World Education Forum 2015, Incheon: New Education Agenda 2015-2030 on Menu

At the UNESCO’s World Education Forum 2015, the representatives of the Member States, Heads of International Organizations, and the representatives of Civil Society and Private Organizations are gathering to adopt a Declaration, which sets a shared vision of education for the future international community, and to discuss the details of the Framework for Action for successful implementation of the education goal and target

INCHEON, the third-largest city in Korea, plays host to the biggest assembly in many years of education policy makers, experts, activists and leaders from May 19-22, as the world awaits eargerly to know what next after ‘Education For All’.  The World Education Forum 2015 will be a milestone event that the education leaders and stakeholders of the international community are to agree on the new education vision and its corresponding targets. For the first time, the global education agenda wil work within the overall international development framework rather than alongside it. Therefore, the relationship between Education and Development will be the key issue in the World Education Forum.

In addition, the draft of the comprehensive Framework for Action to guide and supportthe new education agenda will be proposed at the World Education Forum 2015. It will propose ways of implementing, coordinating, financing and monitoring post-015 education agenda at global, regional and national level. The final version of the Framework for Action for post-2015 will be adopted at the 38th UNESCO General Assembly on November, reflecting the outcomes of the UN Special Summit on Sustainable Development in September 2015.

According to Korean minister . “Global leaders will be assessing the achievement of ‘Education for All (EFA)’ – the movement of theinternational society to expand basic education, discuss the educational development goals andachievement methods that will lead future global education. India’s HRD minister Smriti Irani will be on a high level panel  debate ‘setting the stage’ on the first day of the conference itself.

Five key themes of the agendas for the World Education Forum 2015 are Right to Education, Equity, Inclusion, Quality Education, and Lifelong Learning. The Declarationwill propose ways toward the new vision for education based on the key themes:expanding access to education; achieving inclusion and equity in and through education;improving the learning outcomes through quality education; and promoting lifelonglearning for youth and adults. Global Citizenship Education (GCED), development ofskills, values, and attitudes necessary to face the regional and global challenges, will beincluded as a method of achieving the quality education post-2015.

The 2030 education targets mark an important departure from the Millennium Development Goals, shifting the focus from access to primary education towards an expanded vision where all youth achieve at least basic skills by 2030. A new report by the OECD, Universal Basic Skills: What Countries Stand to Gain, highlights the close relationship between skills and economic growth. It shows the transformative impact improved learning outcomes would have on international efforts to eradicate poverty, narrow social inequalities and improve environmental sustainability.The OECD report analyzes the social and economic returns that countries would see if all young people were to be enrolled in secondary school and achieved basic skills. The 2030 education agenda is a universal agenda. All countries have progress to make to ensure that all youth achieve baseline skills by 2030. The challenges are greatest for lower-income economies, which must advance rapidly on the twin fronts of access and outcomes. However, even high-income OECD countries, which have brought almost all youth into secondary school, still fail to ensure that all students gain the skills needed to participate in society.

Exactly 40 days before on April 9, The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural organization (UNESCO) released its annual EFA Global Monitoring Report (GMR) 2015, the last in the series under the Education for All (EFA) scheme, which in a way will be the base document for future plan of action decided at Incheon. According to the report, which was released simultaneously in Paris, New Delhi and New York, only a third of countries have achieved all of the measurable Education for All (EFA) goals set in 2000. Only half of all countries have achieved the most watched goal of universal primary enrolment. An extra $22 billion a year is needed on top of already ambitious government contributions in order to ensure we achieve the new education targets now being set for the year 2030. UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova said, “Despite not meeting the 2015 deadline, millions more children are in school than would have been had the trends of the 1990s persisted. However, the agenda is far from finished. We need to see specific, well-funded strategies that prioritize the poorest  especially girls  , improve the quality of learning and reduce the literacy gap so that education becomes meaningful and universal.”

The report says that India has done well in universal primary education and gender parity in its school system, in the last 15 years.  In fact, India is the only country in South and West Asia to achieve gender parity in primary as well secondary education.  Abolishing school fees encouraged governments to decentralize financial resources and mobilize other stakeholders, which has indirectly built administrative capacity to meet the EFA goals.  The elementary education budget increased more than twofold between 2007/08 and 2012/13.  Midday meals and school feeding programmes in rural India have had a sizeable impact on girls’ enrolment. Rural India saw substantial improvement in nearly all aspects of school facilities and infrastructure between 2003 and 2010. In India, the RTE and the main EFA programme, Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, created opportunities for people with disabilities to be included in mainstream schools.  In India, multiple strategies helped improve the accessibility and quality of girls’ schooling. They included free textbooks for all girls, back-to-school camps and bridging courses, recruitment of female teachers, and national programmes to increase demand for schooling among rural and disadvantaged girls. In India, however, after a school latrine construction effort in the early 2000s, girls’ enrolment increased more than that of boys’ in schools with latrines. At younger ages, girls and boys both benefited substantially from latrines, whether sex-specific or not, but separate latrines were a critical factor in adolescent girls’ enrolment, which increased substantially after separate latrines were installed. This differential impact on older girls suggests that privacy and menstruation issues may indeed be a key factor in girls’ attendance in India. The construction of single-sex toilets also had a positive impact on the share of female teachers at schools, suggesting another possible route by which girls can benefit. At the same time, several organizations like Pratham and Accountability Initiative have shown through annual publications that despite increased resources for elementary education, the poorest districts in India are not improving learning outcomes.

