Basic education and gender equality

Education for All

© UNICEF/HQ04-0361/Furrer

Education is a basic human right. Like all human rights, it is universal and inalienable—everyone, regardless of gender, religion, ethnicity or economic status, is entitled to it.

Yet in 2006, 93 million children—more than the total population of the Phillippines—were not in school. Almost 80 percent of these children lived in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. For too many children, the basic human right to education is a pipe dream, an idea that has not become reality.

In 1990, the international community gathered in Jomtien, Thailand, to affirm its commitment to achieving universal education at the World Conference on Education for All. As part of the resulting EFA (Education for All) initiative, a broad coalition of governments, NGOs and development agencies committed themselves to six goals aimed at providing education to “every citizen in every society”:

  • Expanding and improving early childhood care and education, especially for the most vulnerable children;
  • Ensuring that by 2015, all children, particularly girls and the disadvantaged, have access to quality free and compulsory primary  education; 
  • Eliminating gender disparities in primary and secondary education by 2005, and achieving gender equality in education by 2015; 
  • Ensuring that the learning needs of all young people and adults are met through equitable access to appropriate learning and life skills  programmes; 
  • Achieving a 50 percent improvement in levels of adult literacy by 2015, especially for women, and offering equitable access to basic and continuing education to all adults;
  • Improving all aspects of the quality of education and ensuring excellence.

Underlying these goals is the realization that mere access to education is not sufficient—the quality and duration of education is equally important. In many developing countries, less than 60 percent of primary school pupils who enroll in first grade reach the last grade of schooling. Children must not only enroll in school; they must complete it. And human rights values and principles must be the guiding force in the classroom.

The EFA agenda assumes that public policy can radically transform education systems and their relation to society given adequate political will and resources, and that national policies and implementation must emphasize inclusion, literacy, quality and capacity development.

In 2000, with targets far from being met, 164 countries attending the World Education Forum in Dakar, Senegal, adopted the Dakar Framework for Action, which reaffirmed the EFA goal of achieving quality basic education for all by 2015, with particular emphasis on girls' education. Later that year, two EFA goals were incorporated in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) for achieving universal primary education, promoting gender equality and empowering women.
Indeed, EFA goals are critical to attaining all the MDGs. Education can improve health, increase environmental sustainability and help eradicate poverty and hunger. In turn, achieving the MDGs will help children access and benefit from quality education.

As one of the five EFA conveners, UNICEF is a key contributor to EFA, responsible for education in emergencies, early childhood care and technical and policy support.

Achieving Education for All will require a truly global commitment. Governments, civil society, development agencies and the media must work together to help every child, in every country in the world, realize his or her inalienable right to a quality education.




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