Education for All Update: The World Education Forum

June 8, 2015
by Allison Grossman, Senior Legislative Associate

Last month, RESULTS Education for All Campaign Manager Tony Baker and I traveled to Incheon, Korea, for the World Education Forum (WEF). On the surface, this was a typical global conference, convened by a slew of UN agencies (led by UNESCO, along with UNDP, UNFPA, UNHCR, UNICEF, and UN Women) with Ministers of Education and government representatives from countries around the world attending.

But the World Education Forum represents more than just a typical conference. WEF happens only once every 10 to 15 years. The first convening occurred in Jomtien, Thailand, in 1990, the first time world leaders came together to commit to education for all. Ten years later, the global community once again converged in Dakar, Senegal. The six Education for All Goals emerged from the Dakar conference, with world leaders committing to everything from pre-primary education to adult literacy. This broad agenda underpinned the education Millennium Development Goals and guided much of the global community’s work over the last 15 years.

This year, we reconvened in Incheon, Republic of Korea, to reflect on where we’ve come and commit to the actions we need to take over the next 15 years to truly achieve Education for All.

Preparing for WEF: The NGO Forum

In the two days preceding WEF, over 300 nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) from around the world came together in Incheon and agreed on a collective vision for the next education agenda. The 2015 NGO Forum Declaration, Towards the Right to Inclusive Quality Public Education and Lifelong Learning for All is a progressive, human rights-based approach to the education agenda beyond 2015. It provided a strong, ambitious roadmap for civil society advocates to use to influence the final World Education Forum’s final declaration.

The World Education Forum

With hundreds of government officials gathered, the World Education Forum kicked off on May 19 with a high-level opening session. United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon talked about how critical his education was to his life, saying, “Everything I am today I owe to education.” He also talked of the importance of access to quality education for all, telling the audience, “education is not a privilege, it is a birthright.” World Bank President Jim Kim later reiterated this point, calling education “a public good and fundamental human right.”

UNICEF Executive Director Tony Lake emphasized the critical role of education in breaking the cycle of poverty, saying “disadvantage begets disadvantage but education can break the cycle.” Nobel Peace Prize laureate Kailash Satyarthi passionately spoke of the opportunity education provides for the poorest and most marginalized children, reminding us that free, public education in his country of India “has given her the chance to think that girls are more than just child brides.”

Over the next two and a half days, delegates participated in sessions on everything from equity and inclusion, early childhood care and education, the indicators to be included in the post-2015 agenda, and the role of technology in education.

Along with other U.S.-based colleagues, Tony and I had the opportunity to deliver the NGO Declaration and convey its major points to the U.S. government delegation, which included representatives from USAID, the State Department, the Department of Education, and Department of Agriculture.

Incheon Declaration: Education 2030

At the closing of the Forum, government delegates agreed to Education 2030: Towards inclusive and equitable quality education and lifelong learning for all. While the declaration won’t be officially adopted until after the final adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals at the UN in New York in September to ensure continuity in the agenda, the Incheon Declaration sets the tone for the next 15 years of the education agenda.

The Declaration reaffirmed education as a human right and public good, a critical piece as we seek to ensure education remains a state provision, available to all.

It calls for the “the provision of 12 years of free, publicly funded, equitable quality primary and secondary education, of which at least nine years are compulsory,” as well as “the provision of at least one year of free and compulsory quality pre-primary education and that all children have access to quality early childhood development, care, and education.” These pieces are exciting new agreements, expanding the state’s role in the right to education and for the first time setting clear goals around early childhood education.

The Declaration includes strong language on ensuring access, equity, and inclusion, including for marginalized groups. It also urges countries to adhere to global financing targets of allocating 4-6 percent of gross domestic product and/or at least 15-20 percent of total public expenditure to education. Keeping these targets will be important as advocates seek to hold their governments accountable to reaching this ambitious agenda.

Finally, the Declaration acknowledges and recognizes the role of the Global Partnership for Education and recommends that it be part of the future global coordination mechanisms for the education 2030 agenda. The specific inclusion of GPE reveals just how big of a player the partnership has become in supporting education in the poorest countries around the world.

Retaining these progessive, expansive, and inclusive pieces of the education agenda will be critical as we head toward the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals in New York by member states this September.

Meeting RESULTS Korea!

Finally, I was able to meet with grassroots volunteers from our newest RESULTS international affiliate, RESULTS Korea! Sunnie Kim, former RESULTS Canada volunteer and current RESULTS Korea National Manager, participated in the NGO Forum and helped organize a casual meeting with me in Seoul. Eight volunteers attended (group photo below!), and it was a wonderful chance for me to hear about how RESULTS Korea is organized and the fantastic work they are undertaking on global health and education, as well as discuss potential ways we can work together. They are a passionate, committed group of activists ranging from veterans to newbies – it was just the second meeting for a couple of people! I’m excited to see a few of them at our International Conference next month.

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