Future of education post 2015

Leymar is a refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo living in South Africa. Like many other refugee children, Leymar – which is not his real name – does not go to school. He does not have the necessary papers to register at the local school and language is another barrier. His dream of a quality education may never be realised – and there are many children like him.

Former Education Programme Manager

April 10th, 2013

Leymar is a refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo living in South Africa. Like many other refugee children, Leymar – which is not his real name – does not go to school. He does not have the necessary papers to register at the local school and language is another barrier. His dream of a quality education may never be realised – and there are many children like him.

Images of Leymar and many other children in similar circumstances hung in my mind as I sat among many of the world’s education leaders at a recent consultation in the Senegalese capital, Dakar, to discuss education goals for the post 2015 period.

The meeting was of real symbolic significance. It was in the same city back in April 2000 that world leaders committed themselves to provide education for all children and adults by 2015. Two years before that deadline, our group sat in Dakar and tried to decide what education should look like post 2015 – post the end of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

I thought of Leymar as one after another, participants put forward their propositions. And I worried whether this time would be different, whether the outcomes of our current discussions would ensure that the earlier Dakar promise of education for all would finally become a reality – even for refugee children like Leymar.

Because we all know that many countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, are not going to achieve the current educational goals. Ironically, missing from this meeting was the African Union (AU).

While a few member states were present, the absence of the AU itself was very evident. Would the outcome of this meeting be representative of a ‘global consultation’ in the absence of such a key and important actor? Would the AU’s absence at this forum translate into a failed commitment to deliver on the goals? Or did it signal that Africa was content to have a global agenda imposed upon it as has allegedly been the case before? Or perhaps it was meant to demonstrate the AU’s open defiance of the process?

And yet there are so many Leymars in Africa. Should the post 2015 agenda fail them again, who will we blame? Will we blame it on the absence of the AU at this meeting? Or will it be on an outcome that is not representative of the context in Africa? And while discussing a ‘new’ global agenda for education, we cannot ignore the fact that the current goals are still very relevant for many children in Africa.

Yes, access to primary education has improved, but Africa still has the largest number of out-of-school children. Early childhood development and education (ECDE) is only for a privileged few and quality is highly compromised. Should we therefore be talking of a new agenda when the world is failing to deliver on the current one? And yet, it is imperative that education remains high on the global agenda if countries, particularly those in Africa, are to meet the needs of their young people as well as achieve their development goals.

An agenda for education in Africa requires both context and urgency. Context because the needs of Africa require a deep understanding of the issues that still keep so many children out of school and conspire to ensure that so many of those in school fail to meet the minimum requirements of basic literacy and numeracy. And urgency because the situation calls for immediate action – not another 15 years of failed promises.

For Africa, therefore, the goal for education needs to be broader and more ambitious. The goals should be broad enough to address the needs of children in conflict-affected countries, children with disabilities, children in rural and poor communities, girls, orphaned children, children from indigenous communities. They should also be ambitious enough to hold African governments responsible and accountable to achieve and deliver on their promises.

The Dakar meeting addressed many of these issues. Representatives of states, civil society, academia and research institutions presented various scenarios – including expanding access to ECDE, lifelong learning, non-formal education, safe learning environments and vocational skills; addressing inequalities and improving quality; promoting citizenship education, education for peace and security, sexual reproductive education and education for sustainable development.

Yet, there was a deafening silence on why current goals have failed. It is obvious that poor governance and inadequate financing are at the root of the failures in many African countries. But the Dakar meeting paid little attention to how the new framework of goals would address these issues.  In the absence of clearly articulated governance and financing frameworks, these aspirations will remain what they are, aspirations. Sadly, another generation will be failed.

However, it was encouraging to note that there was a strong reaffirmation that education is a human right and the basis for the realisation of all other rights. Participants also agreed on the importance of anchoring the post 2015 agenda in a rights-based approach underpinned by the values of universality, non-discrimination and the indivisibility of rights. A strong emphasis was also placed on the state as the primary provider and protector of the right to, and protection of, education as a public good.

The Dakar discussions culminated into propositions for education specific goals as well as an overarching goal. The latter was developed for consideration at the high level panel meeting held in Bali. Access, quality and equity form the pillar of this goal of Equitable quality lifelong education and learning for all.

While there are debates about whether by including an element of ‘learning’ we are promoting the World Bank agenda that is pushing for ‘learning’ and thereby reducing learning to literacy and numeracy, a broader goal like this is critical to address the gap in the current MDGs. In particular, the narrow focus of MDG 2 on access has led to the unforeseen neglect of other important issues, such as learning outcomes, ECDE, post-primary education and training. A broader and more holistic focus is certainly needed.

It is also encouraging to note that the results of a consultation on ‘the world we want’ show education to be high on respondents’ lists. And as the world continues to deliberate on what education should be in post 2015, it is important to bear in mind that continuing on the same path will not meet the demands of all the Leymars out there.

Achieving equitable quality education for all will require a paradigm shift in the way education is conceptualised and delivered. This will require concerted efforts by all actors, from government, civil society, the private sector, and parents. While Dakar set the tone, we will be looking to Seoul in 2015 to give us an agenda that will not fail our children once again. 

About the author(s)

Wongani Grace Nkhoma is the Education Programme Manager. Wongani has over 10 years experience working in the development sector. Before joining OSISA, Wongani worked with ActionAid International - Malawi as Regional Manager and Education Policy Coordinator

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