Education for all ‘is unfinished business’: UNESCO

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The second of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals – education for all – is likely to prove "unfinished business" after the goals are reviewed for post-2015, the assistant director general for education at UNESCO, Qian Tang, has said.

“Fourteen years after the year 2000, we still have probably 57 million children out of school, almost 800 million adults cannot read and write, and 250 million children either in or out of school who cannot read and write in a correct way”, said Qian Tang, a Western-educated Chinese education expert.

“Education is a pillar for all other development goals and a pillar for all basic development goals in this world”, the assistant director of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) told a conference organised by the Mission of Norway to the EU.

On the positive side, he said that the MDGs had played a role to motivate and mobilise the countries, and all stakeholders, to put more efforts on education.

Norway’s ambassador to the EU, Atle Leikvoll, said that his country, the EU and UNESCO worked as a ‘Troika' to help meet the education targets and MDGs in general.

'Don’t be narrow on primary education'

Regarding future goals after 2015, he said that “many cooks” were involved in the definition of the post-MDGs, and that lessons should be learned from the experience.

“We should not be too narrow in the future, we need a holistic approach, we should not be narrow only on primary education, that doesn’t work very well”, he said.

Looking forward, Leikvoll advised not to limit future efforts on access to education, but to also focus on the quality of education. He singled out the “equity” issue, or how inequality between countries and within countries would be addressed. And finally, he addressed the issue of life-long learning, which he said needed to be incorporated into future strategies.

Qian Tang remarked that UNESCO had proposed a post-MDG overarching goal on education, jointly with UNICEF, to ensure equitable quality education and life-long learning for all by 2030. He stressed this goal should be universally relevant for all countries, not only for the developing world.

Referring to the proposals on post-MDGs of the high level group appointed by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, he said that those regarding education were quite similar to the UNESCO and UNICEF approach. The challenge, he said, was how to convert such an overarching goal into a set of measurable targets. In UNESCO’s view, he said there was a need for five or six targets, not more. But it remains to be seen what can be included in them and what can be measurable.

'Illiteracy is unfinished business'

Illiteracy was another reason for concern. 15 years ago, there were 800 million adults that could not read and write, while today there were 775 million, the UNESCO official explained. “This is a totally unfinished business. This should be included in the next target”, Qian Tang said.

Speaking about financing, the UNESCO official said that there should be “a certain pressure” on countries to make “sufficient investment” for education. Each country should have at least 4 to 6% of their GDP, or 15 to 29% of the government budget reserved for education, he said.

Education Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou said at the same event that the number of children with no schooling had been reduced by almost half in the past decade, but “more needs to be done”.

Girls continue to have unequal access to primary, secondary and tertiary education in many developing countries, especially in some Arab States, South and West Asia and Africa, the commissioner said.

She appeared to be in tune with the UNESCO official by saying that the EU takes the view that on post-MDGs the effort should be to move beyond the present framework of quantitative goals to address quality and inequalities as well. [more]

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