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Education First: our next global agenda

There was a lot of excitement on Wednesday when the UN Secretary General launched Education First, the UN’s five-year initiative aimed at reinvigorating the education goals that have long been forgotten globally, and moving forward beyond 2015.

The launch of Education First is a key moment for everyone working on education. But it’s not just about agencies dedicated to education, it’s about the rest of the global community, states and other sectors – human rights, development and humanitarian, and business.

Education First aims to secure three key things:

  1. Equal access for all children, particularly the most marginalised children and those in emergencies. It’s crucial that the initiative lives up to this commitment because without securing access to these children, we’ll always fall short of fulfilling the right to education for all and meeting key access milestones.
  2. Quality learning for all children. Given that we face a global learning crisis of significant proportions, it must focus on building quality learning environments that ensure children’s right to learn and learning outcomes – children need to learn and get something out of their education.
  3. Global citizenship, outlining that the right to education must build a common understanding across cultures; that education must fulfil its role as a platform for knowledge and awareness raising, building on values of peace, respect and mutual understanding.

Caution? Excitement?

Amid the excitement on Wednesday, many in the room had a sense of caution. Is this initiative really going to drive the energy we urgently need to secure every child their right to education?

Are we going to secure key governmental and UN commitments to truly move this forward together? Are we going to see new funding for education?

While we may be right in expressing caution, we also have to celebrate that education has finally been placed on the global agenda – this time round, not just as an education-specific agenda , ie, the Education for All (EFA) goals, but as a global agenda driven by the UN, with all stakeholders included.

We were missing this; we were banging drums about the international neglect of education. Now, we’ve got it.

With three years to go until the Millennium Development Goals and EFA agenda, and the current learning crisis, there’s plenty to be done in the run-up to 2015.

From aspirations to action

Education First should:

  • Guarantee an implementation framework is in place, with key actors driving the agenda, including through an actual secretariat responsible for overseeing the initiative. We cannot leave the initiative as just a guiding framework; all those responsible for guaranteeing children an education need to act on the commitments and pledges made on Wednesday (and more, we hope).
  • Ensure civil society is aware of and feels part of Education First. Ultimately, it’s civil society organisations that will continue to act as watchdogs of multiple global and national commitments. They must be fully aware of what Education First will mean to them and their countries, working with governments to implement the key goals. Education First must become a platform for bringing multiple voices to the table.
  • Expect greater financial commitments from all stakeholders – the business sector has pledged over US$1.3 billion. It’s crucial this is followed with clear state commitments to allocate the right amount for national education budgets. Equally, donor countries must keep existing commitments for bilateral education aid and contributions to the Global Partnership on Education.
  • Secure key state buy-in to guarantee education goals in the post-2015 framework are fully in line with what children actually need: to learn and enjoy an education that puts them on the right path.

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