The Ministers of Education of the E-9 countries, Bangladesh, Brazil, China, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Nigeria and Pakistan, met in Monterrey, Mexico, from 14 – 15 February 2006 to accelerate the progress and strengthen mutual cooperation in achieving Education for All (EFA). While the meeting made some welcome progress in discussions on improving the quality of basic education and on education for girls, it failed to take note of the situation of child labourers in these countries, which is the biggest impediment in the realization of Education for All and the attainment of the MDGs. It is ironic that these countries, which are affected with an endemic child labour problem, have remained deathly silent on the extent and depth of the problem that is turning the realization of the EFA in these countries a Herculean task.
Kailash Satyarthi, Chair, Global March Against Child Labour and President, Global Campaign for Education said, “ It was expected that the E-9 countries, led by the successful bold initiative of Bolsa Escola Familia from Brazil and the Government of India-led Indus Project on the elimination of child labour, would really sit together and deliberately look at the aggregate practical learning which will enable the E-9 countries to more realistically strategize in the future to bring children back to school, eliminating child labour. However, this was a missed opportunity for the E-9 countries and UNESCO to translate the mandate it received from the 5th EFA High Level Group (HLG) Meeting.”
Satyarthi also felt that the E-9 Education Ministers have failed to draw attention to the progress made at the fifth EFA HLG Meeting in Beijing with the establishment of the Global Task Force on child labour and Education, which could provide a boost to the countries committed to achieving EFA and the MDGs. He said that the Governments of the rich countries need to consider innovative financing mechanisms to the southern countries that are committed to eliminating child labour in their quest to achieve EFA and the MDGs.
Elie Jouen, Deputy Secretary General, Education International - the Global Union Federation for the education sector associated with the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions - expressed his dissatisfaction with the outcomes of the E-9 Summit. He mentioned that the “large southern countries have once again failed to demonstrate their political commitment in identifying and addressing the core issue of child labour as a practical obstacle in the realization of EFA. It was expected that this time around India, Brazil and China would show the way forward to the other countries by accepting the problem, but they lacked courage.”
The E-9 Education Ministers meet was opened by the Mexican President Vicente Fox Quesada who underscored the importance of quality education and the role of assessment in improving learning the outcomes of all children. This meeting was especially significant as it was built on the shared commitment from the last meeting in Cairo to revitalise the E-9 Initiative as a key element of South-South cooperation and to move from intent to action. The meeting recognized the challenges towards the realization of the EFA goals, particularly within the context of the E-9 countries being home to more than half the world’s population. Progress in these countries is fundamental to achieving the EFA goals because they account for:
• Over 70% of the world’s 771 million non-literate adults
• 45% of the world’s out-of-school children
These countries have some of the highest and most persistent gender and urban/rural disparities in schooling and adult literacy. In two-thirds of the E-9 countries, the Gross Enrolment Ratio in pre-primary education is still below 40%. The meeting recognized that not all countries have met the 2005 gender parity target and they committed to redoubling efforts to achieve progress exemplified by other E-9 countries, such as Bangladesh and India. Participants also shared concern on the persistence of low primary completion rates, high teacher-pupil ratios and the inadequate quality of schooling in some countries; indicators of the enormity and urgency of this issue. The meeting stressed the need to revitalize the crucial South-South cooperation in pursuit of EFA and to move from intention to action in making the EFA/E-9 partnership a force for leadership and innovation in EFA. Ministers reaffirmed their commitment to share experiences and expertise with other less developed countries that are less well-placed in their progress toward achieving EFA goals.