Dedicated to Nigeria's socio-political issues
October 3, 2007 - December 2, 2007
Title of Book: Education for All in Africa: Paving the Way for Action
Publisher: UNESCO Regional Office in Dakar (BREDA), BP 3311, Dakar, Senegal. 300 Pages
Year of Publication: 2005
Otive Igbuzor, PhD
Country Director, ActionAid International Nigeria
Plot 590 Cadastral zone,
Central Area, Abuja, Nigeria.
Tel: +234 9 2348480 Fax: 234 9 2348482
The importance of education to human beings cannot be over emphasized. Education is a human right that should be accorded to all human beings solely by reason of being human. There are a lot of international human rights instruments that provide for education as a fundamental human right. These include the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966) and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (1981). The relationship between education and development is well established such that education is a key index of development. It has been documented that schooling improves productivity, health and reduces negative features of life such as child labour as well as bringing about empowerment.[i] This is why there has been a lot of emphasis particularly in recent times for all citizens of the world to have access to basic education.
The importance and linkage of education to the development of any society is well known. It is in recognition of this importance that the international community and governments all over the world have made commitments for citizens to have access to education. Meanwhile, it has been documented that across the globe, there are inequalities in educational access and achievement as well as high levels of absolute educational deprivation of both children and adults.[ii] In order to confront this challenge, the rights based approach, which emphasizes the participation of citizens, has been advocated. Meanwhile, the Declaration of the World Conference on Education for All (WCEFA) which was made in Jomtien, Thailand in 1990 stated clearly in Article 1 that every person – child, Youth and Adult – shall be able to benefit from educational opportunities designed to meet their basic needs. This declaration was reaffirmed at the World Summit for Children also held in 1990, which stated that all children should have access to basic education by the year 2000. The World Summit for Children placed a lot of emphasis on raising the levels of female literacy.
In a bid to achieve education goals, the Dakar World Education Forum was held as a follow-up meeting to the WCEFA in 2000 where new sets of goals were set to be attained by the year 2015. The goals include:
(i) Expanding and improving comprehensive early childhood care and education, especially for the most vulnerable and disadvantaged children;
(ii) Ensuring that by 2015 all children, with special emphasis on girls, children in difficult circumstances and from ethnic minorities have access to and complete free and compulsory primary education of good quality;
(iii) Ensuring that the learning needs of all young people and adults are met through equitable access to appropriate learning and life skills programmes;
(iv) Achieving a 50 percent improvement in levels of adult literacy by 2015, especially for women and equitable access to basic and continuing education for all adults;
(v) Eliminating gender disparities in primary and secondary education by 2005, and achieving gender equality in education by 2015, with a focus on ensuring girl’s full and equal access to and achievement in basic education of good quality;
(vi) Improving all aspects of the quality of education, and ensuring excellence for all, so that recognized and reasonable learning outcomes are achieved, especially in literacy, numeracy and essential life skills.
It is important to point out that the right to education is enshrined in many international human rights covenants including the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). The right of all Africans to education has always been provided for in many constitutions. Unfortunately, in many of these constitutions, these rights are not justiceable. It has been argued that these rights are necessary for people to live meaningful lives and therefore there is a great need to make them (right to education in particular and socioeconomic rights in general) justiceable.[iii] In any case, the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights in article 17 provides that every individual shall have the right to education. The African Charter has been domesticated in some countries and therefore has the full force of law.
The Education for All- Dakar + 5 report is coming out five years after the Dakar forum. The purpose of the report is two-fold. First is to review the implementation of the Dakar Framework of action on education for all five years after the adoption of the framework. The second id to contribute to existing information, thought and debate by providing perspectives and benchmarks for action. It is important to point out from the beginning that the report itself acknowledged a major limitation being that the sources and analysis in the report is weighted in favour of French speaking African countries. In this review, we shall attempt do four things: outline the content of the report, highlight the positive contributions of the report to the fight for EFA, critique the report and offer some conclusions.
The Content of the Report
The report was prepared against the background of two important commitments. The first is the commitment made in Dakar in 2000 that those countries with serious commitment and credible plans will not be allowed to fail to achieve EFA for lack of funds. The second is the reinforcement of the EFA goals by two of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) (gender parity in access to education by 2005 for primary and secondary cycle and by 2015 for all levels of education and universal primary enrolment by 2015).
The report addressed three key issues. First, it argued that education is a strong basis for economic and social development in Africa. It points out that reaching a critical threshold of educated population is a condition for economic take off of any nation. In addition, it maintains that “equity in the distribution of education between individuals is necessary to multiply the expected beneficial effects.” (p.17)
Secondly, it analysed the current situation and dynamics of education in Africa. The report compared the statistics of 1990 and 2002/3. The report showed that there has been little progress at primary school level. For instance, in 1990 about 25 percent of African children did not have access to primary school. In 2002/3, the figure is still about 10 percent. Similarly, in 1990, about 49 percent completed primary education. In 2002/3, the percentage has increased to only 59 percent. Surprisingly, secondary and higher education enrolments have progressed more than primary school enrolments. For instance, in 1990 only 28 percent had access to secondary education but the figure increased to 46 percent in 2002/3. Also, in 1990, only 21 percent completed secondary education but in 2002/3, the figure has risen to 39 percent. This finding has important policy and practical implication especially for the current advocacy by some to look beyond primary education in terms of emphasis. The report projects that on the basis of current structural conditions of the system in terms of access, survival and completion of primary education, 31 countries in Africa will not achieve Universal primary education (UPE) by 2015.
