This is the sixth in a series of blogs taking a retrospective view of the EFA agenda and its implementation. This blog looks back to Jomtien through Dakar and the MDGs, then to the future and post-2015 agenda. It is written by Sheldon Shaeffer, former Director of UNESCO’s Regional Bureau for Education, Bangkok.
Few people would have guessed in 1989 when plans were being laid for the World Conference on Education for All (EFA) in Jomtien that it would help set in motion a process which, by 2014, has led to dozens of conferences, organised by dozens of institutions (academic, multilateral, bilateral, INGO, and private sector), and produced hundreds of recommendations for goals and targets for the post-2015 international development agenda.
The Jomtien Conference did not, by itself, create the notion of international goals. But its expanded vision for education, and the ultimate influence of its six suggested “dimensions” (which later became national targets) resulted in many national action plans and new monitoring processes. These in turn led to the Dakar World Education Forum of 2000, its Framework for Action, and a set of even more explicit international education goals. This then added to the process that led to the Millennium Development Declaration endorsed by the United Nations Millennium Summit in September 2000, and eventually (derived from an earlier OECD publication, “Shaping the 21st Century”), to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
This historical process was not necessarily a seamless one. The MDGs, unlike the broader, more visionary Declaration, were not developed in a systematic and consultative manner. This, plus the need to include goals from many different sectors, led to a document which left out most of the Dakar EFA goals and focused only on universal primary education and gender equality.
The differences between the Dakar EFA goals and the MDGs led to some confusion at the national level. Ministries of Education were asked to develop EFA action plans and reporting processes based on the broader range of Dakar goals. But at the same time they were required to contribute to national MDG programmes, based on the two MDGs education goals, and to multi-sectoral reports on the progress toward the MDGs. In many countries, given their long association with EFA and their participation at the Dakar Forum, Ministries of Education devoted more of their attention to the EFA process and did not feel particular ownership of the larger MDG agenda.