Looking back at the World Education Forum, which drew more than 1,500 people from 140 countries to Incheon in the Republic of Korea, it is easy to be cynical about what these global meetings can achieve. After all, we have had two other such gatherings in the past 25 years – in Jomtien, Thailand in 1990 and Dakar, Senegal in 2000 – yet millions of children are still out of school and many millions more are not learning.
But there were strong signals from those who gathered – including the president of Korea, Park Geun-hye, UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon, ministers of education and the heads of UN agencies – of a strong commitment to promoting the transformation of lives through education. Three years ago there was genuine concern that education was going to get forgotten in any post-2015 agenda that was being developed. But the energy of UN agencies, national governments, international donor agencies and NGOs has now resulted in education gaining its rightful place amongst the post-2015 sustainable development goals.
This commitment has resulted in an ambitious agenda to be achieved by 2030, as set out in the Incheon Declaration. The agenda is framed by the overarching goal of achieving “equitable and inclusive quality education and lifelong learning for all by 2030”.
Given the world’s track record to date, some might argue it is too ambitious. How can we possibly achieve 12 years education of good quality for all children in the next 15 years that the declaration calls for if, despite all the efforts of the last 15 years, poor rural girls in some parts of the world still spend on average no more than three years in schooland at least 250m primary-aged children are not learning the basics in reading and mathematics?
Progress for all
When we meet again in 15 years time, it is vital that we celebrate victory over illiteracy, as the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize co-laureate, the children’s rights advocate Kailash Satyarthi stated. To achieve this, one sentence in the Incheon Declaration should drive global and national efforts in the coming years – namely that: “no target should be considered met unless met for all”. This will require a change of mindset to focusing resources and strategies on the most marginalised. As Anthony Lake, the executive director of UNICEF commented, estimates show that currently around 40% of public spending reaches the richest 10% of the population – this pattern needs to be reversed if these goals are to be realized.