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Student Conference on Human Rights



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To look into some aspects of the future, we do not need projections by supercomputers. Much of the next millennium can be seen in how we care for our children today. Tomorrow's world may be influenced by science and technology, but more than anything, it is already taking shape in the bodies and minds of our children.

-- United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan



The right to education is articulated clearly in Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948). This recognizes the intrinsic human value of education, underpinned by strong moral and legal foundations. Seen in this light, education is also an indispensable means of unlocking and protecting other human rights by providing the scaffolding that is required to secure good health, liberty, security, economic well-being, and participation in social and political activity. Where the right to education is guaranteed, people’s access to and enjoyment of other rights is enhanced.

Despite the great advancements in information technology in wealthy nations and a significant increase in school enrolments in developing countries over the last 40 years, 875 million adults are still illiterate, over 100 million children have no access to school, and countless youth and adults who attend school and other education programs fall short of the required level to be considered literate in today’s complex world. The aim of extending a basic level of education to all children, young people and adults around the world has captured the imagination of all nations. The World Conference on Education for All, held in Jomtien, Thailand in 1990 launched the international movement of “education for all” (EFA). During that conference, all participating nations pledged to provide primary education for all children and massively reduce adult illiteracy by the end of the decade. The huge undertaking was partially successful. From 1990-2000 the following goals were achieved:

  • Some 10 million more children went to school every year during that decade.
  • The overall adult literacy rate rose to 85 per cent for men and 74 per cent for women.
  • Enrolment in primary school rose from 599 million in 1990 to 681 million in 1998.
  • The number of out-of-school children fell from an estimated 127 million children to 113 million children.
  • Globally, there was a 5 per cent increase in enrolment in pre-primary establishments.
While these numbers were encouraging, they fell extremely short of the vision the Jomtien conference participants had in mind. In the drive to universalize primary education, quality often took a back seat. In South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, less than three out of four pupils reached Grade 5. In the least developed countries taken together, a little over half reached this level and many drop out after the first or second grade. Despite progress in actual numbers, illiteracy rates remain too high: at least 875 million adults remain illiterate, of which 63.8 per cent are women – exactly the same proportion as a decade previously.

It was clear that something else had to be done if all nations and their people were to receive the benefits of the Education for All movement. The World Education Forum was a conference held in Dakar, Senegal (26-28 April 2000) to review advances in basic education in the 1990s and to reinvigorate commitment to education for all that was sparked at the 1990 conference in Jomtien. The aim and goals agreed upon in 1990 were re-specified as six major goals at the World Education Forum, two of which were adopted as Millennium Development Goals in the same year. Provision of basic education was thereby properly recognized as being a central part of the world’s strategy to halve the incidence of global poverty within less than a generation. The some 1,100 participants from 164 countries adopted the Dakar Framework for Action, committing themselves to achieve quality basic education for all by 2015. This is the plan that Education for All is following now.

The six main goals set in Dakar, 2000

    1. Early childhood care and education: expanding and improving comprehensiveness, especially for the most vulnerable and disadvantaged children;

    2. Universal Primary Education: ensuring that by 2015 all children, particularly girls, children in difficult circumstances and those belonging to ethnic minorities, have access to and complete free and compulsory primary education of good quality;
    3. Learning of all young people and adults: ensuring that the learning needs of all young people and adults are met through equitable access to appropriate learning and life skills programs.

    4. Adult Literacy: achieving a 50 per cent improvement in levels of adult literacy by 2015, especially for women, and equitable access to basic and continuing education for all adults

    5. Gender equality: eliminating gender disparities in primary and secondary education by 2005, and achieving gender equality in education by 2015, with a focus on ensuring girls’ full and equal access to and achievement in basic education of good quality

    6. Education quality: improving all aspects of the quality of education and ensuring excellence of all so that recognized and measurable learning outcomes are achieved by all, especially in literacy, numeracy and essential life skills.

In order to make sure these goals had an increased chance of being met, the governments, organizations, agencies, groups and associations represented at the World Education Forum pledged themselves to the following 12 actions: 1. Mobilize strong national and international political commitment for education for all, develop national action plans and enhance significantly investment in basic education

2. Promote EFA policies within a sustainable and well-integrated sector framework clearly linked to poverty elimination and development strategies

3. Ensure the engagement and participation of civil society in the formulation, implementation and monitoring of strategies for educational development

4. Develop responsive, participatory and accountable systems of educational governance and management

5. Meet the needs of education systems affected by conflict, national calamities and instability and conduct educational programs in ways that promote mutual understanding, peace and tolerance, and help to prevent violence and conflict.

