Philip Lowe

The new Director-General of UNESCO has taken on a difficult task. He is expected to deliver far-reaching internal reforms, although the demands made of his organization as a spiritual, scientific and moral force for progress are far greater, and people who care about Education for All are among those making such demands. There has been criticism that UNESCO did not adequately fulfil its role in the process following Jomtien. However, swift improvements have also been agreed, so that the organization has once again been entrusted in Dakar with the main coordination role. We shall support UNESCO in its attempts to live up to these expectations.


Mr Secretary-General, Mr President, Ministers, Delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Allow me to begin by expressing my deep gratitude to the Senegalese authorities, and particularly to President Abdoulaye Wade, for their outstanding efforts in support of this conference. I join my congratulations to those already extended to him on his impressive election, which turns a new page not only in the history of Senegal, with a changeover of political power under particularly exemplary conditions, but also for the African continent as a whole in its advance towards democracy.

I am particularly moved, as the newly elected Director-General, to be with you here today. From the first day of my election at the head of UNESCO, I have given a clear and strong undertaking that Education for All will be the foremost priority of this Organization, its most urgent but also its noblest challenge. I intend to fight this fight with all the resolve and all the moral and intellectual force that I can muster, with the aid of all UNESCO’s partners.

The commitment made at Jomtien 10 years ago promised education as a reality for all in 2000. Why make such a commitment? First and foremost because education is a fundamental right enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a sine qua non for the development of the individual; deprived of basic education, individuals will remain unaware that this education to which they were not given access was a right that they could have demanded. Secondly, because education helps to improve security, health, prosperity and ecological balance in the world, just as it encourages social, economic and cultural progress, tolerance and international cooperation. It is the essential bedrock for the building of sustainable peace and development. You are all strongly convinced of this, and that is why we are all here together.

I listened carefully to the vibrant appeal of the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Mr Kofi Annan, in favour of the priority attention that we must give to girls’ and women’s education. He knows that I share his beliefs in the matter. He can rely on UNESCO to be among his most loyal partners in this fight.

While, in some countries, progress has been made and hurdles have been cleared in the past decade, very many are the countries that have failed to reach the ambitious objectives set at Jomtien. It has to be acknowledged indeed that we are still a far cry from basic Education for All, that it is still but a distant dream for hundreds of millions of children, women and men.

Ladies and Gentlemen, At today’s opening session, we noted with satisfaction the highly impressive effort on the part of all countries to make an objective analysis of their achievements and shortfalls in the field of education since 1990. We have heard what goals and educational priorities each major world region intends to set for itself in the years ahead and we have heard the collective voice of the non-governmental organizations, which are active and committed partners in the Education for All Assessment 2000 and justifiably claim the right to take part in shaping the educational strategies that will arise from this conference.

I consider that this comprehensive and intense process of stocktaking, of making an objective and lucid examination of what is known as the “Jomtien decade”, with all the lessons that may be learned from it and the priorities which should emerge, is a significant achievement in itself. This effort has been made in exemplary fashion from the grassroots level upwards, involving all the relevant actors at all levels and in every country. It has also included a detailed self-appraisal of donor investments in this area. The collective decisions that we take here at this conference will therefore rest on a firm foundation.

The broad vision of Education for All proclaimed in Jomtien 10 years ago has lost nothing of its wisdom and relevance. What we could not foresee, however, were the sometimes tragic events of the decade, affecting all societies and consequently their education systems. I refer to the proliferation of ethnic conflicts, the HIV/AIDS pandemic, the process of globalisation or the ever-increasing rift between rich and poor.

Some countries have nevertheless made remarkable progress, thanks to an unshakeable political will. I wish here to pay tribute to them and to congratulate them. They demonstrate that the success of Education for All hinges first and foremost on political commitment.

