By Heikki Holmås, Minister of International Development, Norway.
This is the first blog post that relates to a meeting on ‘Education: Equity and Learning for all – looking beyond 2015’, organized by Save the Children in Oslo on 20th November, 2012. This piece was originally posted (minus the image which is from Save the Children’s new ‘Born Equal‘ report) on the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs website. The second post, by Kenneth King of NORRAG and the University of Edinburgh can be read here.
1. The Establishment of New Goals ‘Post-2015’
With barely three years left to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, the debate on the format and content of the post-2015 international development agenda has begun.
The MDG process is characterized today by a great quantity of knowledge and experience about what contributes to development success, and what are the biggest obstacles. Economic growth combined with higher priority given to the various MDG sectors in national budgets have contributed to positive development in many countries. However, war and conflict remains the main obstacle to the achievement elsewhere in the world. No fragile state has so far achieved a single goal.
This meeting is a perfect example of how we should proceed to define our new goals. Different experiences, the research and data we have at hand, and all points of view must be considered carefully to make sure we reach the right conclusions – on the post-2015 process itself, and on the new goals we are to set.
We need an open and inclusive process where all stakeholders, especially partners in the South, take actively part in the discussions. We need to achieve global participation, and global ownership. I would like to move away from the expression ‘lift out of poverty’, and focus more on how we as donors can support partners to ‘lift themselves out of poverty’.
We need to study the facts and figures closely. In some areas the MDGs have been attained, in others we have clearly missed the mark – this is documented in the annual Millennium Development Goals Report and, for the education sector, in the Global Monitoring Report on Education. We can only work efficiently by gaining a clear understanding of the challenges we face.
We also need to reflect on our experience with the MDGs as a concept: did we set the right goals? Were they precise enough, or were they too precise? Did they stand in the way of progress, or did they help us to focus our efforts? There are different views on this, and the debate is ongoing. We all agree, however, that a new framework must be put in place. The precise shape and form of it, however remains to be seen.
2. General Priorities for Norway
The UN Secretary-General has appointed a High-Level Panel on the post-2015 development agenda, which will strongly influence this process. One of the most important starting-points for the Panel is the UN Task Team’s report on the post-2015 UN development agenda, Realizing the Future We Want for All. In my view, this is a good and thorough report, and its ideas are sound. It suggests that three fundamental principles should constitute the foundation for the post-2015 agenda: human rights, equality and sustainability.
Four core dimensions are also mentioned specifically: inclusive social development, environmental sustainability, inclusive economic development, and peace and security. This is positive. However, in my view the report does not state clearly enough the need for national redistribution policies and for the mobilization of national resources. There needs to be a shared responsibility between the donors and the partners to work to make available resources accessible for broader segments of society. We need to define goals that have a redistributive element.
Norway considers it important to raise topics that are not raised by others to the same extent. This applies in particular to gender equality, and to the equitable distribution of resources and opportunities within and between countries. In addition to these two cross-cutting, basic concerns, this government would like to address the following issues in the post-2015 process:
- a clear poverty focus
- closer integration of the environment and development agenda
- food security
- access to energy
- continued emphasis on health and education, with greater focus on quality
- governance, democracy, peace and human rights
3. Priorities for a New Development Agenda on Education
We need more work and more time in order to properly define the goals we should prioritize after 2015, as well as the means to reach them, also in the field of education. However, there are a few broad issues that we see as important, even at this early stage:
The gap between rich and poor children has increased by 35 percent since 1990, according to Save the Children, and there are still millions of children not attending school. The Global Monitoring Report estimated that, based on current trends, nearly 72 million children will be out of school in 2015.
Socio-economic factors such as age, gender, language, ethnicity, disability, poverty and geography are particularly crucial in determining who gets the opportunity to go to school.
The gender perspective is also part of the equality agenda. Although the goal of equal access to education for girls and boys generally has been reached, there is a tendency that more girls than boys in low-income countries do not attend secondary school. In middle-income countries, however, fewer boys than girls attend school in their teens. It is also necessary to look at the difference between the terms “gender parity”, meaning equal numbers, and “gender equality”, which also includes questions like quality and performance, in order to promote real equality in practice.
Children with disabilities are an important group in this context. Many could with greater awareness and knowledge be included in school, while children with major disabilities naturally require more support. This is a very big challenge, which we believe that the NGOs are perhaps best equipped to meet, in countries where public resources are limited. Disabled children have the same right as any other to education.
Quality, not quantity – real learning
As many as 250 million children cannot read or write when they start in fifth grade. 94 percent of children in Mali in 2nd grade cannot read a single word. We need to look at what children bring with them from school, not just count how many are actually present in the classrooms. Here are “life skills” and “transferable skills” keywords, not least when it comes to young people. Education plays an important role in supporting their ability to become citizens participating in democracy, and to become ‘change agents’ for development in their own communities.
Very large youth cohorts in many of the poorest regions of the world create one of our most important challenges in development today. Many young people face a lack of high school or other training programs, as well as a great shortage of employment or other income options. Young people need a variety of educational programs, ranging from basic training in reading and writing, to secondary and higher secondary school, vocational training or further academic education.
The GMR report 2012 identified three main areas especially crucial for young people to enable them to find a source of income or a place in the workforce: Basic skills (reading, writing, arithmetic), transferable skills (problem solving, communication, collaboration, entrepreneurship) and career skills.
Fragile states and children in conflict areas
Children in countries that are at war or have recently experienced conflict represent a significant proportion of those who do not attend school today. According to the World Development Report 2011: Conflict, Security and Development, 77 percent of children in countries in conflict are not offered elementary school. In emergency situations, schools may be even more important than otherwise, because it can protect children against some of the inevitable hardships they would otherwise experience. Education is also important in the reconstruction and reconciliation processes, and can have a preventive effect in relation to new crises.
Schools often become targets for attacks in situations of armed conflict and it is important that we work to ensure that schools and children are protected. As you know well in Save the Children, we have a great example in Nepal, where “Schools as Zones of Peace” became a reality even in the midst of conflict. Through cooperation between all the involved – children, parents and teachers, unions, the government and the press, as well as the parties in the conflict – it was possible to agree that the war should not interfere with the operation of the schools, or target students or teachers.
For the goal of education for all to be realized, attention must be directed at the children who due to conflict and crisis situations do not have access to education. We want to reach the last ten percent of the children who do not get to school, even if they are going to be the hardest to reach.
Heikki Holmås is Minister of International Development, Norway. >>see his webpage.