Education for All: What Difference Can Civil Society Make?
Evaluation of the Civil Society Education Fund shows good progress of civil society engagement in education
Civil society is increasingly playing a key role in the international political arena – from the promotion of environmental policies and sustainable development, to conflict prevention and peace building. Education for development is not an exception to this trend. Already at the 2000 World Education Forum in Dakar, international organizations, governments and other key stakeholders “pledge[d] to ensure the engagement and participation of civil society in the formulation, implementation and monitoring of strategies for educational development” as one of the core strategies to achieve the Education for All (EFA) goals.
New evidence on the important role of civil society
The involvement of civil society in education is important as it supports aid effectiveness and makes policy processes more democratic. A recent evaluation of the first stage of the Civil Society Education Fund (CSEF), by the Globalization, Education and Social Policy Research Center of the Autonomous University of Barcelona provides new evidence in this respect.
The Civil Society Education Fund (CSEF)
The Civil Society Education Fund is a development project funded by the Global Partnership for Education and managed by the Global Campaign for Education. Its main goal is to provide support to national education coalitions (NECs) across the world to enable them to promote the EFA goals. These coalitions are networks of civil society organizations made up of non-governmental organizations, teacher unions, parents associations, and grassroots organizations.
As a result of the Civil Society Education Fund, nine new national education coalitions were created and a total of 45 coalitions received support to develop advocacy strategies in Africa, Asia and Latin America and the Caribbean. Dozens of research projects and training courses to strengthen advocacy initiatives were carried out. On average, the member numbers in national education coalitions more than tripled, making these coalitions more inclusive and legitimate civil society representatives. More women than ever before became involved in the leadership of NECs at different levels. The number of staff and volunteers in these organizations almost doubled.
In terms of policy representation, almost all coalitions that took part in the CSEF were recognized as legitimate interlocutors by governments and the wider aid community. They were invited to join technical committees or local education groups to discuss education priorities and develop education plans.
Successful country examples of civil society involvement
A few in-depth country studies provide insights in how civil society has impacted the national education debate. In Bolivia, for example, the national coalition helped to include disabled people in the national education policy framework. In Cambodia, Sierra Leone and Malawi, coalitions successfully campaigned for more public investment in education, and in Sierra Leone civil society involvement led to the abolition of students’ fees. In Mozambique, thanks to the national education coalition, the most vulnerable students are now reflected in the education policy agenda and the government agreed to reform budget-tracking procedures.
The effects of the CSEF have not been uniform everywhere.
The evaluation of the CSEF found that in general civil society initiatives work better in countries and regions where civil society organizations have developed necessary skills to be involved in monitoring and evaluation exercises, or to manage their financial and human resources effectively.
Moreover, the level of policy impact depends on many factors such as the participatory culture in the country, level of governmental support, tradition of cooperation in the civil society field and the willingness of teachers unions and non-governmental organizations to work together.
Future challenges for civil society in the post-2015 context
As we get closer to 2015, it becomes evident that many countries will not be able to achieve the EFA goals. Pressure from civil society will be important in the final push within the current EFA action framework, but will be particularly crucial in the post-2015 scenario.
The involvement of civil society in EFA-related processes will require civil society coalitions to diversify their funding sources and generate long-term resource mobilization strategies.
The financial crisis has reduced traditional donor governments’ investments in education, which implies that civil society organizations should put more pressure than ever on international donors to make sure they fulfill their commitments within the EFA framework.
However, they will also need to engage in ongoing debates on alternative funding sources for education. Advocating for more progressive in-country tax reforms and building alliances with tax justice movements could be a new strategic focus. Debt conversion, development bonds, the financial transaction tax or diaspora bonds, when applied in line with the Paris Declaration principles, could also be innovative ways to increase education funding for civil society coalitions.
Until now, ‘more resources for education’ has been an important claim of civil society organizations in the ‘Education for All’ context. However, important debates on education policy reform beyond the call for more resources have started and more questions will have to be answered. Is the legal framework in countries conducive to – or hindering – the right to education?
What are the most appropriate financing policies to achieve the EFA goals effectively? How could education equity and quality be promoted simultaneously? How should teachers be trained and what should their professional status be? Should low-cost fee schools be considered an ally or an obstacle for quality education for all? Civil society needs to be prepared to engage in debates of this nature. Through the development of research and knowledge management capacities, national coalitions should be able to position themselves in relation to these and other fundamental education reform questions.
Bringing the voices and problems of the most vulnerable population to the discussion table is the most important function that CSOs can fulfill.
As such, the EFA movement, and the post-2015 debate in particular, can benefit greatly from building stronger, more inclusive and more capable civil society coalitions. The Civil Society Education Fund will continue to strengthen the work that has been done so far and engage with civil societies worldwide on challenges going forth.
By Antoni Verger, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona