From EFA to EQuEL – About the Road Towards a Universal Education Agenda

In 2015, the Milllennium Development Goals (MDGs) as well as the Education for All (EFA) framework will expire. The EFA goal of ensuring universal primary education – as one of six goals which range from expanding early childcare and education to improving adult literacy – found way into the MDGs. This elicits the overlapping scope of both frameworks.  Unfortunately, the UN will reach these two major milestones of its development efforts while none of them is fully achieved. What lessons can be drawn and what visions can be developed? And what comes next? To answer these questions, the UN facilitates a global conversation embracing regional and national as well as eleven global thematic consultations (on health, education, energy, water – to just name a few) to develop a post-2015 development agenda.

A vision for post-2015 education efforts was developed at the Global Thematic Consultation on Education, held in Dakar, Senegal in March 2013. There, representatives from the Arab World, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean as well as Asia and the Pacific took a clear stance for a rights-based, inclusive, sustainable, clearly defined, holistic, balanced, and universal education agenda. Hence, the concept of  ‘Equitable, Quality Education and Lifelong Learning for All’ (EQuEL) was coined. In November 2013, the UNESCO General Conference reaffirmed this goal and its universal relevance which should “mobilize all countries, regardless of their development status” (UNESCO 37C/56).

This post is a critical comment on certain tendencies within this process by analysing the Regional Thematic Consultation on Edcuation with so-called Group I countries (Western European and North American states) concept note, which took place in December 2013 in Paris. Two aspects are central: the enhancement of an aid-perspective and the need for a broader consideration of inclusiveness as a challenge for all (!) education systems.

Accordingly, the „Group I“ concept paper includes the question Why is the post-2015 education agenda relevant to Western Europe and North America?” This seems to reveal some need to establish a not so obvious link between the EFA framework and this geographical region. Accordingly, the Regional Consultation`s concept note states: “The meeting will discuss challenges and requirements of education for the future among Group I countries; debate on how these could be reflected in the post-2015 education agenda based on future policy priorities from a regional perspective and reflect on their implications for the post-2015 education agenda from an aid perspective.” So, “Group I“ countries take to a large extent the role of donors solely. For me an aid-perspective is too narrow and reveals some inherent exclusionary tendencies. Conversely, the assertion that “new requirements in education as well as emerging trends and broader socioeconomic development trends and challenges (…) affect developed and developing countries alike” further manifests a distinctive hierarchy between education systems.

Although the concept paper detects deficits for “Group I“ countries in the context of PISA results and the non-neglectable impact of the pupils‘ socio-economic background on their performance and skills, it has blind spots. The paper remains silent on educational provisions for children with special needs – a fundamental aspect of inclusiveness as anchored in the upcoming global agenda`s EQuEL-paradigm. Further, the non-recognition of children with special needs in standardized tests like PISA remains unconsidered. Keeping in mind that the overrepresentation of children from ethnic minorities and/or with poorer social backgrounds in special schools is a common pattern among many Western European countries, this indifference is at least astonishing and certainly deplorable.

Hence, if one expected outcome of this Regional Consultation is that information [is] made available on good practices in education policies and practices in Group I countries” than these should be shared also among Group I countries. This is certainly necessary against the background of huge differences in the development of inclusive school systems among European countries. By the way, what about good practices of “non-Group I countries”?

A truly universal EQuEL-education framework offers the unique chance to reconsider well established global hierarchies of donors and receivers and their respective education systems. Certainly, fundamental challenges lie ahead in countries of the Global South in order to achieve qualitative and accessible education, especially regarding the high number of out-of-school children. But when it comes to equity and inclusion, countries of the Global North have to seriously take up the challenge of inclusion as well.

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