Over sixty years ago education was declared a basic human right for every person and enshrined in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights in 1948. Since then, it has been reaffirmed in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966), the Conventional on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (1979) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989), among many other international human rights instruments.
In 1990, over 150 governments adopted the World Declaration on Education for All at Jomtien, Thailand to boost efforts towards delivering the right to education. Ten years later, the World Education Forum in Dakar, Senegal reaffirmed this commitment and adopted the six Education For All (EFA) goals that run to 2015:
- Goal 1: Expanding and improving comprehensive early childhood care and education, especially for the most disadvantaged and vulnerable children.
- Goal 2: All children, particularly girls, children in difficult circumstances and those belonging to ethnic minorities have access to free, quality and compulsory primary education by 2015.
- Goal 3: Ensuring that the learning needs of all young people and adults are met through equitable access to appropriate learning and life skills programs
- Goal 4: 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
- Goal 5: 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
- Goal 6: Improving every aspect of the quality of education, and ensuring their excellence so that recognized and measurable learning outcomes are achieved by all, especially in literacy, numeracy and essential life skills
180 countries signed up to make these goals happen, committing to putting legal frameworks, policies, and finance in place so that everyone, no matter what their circumstances, could have an education – one that is available, accessible, acceptable and adaptable. The richest countries pledged to help make Education for All a reality by committing to principles of international cooperation towards those countries with fewer financial resources.
Commitment towards the right to education was also reflected in the UN Millennium Development Goals, set in 2000 with a deadline for achievement by 2015. There are eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), of which two focus on education:
- Ensure that all boys and girls complete primary schooling by 2015
- Eliminate gender disparities in primary education by 2005 and at all levels by 2015
Progress has been painfully slow. In the period immediately after the setting of both the MDGs and the six EFA goals, investments were made by governments committed to achieving these goals. Education budgets, both foreign and domestic, increased, enabling the abolition of tuition fees for primary school in several countries and the development of improved national education plans. However, as we move closer to the 2015 deadline, progress has slowed.
- Despite an average of 8.9% of the domestic budget going to education in low-income countries – rising to an average of over 10% in sub-Saharan Africa – States are still falling behind.
- Enrollment in primary school may have increased since 2000, but this has slowed towards the end of the 2000-2010 period; worse, completion rates remain low, with 10 million children dropping out of primary school every year in sub-Saharan Africa alone.
- Millions of children who do complete primary school do so with lower than expected levels of reading, writing, and numeracy due to the poor quality of education they receive when they are in school – where pupil-teacher ratios can be as high as 100:1 in the very poorest areas.
- Women and girls remain at a huge disadvantage: although gender parity in primary enrollment is within reach, girls are still less likely to progress to secondary education – in the vast majority of African countries, this chance is less than 50% – and women make up almost two-thirds of the 796 million adults without basic skills.
- Another 1.8 million teachers are needed to achieve universal primary education by 2015 – with 1 million of these needed in sub-Saharan Africa.
The Global Campaign for Education is stepping up the pressure on States to make significant efforts to realize these goals for the millions of adults and children who are denied their right to education.