The fact remains that, in at least six respects, we have strayed from the original objectives:

  1. Formal schooling has been the main preoccupation in the field of education, entailing neglect of non-formal avenues of learning.
  2. Many countries have been slow to redefine their educational needs, in particular concerning educational content reflecting cultural diversity and corresponding to the specific needs of each society.
  3. The inequalities within education systems have been increasing, with the result that the poorest of the poor, minority groups and people with special learning needs have hardly been taken into account or may even have been excluded from the mainstream of education.
  4. Early childhood education has shown little development and still favours the better-off urban populations, rather than those for whom an educational headstart in life would be most beneficial.
  5. The “digital divide” has marginalized the poorest social sectors even further, jeopardizing their chances of having the new information and communication technologies serve their specific needs.
  6. And lastly, basic education has been chronically under-financed both by most countries themselves (less than 2% of gross national product on average) and by the donor community (again less than 2% of development aid); the distribution of resources and responsibilities between the central State, local government, parents and civil society as a whole has not been sufficiently clarified and rationalized.

In these six respects at least, we have strayed from the objectives set. We must therefore now reassess the scope, nature and urgency of our joint activities so that the Jomtien goals may be attained.

Ladies and Gentlemen, This World Education Forum, with the unprecedented participation of governments, civil society organizations, the private sector, education specialists, bilateral and multilaterial development partners and the media, cannot – you will agree – be treated as “just another major conference”. It must close one chapter in the history of universal literacy and open another.

I have no doubt that we shall manage, here in Dakar, to adopt a global framework for action which will represent the international community’s clear and irreversible commitment to meeting the basic learning needs of all children, young people and adults, wherever they may live, by 2015. The last day in Dakar must be the first day of a collective and victorious struggle to achieve Education for All.

I call on all States to draw up national plans of action immediately after Dakar. This will entail a transparent and democratic process based on all the driving forces of the nation – civil society as a whole, with teachers in the forefront (who, we must always bear in mind, are the backbone of the entire education system), non-governmental organizations and the private sector. These plans should ensure in particular that the quality of basic education is improved and that all forms of discrimination, especially those based on gender, are eliminated. The right to education is – let us never forget – the inalienable right of every individual.

The public and private resources to be allocated to education will need to be proportional to the vital importance we attach to it. Governments will have to make clear, coherent and courageous choices in this respect.

I am also fully aware of the need for a substantial increase in the volume of aid for basic education. The donor community must undertake to grant any country submitting a realistic and practical plan in this field the financial and technical support required to attain its objectives. Special grants, and not simply loans, and an easing of the debt burden must be proposed in exchange for social investment programmes, particularly in basic education.

Ladies and Gentlemen, UNESCO, as the United Nations Specialized Agency for education, will go on fully assuming its responsibilities in this global and collective bid to achieve Education for All.

We have been ensuring the coordination of the EFA movement for the last 10 years. You can continue to count on UNESCO. Education for All is at the very heart of the mandate entrusted to it within the United Nations system. But we shall have to reinforce follow-up by managing to move still closer to the countries themselves and their specific, real needs. We should also seek exemplary coordination with our partners, namely, donors, non-governmental organizations and the organizations of the United Nations system. For UNESCO needs all its partners in order to carry out its mission to the full.

In particular, we shall have to improve monitoring and evaluation tools. National capacity-building will be needed regarding the collection of statistics that are both pertinent and as complete as possible. I should like to emphasize that UNESCO has in that respect an outstanding tool, namely its Institute for Statistics, which can and must be the essential reference for statistics on education worldwide.

But UNESCO, over and above this commitment, will on its own launch an extensive programme to fulfil what, for many States, is perhaps the twenty-first century’s most urgent need: to develop education systems that are at once authentic and modern, and accessible to all, without any restricting conditions, whether economic, social, cultural or geographical. Each country will have to build a system that it can afford, and its citizens can afford, and one that meets the highest quality requirements.

I turn to you, distinguished ministers. UNESCO is with you, by your side, as it has been for half a century now. You all know how tirelessly it has sought to respond to your needs and expectations. But in this tremendous challenge we are launching today, it is you who take centre stage. For it is in your hands that the future of the rising generations rests. Your determination will be essential.

