Maria Lourdes Almazan-Khan

The recent 6th Education for All Working Group meeting, convened by UNESCO in Paris (19-21 July 2005), put the spotlight on scaling up the EFA Fast Track Initiative and giving adult literacy a higher priority in the EFA movement. All EFA Working Group members agreed on the need for Fast Track Initiative reform and more investment in adult literacy. Maria Almazan-Khan, General Secretary of the Asian South Pacific Bureau of Adult Education, speaker of the Working Group “Scaling up Resource Mobilisation and Aid Effectiveness for EFA” pointed out the need to act now and to turn the Fast Track Initiative from a small-scale donor programme into a genuinely global compact between North and South. We publish her comments below. More information is available from the websites and

A Global Compact to Achieve EFA: Recommendations from the Global Campaign for Education

The year 2005 has been hailed as a year of opportunity – a time to reaffirm the compact between rich and poor nations to jointly eliminate poverty in our lifetime through concrete action. We dare imagine that in this year, the consensus we are able to operationalise and set in motion can spare the lives of hundreds of millions of men, women, girls and boys, from the torture and waste of extreme want.

The recent G8 Summit gave reason for hope – although it is also true that many civil society groups were left disappointed. The commitments to cancel debt and increase aid will undoubtedly save lives – but as the Global Call to Action Against Poverty (GCAP) lamented, not as many lives. The disappointment stems to a large extent not only from the fact that MORE is needed and NOW – but also that MORE is affordable. While various civil society groups have been heartened by the references in the G8 agreements to basic education as a key area to benefit from additional aid – the Global Campaign for Education (GCE) has challenged rich countries not to wait for 2010 to put more than 100 million out of school children in schools – the majority of whom are girls.

This assumes particular relevance as the Millennium Summit in September comes to terms with our collective failure to achieve the first of the MDG and EFA targets – gender parities in schools by 2005. While presenting a tough challenge, this MDG target was not unrealistic to meet. Overwhelmingly, girls are not in school because of poverty. The more expensive education is, the less likely families are to invest in education for girls. ‘Opportunity costs’ are also a real deterrent for poor households: sending girls to school may mean less food on the table at the end of every day.1

But many of the poorest countries such as Bangladesh and Uganda have made remarkable progress for girls’ access to education in a short period of time – proof of what is possible with political will and the resources to back it up. These countries were not satisfied with a string of small-scale projects and pilot programmes, rather embarked on a massive expansion and upgrading of the public school system, while also investing in measures to help poor girls and other excluded groups get an education. Uganda abolished fees and charges, made primary education compulsory as well as free; Bangladesh provided extra incentives to help compensate poor families for girls’ labour. Measures such as these including those guaranteeing quality education: such as reasonable class sizes, adequate hours of instruction, adequate supplies of learning materials that are gender-sensitive, and probably most important, better trained and supported teachers – including more female teachers – will keep girls in school and enable higher learning achievements.2

Current international calculations of additional external assistance required to reach the 2015 EFA targets3 however, do not account for these types of costs and securing gender parities in primary and secondary schools, much less gender equality by 2015. These calculations do not account either for the costs of achieving all the other EFA targets such as adult literacy, life skills education for a large out of school adolescent population or provision for early childhood care and education.

As the Millennium Task Force on Gender and Education underscores in its report, while the MDGs to which world leaders have subscribed focus on primary education, evidence increasingly indicates that sustained progress toward universal primary education requires actions to improve the status of girls and women. ‘Mothers matter most’, they say, as studies reveal an unmistakable pattern of mothers’ education being a strong determinant of children’s – especially daughters’ – enrollment and attainment.

To capitalize on the international interest generated over the last couple of months in basic education as a priority for additional aid, more updated costings for achieving the 2015 EFA targets – with special consideration for the missed gender targets – will have to be undertaken as soon as possible.

The current momentum and political interest generated by the Sachs report, the Commission for Africa and the recent G8 commitments, indicate a positive trend over the last few months of individual donors aligning aid programmes more closely with poverty eradication. This certainly bodes well for EFA.

