By Antonia Wulff, EI Coordinator: Education and Employment
The High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda handed over its report to the UN Secretary General, outlining a vision of a new global framework for poverty eradication and sustainable development, and marking an important step towards defining a post-2015 development agenda. Having attended the presentation of the report to civil society on 31 May in New York, a carefully orchestrated “dialogue” between a handful of Panellists and selected representatives of civil society, I would like to share some reflections on the vision presented and more specifically on the view on education.
EI has followed the work of the Panel closely and has actively participated in outreach events, surveys and global consultations with the aim of pushing for the right to quality education as part of the post-2015 agenda. I guess one could say that we have succeeded in the sense that the Panel considers education both a priority in its own right and a necessity for other goals to be reached, such as those relating to health, gender equality and sustainable development, amongst others. The proposed education goal aims to “provide quality education and lifelong learning” and the Panel’s report quotes the Convention on the Rights of the Child: “education enables children to realise their talents and full potential, learn respect for human rights and prepares them for their role as adults”. However, this language is not reflected in the targets set for the education goal, and this is where the report becomes problematic. It acknowledges that “education is about far more than basic literacy and numeracy”, but the targets focus on learning outcomes, notably reading, writing and counting, as well as skills for work.
In its post-2015 advocacy, EI has called for the completion of a full cycle of continuous, free quality education from early childhood to upper secondary, and a broader understanding of quality education, as one that enables children and young people to achieve their potential as human beings and contribute positively to society. While reading, writing and counting are necessary skills, they are far from sufficient, especially considering the argument made that education is fundamental to achieving other development goals. During the presentation, I asked the Panel why quality education was being reduced to learning achievement in reading, writing and counting. The answer Panellist Amina J. Mohammed gave me was that she, on the contrary, felt the targets reflected a broader approach by including both pre-primary and vocational education, and that reading, writing and counting still are very important skills that are missing in many contexts. She, however, also acknowledged that there still is a need for a broader reflection on what quality education and lifelong learning entail, and how to translate this into a goal and targets.
While EI of course welcomes the inclusion of pre-primary as well as vocational education as targets, the exclusion of upper secondary education is worrying. Moreover, the role of teachers is acknowledged in the report’s narrative, albeit in rather weak words, but not addressed in the targets, despite the issue of trained teachers having been very present in the education consultations. Interestingly, the report does not say anything about how education should be provided or paid for; the concept of free education is missing, and so is the role of the state in guaranteeing the right to education, even though “means of implementation” was a priority issue for the Panel.
Looking at the broader mandate of the Panel, the UN Secretary General asked for ambitious yet achievable, bold yet practical recommendations for a post-2015 development agenda when establishing the Panel in July 2012. As expected, the Panel is calling for a universal development framework that incorporates and builds on the current parallel tracks, the poverty eradication agenda of the Millennium Development Goals, and the sustainable development agenda of the 2012 UN Conference on Sustainable Development. It identifies five paradigm shifts considered necessary for such a framework to be successful: Leave No one Behind, Put Sustainable Development at the Core, Transform Economies for Jobs and Inclusive Growth, Build Peace and Effective, Open and Accountable Institutions for All, and Forge a New Global Partnership. These five paradigms are supported by 12 illustrative development goals, including targets for realising them.
Looking at the report as a universal agenda, there is, however, a discrepancy between the broader approach to development set out in the narrative and the goals and targets meant to guide the implementation of the framework. Unfortunately, this also means that much of the progressive language of the narrative is not reflected in the actual goals and targets.
This tension was also visible at the outreach event, where Panellist Tawakkol Karman from Yemen, for instance, said she was proud of the Panel’s recommendations but that during the hand-over of the report, she had requested that the Secretary General go further and be even bolder in his own report to the UN General Assembly. David Cameron’s adviser, on the other hand, was content with stating that the new framework will not be binding on governments, and that it can only hope to inspire action and progress – or as it is put in the report: “[the goals] stand or fall as tools of communication and inspiration”. The Panel also clearly states that it does not work to set the same targets for all countries because of the differences in starting points, which is a rather radical shift from the general discourse surrounding the current MDGs. They caution against formulating utopian goals, but at the same time, they emphasise that it is important to set minimum standards in some cases, such as “no child should go hungry or be unable to read, write or do simple sums”. However, nowhere do they explain what “some cases” would be.
An important statement that came from the Panel is its strong commitment to equity. Equity has also come out as a priority in the consultations with civil society, and the report responded directly to our calls for disaggregated data for all goals and targets by concluding that “in all cases where a target applies to outcomes for individuals, it should only be deemed to be met if every group – defined by income quintile, gender, location, or otherwise – has met the target”.
The report of the Panel is to be considered an ‘independent input’ to the Secretary General, who will present his own report to the UN General Assembly in September 2013. We are yet to see whether the Panel’s report will have any impact on the intergovernmental post-2015 process, as ultimately, the new framework will be adopted by the UN member states. However, the report of the Panel is likely to shape the discussions, and it is clear that there is a lot of work that remains to be done. In the coming months, EI will direct its advocacy for quality education for all towards member states and regional organisations, as well as within the Open Working Group on Sustainable Development.
Please read the full report of the Panel here.