Education for All: unfinished business? Interview with Olav Seim.

UN Photo/Mark Garten - Olav Seim, Director of the Education for All (EFA) Global Partnerships Team,

What have we learned since the year 2000, when world leaders gathered in Dakar to commit to achieving six Education for All (EFA) goals by 2015? In advance of a major UNESCO/UNICEF global meeting on Education in the Post-2015 Development Agenda (18 -20 March 2013, Dakar, Senegal) Olav Seim, Director of the EFA Global Partnerships Team, explains all in an interview.

What is the point of setting international education goals?
Because you can make great advances if you follow ambitious, clear, measurable objectives. For example, between 2000 and 2008 there was impressive progress in the two education-related Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). More than 50 million more children enrolled in primary school and gender parity improved at the primary level. In the same period, aid to primary education doubled.  
Doesn’t such progress give the impression that education is doing   fine?                                                     
Yes – and it is misleading, because we are not on track to reach the education goals! Since 2010 the number of out-of-school children has stayed the same, at 61 million, and aid to education has stagnated.
So can it be said that the MDGs and EFA goals are an unfinished agenda?
Yes. That is why education ministers and other partners recently called for a final “Big Push” at the Global Education Meeting in UNESCO in November, to accelerate progress towards the EFA goals by 2015.
Do you hope for a good response to the call for a final “Big Push”?
There has already been a response. African countries far from achieving the EFA goals are signing up to an “EFA Acceleration Compact”.  In addition, the Global Education First Initiative (GEFI) of the UN Secretary-General can play a major part in the “Big Push”.
Has the focus on access to education been at the expense of quality?
The focus on access was a necessary first step. Quality is a pressing concern. You need good indicators on quality to measure progress. Quality of learning is lagging behind, particularly where there is a shortage of qualified teachers.
What are the main characteristics of a quality education?
In a nutshell, a quality education reflects the importance of both cognitive and non-cognitive skills, such as learning to live together sustainably. It has to be seen in the perspective of lifelong learning.
Shouldn’t “the Big Push” put more emphasis on gender?
Yes. We particularly need to tackle the obstacles that prevent girls from continuing secondary and higher education, especially since keeping adolescent girls and young women in school has a strong positive impact on almost all the MDGs.
More generally, we need to focus on ensuring that the poorest and most vulnerable get an education. For this we need more targeted interventions to reach these people, for instance as part of social protection programmes.
Why is education so important for the other MDGs?
As a human right in itself, education is also fundamental to realising other rights, and an enabler for reaching all the MDGs. It plays an essential role in reducing mortality and morbidity rates; eradicating poverty and hunger; strengthening resilience to natural hazards and ending abuse, violence and armed conflict.
For you, what is the key to progress in EFA?
Strong national ownership and leadership is vital. Education needs to reflect and respect cultural diversity and be relevant to national development challenges. That is why it is so important to involve all relevant stakeholders in the process. We also need to better listen to the voice of children and youth. Education is the passport  to the future they want.


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