But as we have for long recognized, individual efforts are simply not enough to bring about the sea change that is needed for aid to make a real impact on the international education goals. We can thus reap clear gains for education if we are able to demonstrate and position a genuinely global initiative – involving governments, donors and civil society – capable of mobilising and coordinating the full amounts needed to achieve the education goals in a rational, timely and coordinated way to make the greatest possible impact on the world’s out of school children and illiterate adults. Otherwise, the momentum for free and universal education will quickly fade and during the UN MDG Summit, international leaders will turn their attention to sectors which can lay out a more ambitious and compelling vision and strategy for success.4

Clear signals must be sent to world leaders now that capacity and will exist to scale up the global financing partnership for basic education which the Fast Track Initiative (FTI) attempts – and thus make a real impact. Several concrete recommendations5 have been offered by the Global Campaign for Education to demonstrate this. They are worth reiterating and highlighting:

1. Donors must commit funds to the FTI enabling it to cover all countries in need.

Even if governments keep to their end of the bargain and invest substantially in education – as they should do – external assistance will still be required especially by the countries most off track. Currently, the FTI covers only 10 of the 58 countries rated by UNESCO as being at the highest risk of not reaching the EFA targets. At least 51 countries – representing 75% of the world’s out of school children – can meet the Fast Track Initiative’s requirements for education performance in the coming few months. Funds have however not been forthcoming. By December 2004, the (by then) endorsed 12 FTI countries faced a shortfall in committed aid by as much as $760M (or close to half of the aid commitment for 3 years) – this, after national governments devoted much effort to working out plans, budgets AND RAISING 75% of the total budgetary requirements for their plans.

2. The FTI is perceived in many quarters as a ‘donor-driven’ initiative.

Some fundamental changes to its decision-making structures and processes are needed to give a much wider set of stakeholders a real stake in its success and truly reflect a global partnership. Both developing country governments and civil society need to be formally represented in FTI governance structures. Their lack of power and influence in the current structure has not only undermined ownership at the global level, but may also weaken the country assessment and reform process. The FTI should establish an inclusive steering committee or board that includes fully empowered representatives of developing country governments as well as global civil society.

3. The move towards a more country-focused approach is very welcome.

The Assessment Guidelines for country performance released by the FTI are relatively ‘light’ and streamlined, and pay attention to the core functional requirements for an effective system of public mass education.

Country financing estimates and assessment benchmarks should however be improved to ensure a stronger focus on building a successful system of free, universal and compulsory public education of good quality. This will include costing out the implications of abolishing all user fee charges and ameliorative measures (feeding programmes, subsidies for poor families, scholarships) to ensure greater access and quality education especially for poor girls. Other dimensions of basic education, including early childhood, adult literacy and life skills especially for women and adolescent girls, require attention in the costing and assessment process. Working closely with partner governments, FTI donors should develop financing strategies and policy guidelines to ensure attention to the whole EFA agenda based on the country’s actual needs.

4. In the sprit of partnership and mutual accountability, indicators for donor monitoring within the FTI must also be developed and matched to performance benchmarks, in the same way that government performance is measured.

The Global Campaign for Education’s 2005 ‘School Report Card’ on 22 rich countries’ contribution to UPE observed that only 6 of these countries6 prioritized low-income countries; and only 7 countries7 focused support to countries where girls’ primary school enrollment is lower than 75%.

The FTI 2004 Status Report further highlights that in 2002, more than 70% of education aid went to ‘technical cooperation’. Of course there is nothing wrong with study tours, policy dialogues and studies, capacity-building workshops etc. per se, but certainly NOT at the expense of core essentials for quality primary education such as contributions to eliminate school fees, adequate compensation and training for teachers, subsidies and scholarships for poor girls, investments in creating safe and conducive learning environments for children.

Targets must be set for reducing the share of education aid going to middle-income countries, to post-secondary education and to technical cooperation; and for increasing the share to programme funding and budget support. Timely delivery of committed aid should also be tracked.

These observations are not new. In fact, there is really nothing much I have said in the last ten minutes that hasn’t been documented, written about or posed before. The collective experience, wisdom and scholarship of the international community had already set forth practical steps and solutions to finally fulfill the promise of EFA. The point now is to act on these and offer more than a 100 million children and 1 billion illiterate adults a fair chance to beat poverty and for EFA to be a reality in our lifetime.


1 “Girls Can’t Wait”, Global Campaign for Education Briefing Paper for the Beijing+10 Review and Appraisal, March 2005, s. page 83 of this issue.

2 Ibid.

3 e.g. the GMR’s  $5.6Billion/year for all low income countries and Bruns’s $3.7 Billion for low income countries (and $5-7B for all developing countries).

4 Small Change: An alternative progress report on the Education Fast Track Initiative, Global Campaign for Education, April 2005.

5 Ibid.

6 gave over 80% of their education aid to low income countries: Denmark, Ireland, Norway, Sweden, UK, Portugal.

7 gave over 50% of their aid to countries where girls’ primary school enrollment is lower than 75% : Denmark, Ireland, Sweden, Finland, Italy, Switzerland, Australia.

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