Thirdly, the report scrutinized current policies in Africa and compared their efficiency in terms of quantity, quality and equity. It argued that the success of education system is dependent on three factors:
The report concludes that identifying more effective policies for education is not enough but that we must “move on from a commitment or a sector priority to a true social pact for education at national level” with solidarity and responsibility at national and international levels.
Contributions of the Report
This report has made important contributions to the advancement of education for all. First, the report reviewed the implementation of Dakar Framework and has provided clear statistics that government can use in planning and civil society in advocacy. Secondly, the report has reinforced the importance of education in social and political development and the fact that the right to education is an enabler right that helps to achieve other fundamental rights. Thirdly, the report has once more raised the alarm that 31 countries will not achieve UPE if we do not change the course of policy and action. Finally, the report has shown that we need to exercise caution in the recent move to advocate for governments to put emphasis on secondary education because the level of progress is poorest at the primary level.
Critique of the Report
A clear critique of the report is that the analysis is “economistic”, market driven and evades hard questions of politics, unjust economic order and the role of international financial institutions (IFIs) in undermining the achievement of Education for All. A recent report by Actionaid International titled Contradicting Commitments: How the Achievement of Education for All is being undermined by the International Monetary Fund states:
…the IMF’s stringent monetary and fiscal policies, which are attached as binding conditions for loans and agreed upon and implemented by Finance Ministers and Central Banks, present serious challenges for the ability of countries to generate more revenues, and correspondingly increase spending on education, health and HIV/AIDs. On the one hand, they are expected to honour their national commitments and achieve internationally agreed goals on education, gender and health. But on the other hand, the IMF tells them that they cannot increase their level of spending to a level necessary to achieve these goals…The impact on education has been cutbacks in the overall budget allocation to the sector, and reductions in the number of teachers who are employed or the salaries they are paid. To compensate, countries have turned to hiring non-professional teachers and have allowed class sizes to rise to levels where no teaching can take place. Important reforms to improve the quality of education are sacrificed due to lack of funding. Special initiatives to ensure that all children have access to education especially girls and those presently excluded (children living in remote areas, the disabled, extremely poor, pastoralists, conflict affected children etc) are not fully implemented.[iv](p.3)
This position was corroborated by Jeffrey Sachs, Director of the Millennium Project when he stated:
International Monetary Fund program design has paid almost no systematic attention to the Goals when considering a country’s budget or macroeconomic framework. In the vast number of country programs supported by the IMF since the adoption of the goals, there has been almost no discussion about whether the plans are consistent with achieving them.[v]
Another weakness of the report is that it failed to capture the context of achieving EFA in Africa. Therefore, there was no analysis of the impact of HIV/AIDs and conflict on the achievement of EFA. More importantly, there are dangerous premises and policy options in the report. For instance, the report gives a market driven conceptualization of education. According to the report,
“…education can be defined as a private good, largely because it is incorporated, and consequently to be the concern of private funding.” P.56
The report further states that:
We can distinguish between the following values for each level of education:
This analysis led the report to conclude that there is a justification only for public funding on basic education than on other levels of education. This analysis to us is erroneous and only reminds us of the position of IMF and the World Bank in the 1980s at the commencement of Structural Adjustment Programmes that Africans do not need university education.
The Education for All in Africa Dakar + 5 report is a useful addition to the resources in education in Africa. It will be very useful to all those interested in advancing the education agenda particularly in terms of the statistics and challenges that it provides. But the analysis in the report is economistic, market driven and evades the contextual analysis of Africa with some dangerous premises and policy options. It must therefore be used critically and selectively.
[i] EFA Global Monitoring Report (2002), Education for All: Is the World on Track. Paris, UNESCO
[ii] Subrahmanian, R. (2002), “Citizenship and the Right to Education” in IDS Bulletin Vol. 33 No. 2
[iii] Igbuzor, O. (2002), “Making Democracy Work in Nigeria: The Civil Society and Constitutional Reform” in Bujra, A and Adejumobi, A. (Eds), Breaking Barriers, Creating New Hopes: Democracy, Civil society and Good Governance in Africa. Trenton, NJ, Africa World Press Inc.
[iv] ActionAid International (2005), Contradicting Commitments: How the Achievement of Education for All is being Undermined by the International Monetary Fund
[v] Sachs, J. (2005), The Millennium Project, Investing in Development: A Practical Plan to Achieve the Millennium Development Goals.
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