Thanks to the DG, ADG for their leadership in convening this meeting, and especially for implementing the new sequence of EFA events and forming the International Advisory Panel, where I am proud to be the representative of civil society.
I would also like to offer further thanks to the DG and the Government of Senegal for accepting the proposal that four young GCE advocates should address the opening ceremony on behalf of the millions of children and adults supporting our global movement.
After a great accomplishment in reducing the number of out-of-school children by over 40 million over the last seven years, we have now reached a much more challenging situation. In many countries that are on track to achieve ‘mass education’, 10-15% of the hardest-to-reach children remain excluded. When we talk of these unreached children we should remind ourselves that they are not sitting idle at home or playing games on their computers; they are not free to come to school easily. Even if governments open new schools and hire more teachers, these children will not necessarily just turn up at school.
We are talking about children such as a 15 year-old Sudanese boy, whom I shall call Munino, that I met on a march a few years ago, after he was freed from the clutches of an extremist army. He was kidnapped at the age of 13. The first lesson given to him as a child combatant was to kill his own family members. You can imagine the shock, the trauma as his tender childhood was ended in those few seconds. This boy wanted to learn, to go to school, but he told me ‘I am no more a child – how could I be welcomed in class?’
We are talking about a 10 year-old Bangladeshi girl, Shaheer, whom my Indian organisation rescued a few years ago along with some other children. She, along with her 6 year old brother, was trafficked to a Gulf state. Shaheer was forced to work as a beggar, and the boy as a camel jockey. He used to be tied down on the back of the camel while boys louder than him made the camel run fast in expensive camel races for the entertainment of the rich. Ultimately he could not survive this experience and one day met his end in an accident, screaming with his last breath. Shaheer saw all this. She felt it was too late for her to become a child and go to school.
These are among the extreme cases. But we are also talking about more than 30 million children who live in fragile or post-conflict states. How is it the fault of children born into states like Somalia, Sierra Leone, Haiti and Liberia, that they should suffer merely because of their birthplace? We are talking about 126 million children trapped into the worst forms of child labour, some are primary school drop-outs – or push-outs – and others have never been inside a classroom. Children with disabilities are a significantly marginalised group – one-third of out-of-school children in Africa have disabilities and only 10% of disabled children go to school. Then HIV/AIDS orphans and vulnerable children, migrant people, ethnic minorities and indigenous people, and girl-children also face discrimination. Finally, we must not forget that abject poverty also affects millions of children and adults. This exclusion of children is a violation of their basic right to childhood and learning, and is the biggest human crime of our age and should be treated as a pressing emergency.
However, some knowledge and data about the main areas of exclusion are available; most countries cannot answer key questions about these children with authority and concrete information. Who are these children and where are they? This is not just about estimated figures but the concrete details – every child has a name, a face and is born with his or her own rights. More importantly, we should have an eye which can see these children and young people toiling in your neighbourhood workshops and farms, living on the streets or inside the home as child domestic labour or discriminated against in society or schools or cursed to destroy their bodies and souls as child brides or even widows.
I would like to propose a framework for inclusion and equity, to tackle the five key deficits that we face today:
- Knowledge or data deficit
- Capacity deficit
- Bias in socio-cultural attitudes
- Policy deficit
- Financial deficit
Therefore a four-pronged strategy could be worked out. National governments may develop time bound plans of action for inclusion with measured indicators as part of their overall education plans.
- Acknowledge, understand and assess the problem by
a. Identification of target groups and individuals
b. Categorisation or classification
c. Mapping (including in-depth community-led analysis)
- Improve policy coherence and interlink ages across government.
The problems of the unreached are more complex and multi-dimensional requiring a more comprehensive and inclusive education policy to be framed.
a. Coherence and harmonisation between intergovernmental agencies and ministries is equally important. For example, the ILO is the lead agency for child labour, UNODC for trafficking and crimes, WHO for health, UNICEF for child rights protection, UNHCR on migration, UNESCO for EFA and UNDP for poverty. Then you have the World Bank and IMF for lending and financial prescriptions.
b. There are treaties, convention and protocols on different issues as well as policies and programmes. I wonder, for instance, how many countries design their education plan in conjunction with the implementation of ILO convention on the minimum age for employment, or the worst forms of child labour, which are ratified by more than 130 and 160 countries respectively?
c. Similarly, no country can reach these unreached without a genuine co-ordination and co-operation between various ministries and departments and local, regional and national level.
d. Finally a genuine partnership with civil society, communities, parents, teachers, children, faith groups and others is a must to address the particular problems of bias and social taboos, as well as being involved in documenting and disseminating good practice. This should also discourage discrimination, commercialisation and privatisation of education and ensure quality.
- Revising costing, especially of programmes proven to have a positive impact on the demand for education from marginalised communities: abolition of user fees (including financing the expansion of capacity needed to cope with extra demand); mid-day meals, cash transfers, scholarship and other incentives for the poor and marginalised; special facilities in schools for children with disabilities; provision of separate sanitary facilities for girls. All these have implications for increased expenditure from both domestic and external sources. The Fast-Track Initiative must adapt and expand its ambition to ensure that plans submitted for endorsement do truly address the rights of all – not just the expansion of access for the majority. And, we need to see greater flexibility when it comes to financing education in fragile states.
- Fostering creativity, innovation, documenting and disseminating good practice. Creativity and innovation is a pre-requisite. There are effective initiatives taken by both government and non-governmental actors in bringing the light of education into the lives of millions. Take for example Bolsa Escola and Bolsa Familia from Brazil. Midday meals for millions of children in school time along with incentives for socially excluded children especially girls in India and food for education and other programmes to attract girls in schools in Bangladesh. Scholarships for girls are provided in Pakistan and Cambodia.
Although these great examples are not enough they do provide definite proofs that EFA for the hard-to-reach is not only possible but achievable. We must not forget that Education For All means FOR ALL!