition, and civil society will work to ensure that education as a fundamental human right will prevail.
- UN Thematic Consultation on Education in the post-2015 development agenda. Summary of Outcomes [http://www.unesco.org/new/fileadmin/MULTIMEDIA/FIELD/Dakar/pdf/OutcomesGlobalThematicConsultationEducationMarch2013.pdf]
- GCE Discussion Paper on the Post-2015 [http://www.campanaderechoeducacion.org/participacion/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/doc_cme.pdf]
- Final Document of the 2013 Dakar Meeting [http://www.unesco.org/new/fileadmin/MULTIMEDIA/FIELD/Dakar/pdf/OutcomesGlobalThematicConsultationEducationMarch2013.pdf]
- 2012 Monitoring Report on Education for All [http://www.campanaderechoeducacion.org/participacion/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/doc_ept.pdf]
- World Bank Education Strategy 2020 [http://siteresources.worldbank.org/EDUCATION/Resources/ESSU/Education_Strategy_4_12_2011.pdf]
- General Recommendation 13 of DESC Committee (1999) [http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/cedaw/recommendations/recomm.htm]