6. Implement integrated strategies for gender equality in education which recognize the need for changes in attitudes, values and practice

7. Implement as a matter of urgency education programs and actions to combat the HIV/AIDS pandemic

8. Create safe, healthy, inclusive and equitably resourced educational environments conducive to excellence in learning with clearly defined levels of achievement for all

9. Enhance the status, morale and professionalism of teachers

10. Harness new information and communication technologies to help achieve EFA goals

11. Systematically monitor progress towards EFA goals and strategies at the national, regional and international levels;

12. Build on existing mechanisms to accelerate progress towards education for all.

Although education for all is everybody’s business (governments, international agencies, donors, and NGOs and civil society), the prime responsibility for achieving these goals lies with countries. This is stipulated in the Dakar Framework for Action, which also assigned the international community to launch a global initiative to develop strategies and mobilize resources to support national efforts. UNESCO was charged with coordinating the work of the EFA partners and to sustain the global momentum.

Making Education for All a reality is affordable: the cost of providing the world’s children with primary education by 2015 will require between $8 billion and $15 billion extra spending a year – less than 2 per cent of the annual estimated military costs worldwide. Most of the money will come from the countries themselves, through changing priorities and adopting cost-effective measures. A new global initiative is seeking to ensure more effective donor co-ordination and increased aid to basic education, in particular through accelerated debt relief.

Three factors have changed since the conference held in Jomtein in 1990 that might make the Dakar Framework for Action more successful in the next decade:

1. The climate has changed. The international community has become more determined. During the 1990s, education was finally acknowledged as a right and its importance for social and economic development stressed, civil society began to play a more active role and non-governmental organizations became more outspoken. A momentum was thus created. This momentum must now be nurtured and transformed into political will and action on the ground;

2. Dakar addressed the issue of funding and pledged that "no country seriously committed to basic education will be thwarted in the achievement of this goal by lack of resources". Resource mobilization and management are now at the heart of the education debate and a global initiative is being developed to provide a framework for co-operation between countries and development and donor agencies;

3. The notion of accountability built into the Dakar Framework for Action is another encouraging factor. The EFA Observatory’s reporting on progress will be invaluable in providing early warning signals

Why is EFA so crucial?

Education is a fundamental human right. It provides children, youth and adults with the power to reflect make choices and enjoy a better life. It breaks the cycle of poverty and is a key ingredient in economic and social development. Mothers’ education has a strong impact on health, family welfare and fertility.

· The child of a Zambian mother with a primary education has a 25 per cent better chance of survival than a child of a mother with no education

· In Bangladesh, women with a secondary education are three times more likely to attend a political meeting than are women with no education.

· In Uganda, four years of primary education raise a farmer’s output by 7 per cent.

· Educated girls generally have a significantly lower risk of HIV infection

The Challenges

· At the dawn of the new century 875 million of the world’s citizens are illiterate. One out of every five children aged 6-11 in developing countries – an estimated 113 million – is not in school, 60 per cent of them are girls.

· Nine countries – Bangladesh, Brazil, China, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Nigeria and Pakistan (E9) – are home to 70 per cent of the world’s illiterates.

· Girls and women are most at risk. In South Asia an estimated 60 per cent of women are illiterate. Worldwide, one woman in four cannot read.

· In South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, less than three out of four pupils reach Grade 5.

· The HIV/AIDS pandemic threatens to wipe out much of the progress made in boosting literacy and general education levels. Up to 10 per cent of teachers are expected to die in the worst affected African countries.

Important related activities

A number of UN-sponsored events and celebrations complement the EFA movement. These include: the Annual International Literacy Day on September 8; the UN International Literacy Decade, 2003-2012; the World Summit on the Information Society in Geneva, December 10-12, 2003; implementation of the Millennium Development Goals by 2015; and the International Decade for a Culture of Peace, 2000-2010.

This material was compiled with text and information from: EFA Global Monitoring Report, 2002: http://www.unesco.org/education/efa/ed_for_all/faq.shtml EFA Brochure: http://www.unesco.org/education/efa/global_co/policy_group/EFA_brochure.pdf International Literacy Decade article on UNESCO website: (http://www.unesco.org/education/litdecade/index.html)

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