By Manzoor Ahmed, BRAC University.
The first of the UNESCO-organised regional consultations planned to be held in different regions leading to the World Education Forum in Incheon, Korea in May 2015 took place in Bangkok between 6-8 August 2014 for the Asia Pacific Region. This is to be followed by consultations for Latin America and Caribbean, Lima, Peru, 30-31 October 2014; Pan-European and North America Region, Paris, 3-4 December 2014; Arab Region, January/February 2015 (location tbc); and African Region, Kigali, 9-10 February, 2015.
Hints about the state of discourse on the future Education For All (EFA) Agenda can be surmised from the discussion in the meeting and its outcome called the Bangkok Statement.
- It was the first regional meeting after the Muscat Agreement adopted earlier in May 2014, billed as the Global EFA Meeting. Seven new global EFA targets were adopted in Muscat to be “used” in continuing regional and national EFA discourse and to be taken as “reference” for negotiation of the post-2015 global development agenda. There was a push on the part of the Bangkok organisers to have an endorsement of the Muscat Agreement, which is indeed reflected in the statement with its categorical language supporting “the vision, principles and targets laid out in the Muscat agreement.”
- The participants from the region, including civil society and academia, however, expressed their concerns in the discussion about several aspects of the Muscat text – the lack of a robust financing target including donor commitments, measurability of targets in country contexts and less than a global character of participation in Muscat, despite its title (including the absence at senior level of the World Bank and UNICEF).
- The Bangkok participants clearly baulked at giving a full-throated endorsement to the Muscat text, making the Bangkok Statement somewhat self-contradictory. See, for instance, their specific recommendations for GDP and national budget ratios for education (6% and 20% respectively), and reminding donors of their obligation. The participants, looking ahead to 2030, found it unacceptable that at least 12 years of education would not be universal (compared to 9 years agreed in Muscat). They clearly wanted to uphold a bold EFA vision for the future.
- The participants were puzzled about why global citizenship and education for sustainable development had been combined in one target (Muscat target 5), not the least because of the lack of clarity about what each meant in concept and practice and how they could be juxtaposed as one common target. In the end, the compromise in Bangkok was to accommodate both under the heading “skills and competencies for life and work.”
A good debate arose in the drafting group about the responsibility of the education community to uphold an overarching vision of human agency and human capability enhancement as the central thrust of sustainable development, asserting human rights, human dignity and people’s empowerment as vital elements of sustainable human development. It was argued that “human” should be a descriptor of development along with “sustainable” to counter the justified urgency of the planetary limits and the crisis of climate change overshadowing the human dimension of development. EFA – the primacy of learning and the capability approach – then has to be a key goal as well as an overarching principle for defining, elaborating and assessing all global development goals. But human agency and the capability approach apparently were too academic and arcane for the majority in the drafting group and not incorporated into the outcome text. Yet, can and should the underlying argument be ignored in the EFA2030 strategy, whether this is reflected or not in the global SDG 2030?
A reasonably strong presence and active participation of civil society and NGO representatives influenced the tone and tenor of the discussion and the character of the outcome document to a degree. Whether this kind of involvement makes the discussion genuinely international, rather than only intergovernmental in the other regional consultations and the world forum itself in Korea is a pertinent question. A pattern has emerged in global conferences to have a civil society dialogue in parallel, often prior to and in a separate venue, before embarking on the serious business of decision-making by official representatives.
Even though a timeline of 15 years to 2030 is pretty much the consensus, there seems to be a preference for the vagueness and fuzziness of “post-2015”, instead of the more definitive EFA 2030 and SDG 2030. Should we not begin to concentrate on the 15-year horizon and focus on the distance and the destination ahead, assessing progress in the past 15 years and prospects in the next 15 years. In this respect, each Muscat target is categorical about the timeline of 2030, whereas the Bangkok Statement is still about “beyond 2015.”
Manzoor Ahmed is Professor Emeritus at BRAC University, Chair of the Bangladesh ECD Network, and Vice Chair of the Campaign for Popular Education (CAMPE), Bangladesh. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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