So, quality of education continues to be an area of major concern. However, it is not only confined to India. UNESCO itself admits that all these 15 years, the global focus on universal primary education has diverted attention from other crucial areas, such as education quality, adult literacy and early childhood care. In fact, India has the majority share of 265 million illiterate adults out of about 781 million in the world. “Unless concerted action is taken and education receives the attention that it failed to get during the past 15 years, millions of children will continue to miss out and the transformative vision of the new Sustainable Development agenda will be jeopardized,” said GMR Director, Aaron Benavot.

Setting the pitch for a new agenda, the GMR recommends that Governments should make at least one year of pre-primary education compulsory. Education must be free for all children: fees for tuition, textbooks, school uniforms and transport must be abolished. Policy makers should identify and prioritize skills to be acquired by the end of each stage of schooling. Literacy policies should link up with the needs of communities. Teacher training should be improved to include gender focused strategies. Teaching styles should better reflect student needs and the diversity of classroom contexts.  Governments, donors and civil society must develop programmes and target funding to meet the needs of the most disadvantaged so no child is left behind. Governments should close critical data gaps in order to be able to direct resources to those most in need. Educationists from India agree. “I think, RTE Act has provided a beautiful framework for school education in India. The country must make it a Bible and implement it in letter and spirit. I am sure, the issues will get addressed on the ways,” says John Mason, a renowned educationist and retired schoolmaster from Dehradun.

“In context of our country there are a host of issues ranging from poverty to crime against girls and women, lack of skills, depression among kids, inequity, etc. So any reform in education, which will be directly linked to national progress, must include the real world problems and must prepare an individual for life. This means integrating life and vocational skills as a priority,” adds Lt Col (retd) A Sekhar, principal, Atul Vidyalaya, Valsad (Gujarat).

Post-2015, the failure of EFA agenda calls for specific, relevant and realistic targets. At current rates, only half of all children in low-income countries are expected to complete lower secondary education by 2030. In many countries even the core goal of achieving universal primary education will remain out of reach without concerted efforts. A lesson re-emerging over the past 15 years is that, while technical solutions are important, gaining political influence and traction is of even greater significance, particularly to realise the scale of reform and action required to achieve EFA at the national level. The current discussions on the post-2015 agenda may be offering just such a chance.

GMR Findings

Goal 1. Expand early childhood care and education, especially for the most vulnerable children. 47%  countries reached the goal, another 8% were close. In 2012, nearly two-thirds more children were enrolled in early childhood education than in 1999.

Goal 2. Achieve universal primary education, particularly for girls, ethnic minorities and marginalized children.52% countries achieved this goal; 38%are far or very far from achieving it. This leaves almost 100 million children not completing primary education in 2015.  There have been important successes: Around 50 million more children are enrolled in school now than were in 1999.

Goal 3. Ensure equal access to learning and life skills for youth and adults .46% countries reached universal lower secondary enrolment. Globally, numbers in lower secondary education increased by 27% and more than doubled in sub-Saharan Africa. Nonetheless, one third of adolescents in low income countries will not complete lower secondary school in 2015.

Goal 4. Achieving a 50 per cent reduction in levels of adult illiteracy by 2015. Only 25% of countries reached this goal; 32% remain very far from it.  Women continue to make up almost two-thirds of the illiterate adult population.

Goal 5. Achieve gender parity and equality. Gender parity will be achieved at the primary level in 69% of countries by 2015. At secondary level, only 48% of countries will reach the goal. Child marriage and early pregnancy continue to hinder girls’ progress in education as does the need for teacher training in gender sensitive approaches and curriculum reform

Goal 6. Improve the quality of education and ensure measurable learning outcomes for all The numbers of pupils per teacher decreased in 121 of 146 countries between 1990 and 2012 at the primary level, but 4 million more teachers are still needed to get all children into school. Trained teachers remain in short supply in one third of countries;