We for our part will help you in four different ways to strengthen your capacity for action to accomplish what money alone will not buy:

  1. To create an education whose contents and methods are geared to your social and cultural realities. Your linguistic heritage and your endogenous potential with regard to skills and practices, and the values that underpin your society must all be central to this education if it is to secure the wholehearted approval of the populations for whom it is intended. But this education must also be modern. It is essential in this regard to strengthen science teaching from primary level, this being a precondition for the autonomy of each individual in a globalised society.
  2. To develop basic education services accessible to all, including the poorest, illiterate adults, children outside the school system – whether at work, in the street or refugees – through a strategy involving both the formal education system and all the alternatives offered by the non-formal sector. Basic education must become a field which is free of all forms of exclusion and discrimination.
  3. To harness the modern information and communication technologies for all. The potential of these technologies must be exploited in order to broaden the reach of basic education, particularly in the direction of the excluded and underprivileged groups; and to enhance and improve classroom teaching.
  4. To replace costly, rigid and culturally alienating educational structures with less expensive delivery systems that are more flexible, more diversified and universally affordable, without ever sacrificing quality.

These four ways of achieving an education that is authentic, accessible to all without exclusion or discrimination, modern and universally affordable, will provide each individual with the keys to diversified and virtually limitless knowledge. This is the type of education which can inspire a culture of peace, a universal culture that all peoples, all human beings must share in order to give meaning to their common humanity. This is the type of education for which we are determined to fight.

I intend to set UNESCO on this path in order to enable it to develop its innovative potential and its capacity to guide and inspire the action of all other actors on the ground – in a word, its capacity to serve truly as a “knowledge organization”.

What resources do we command for this purpose? To be sure, we have a very considerable fund of expertise accumulated by our specialists over half a century. Our ability to stimulate cooperation and the exchange of experience among the countries of the world has been amply demonstrated. We are the recognized authority with regard to the training of education specialists, teachers, trainers, rural community organizers and other educational agents. We also have available to us highly mobilized professional networks.

But UNESCO’s greatest resource is the sheer diversity of the experience and initiatives accumulated by its Member States. Let us not forget that UNESCO is not only the main international organization with responsibility for education; it is also the instrument of cooperation among its Member States within its fields of competence.

One of the incomparable assets of UNESCO is its extensive network of 188 National Commissions, which is unique within the United Nations system. Acting as an interface between UNESCO and national authorities, the National Commissions help to relay national realities and marshal energies and initiatives on the ground which may enable society at large to take on board the Organization’s message. Their role in the follow-up to major conferences such as this one is therefore vital.

UNESCO’s other outstanding asset is the solid and tightly knit network of cooperation that it has forged through the years with non-governmental organizations. Allow me to remind you that there are now 337 such organizations in official relationship with UNESCO. They are remarkably useful partners, firmly committed by its side to strengthening and relaying its action in all its fields of competence, and mainly in the field of education. I count on their renewed support at the close of the conference so that together we may continue to wage the battle of Education for All.

UNESCO’s essential asset is then, in short, as you will have realized, that it is a multidisciplinary organization at the interface between governments and civil society, capable of organizing and stimulating dialogue among all the protagonists of change.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Education has neither always nor everywhere been used to free people from the bonds of ignorance. It has also served, and continues to serve, to buttress the powers that be, to generate exclusion and violence, and sometimes, as we are bound to recognize, to fan the flames of conflict. At the same time, basic education remains the only hope of enabling all nations to attain a democratic culture and thereby a degree of political stability, an essential, or indeed indispensable condition for all human development that respects human rights. This is something that our Senegalese hosts, whom I thank for their enthusiastic and warm welcome, have recently demonstrated in such a splendid and promising manner.

Adult Education and Development


DVV International operates worldwide with more than 200 partners in over 30 countries.

To interactive world map

Important notice: If you click on this link, you will leave the websites of DVV International. DVV International is not responsible for the content of third party websites that can be accessed through links. DVV International has no influence as to which personal data of yours is accessed and/or processed on those sites. For more information, please review the privacy policy of the external website provider.