From Hauwa Yusuf Funtua, Paris
The ambitious Incheon Declaration, adopted by over 1,600 participants including world leaders at the World Education Forum held in Korea, last May, is one of the core issues receiving a lot of attention at the on-going 38th session of the UNESCO General Conference, which began last week in Paris, France.
The agenda was the outcome of several efforts by the global education community to promote a single, renewed education agenda – Education 2030 – which is believed to be “holistic, universal and aspirational.”
Member states of the United Nations (UN) had formally adopted the agenda at the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit held last September in New York. The stand-alone goal on education, known as Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG4), commits the global community to “providing inclusive and equitable quality education at all levels – early childhood, primary, secondary, tertiary, technical and vocational training,’ and underscoring that all people “should have access to lifelong learning opportunities.”
The Incheon Declaration will now be implemented through the Education 2030 Framework for Action (FFA), which, among others, provides guidance to governments for the realization of SDG 4.
While member states have the primary responsibility of ensuring the successful implementation of the agenda, the UN will coordinate it through UNESCO, which is its specialized arm for education.
According to UNESCO’s Director General, Irina Bokova, Education stands at the heart of the new vision on sustainable development over the next 15 years.
Speaking at the opening plenary of the conference, Bokova stated that the urgency in translating the promise on paper could be seen in the reality that 59 million children are out of school across the world at the moment, while 29 million live in conflict-affected areas.
She said: “62 million girls are still denied the right to basic education; 250 million children are not learning the basics, whether they have been to school or not. Conflicts and emergencies are uprooting millions of children and young people, disrupting their education, throwing their future in doubt.”
The new agenda is a continuation of ambitious goals set by world leaders over the past three decades. The first was in 1990 when the world met in Jomtien Thailand and agreed on a new vision for education. Then, in 2000, there was another meeting in Dakar, Senegal where world leaders adopted six Education for All (EFA) goals.
Last May’s meeting in Korea is a culmination of previous efforts. Although, some progress has been recorded worldwide especially in primary education, fundamental challenges remain, notably in Sub Saharan Africa and the Middle East.
A new Gender Report compiled by UNESCO’s Education for All (EFA) monitoring unit, was also launched as a side event as part of the conference.
Education Ministers of UNESCO member countries, including Nigeria’s National Commission for UNESCO’s Secretary-General, Mrs. Magdalene Anene-Maido and President of the Category 1 Institute, Prof. Godswill Obioma witnessed the event.
Bokova said educating a girl was equivalent to educating a nation. Nigeria’s Ambassador and Permanent Delegate to UNESCO, Mrs. Mariam Katagum also noted that educating a girl child “unleashes a ripple effect that changes the world unmistakably for the better.”
Her colleague, the United States’ ambassador to UNESCO, Ms. Crystal Nix-Hines told participants there was no more transformational change for development than improving girls’ education.
The report revealed that progress towards gender parity was one of the biggest education success stories since 2000. The number of countries that have achieved the goal of gender partly in both primary and secondary education has risen from 36 to 62 since 2000.
Aaron Benavot, Director of the EFA Unit, said the goal of getting equal numbers of boys and girls in school may never be achieved, unless the world tackles the roots of imbalance, social barriers and entrenched discriminatory social norms.
Alongside the Report, the EFA also produced an online interactive tool that shows how wide the gender gaps are in different contexts. It reveals, for instance, that in sub Saharan Africa, the poorest girls are almost nine times more likely never to have set foot in a classroom than the richest boys.
At the opening of the conference, Nigerian delegates joined a high level meeting organised by UNESCO in conjunction with the six other agencies to formally adopt and launch the Education 2030 Framework for Action.
Anene-Maidoh, the Deputy Director in charge of education sector NATCOM, Mrs. Carolyn Omene and Professor Goodwin Obioma were there.
Also, an integral part of the UNESCO General Conference, the Youth Forum, which took place ahead of the 38th session, brought together young men and women from across the world to discuss youth issues and solutions.
Nigeria was represented by two youths: Osaghae Osamudiamwen David from Edo State and Hafsat Kaugama from Jigawa State. The 9th Youth Forum had the theme: “Young Global Citizens for a sustainable Planet.”
Both delegates said they had the opportunity to engage with youths from over 190 countries, to share their common values and ensure that the most pressing needs and concerns are addressed by their respective governments, in line with the theme for social transformation, building peace, intercultural dialogue and learning to live together, among other issues.