|UNICEF's Eminent Advocate for Children, Her Majesty Queen Rania of Jordan, at the opening ceremony of the Education for All high-level meeting held in Oslo, Norway.|
By Sonia Yeo
OSLO, Norway, 22 December 2008 – Heads of State, Ministers, leading officials from international organizations and agencies, and representatives from civil society and the private sector gathered together at the Education for All (EFA) High-Level Group meeting in Oslo, Norway last week. Their common goal: to accelerate progress towards achieving quality education for all girls and boys by 2015.
“Eight years ago, we reached a verdict,” said UNICEF’s Eminent Advocate for Children, Her Majesty Queen Rania of Jordan, at the opening ceremony. “We pledged to get girls into school at the World Education Forum and through the Millennium Development Goals. Yet, justice still eludes 41 million girls.”
Against the backdrop of the global financial crisis, the clear message from all participants was the need to remain vigilant that the economic crisis will not undermine the notable progress made in education to date.
Ignorance is expensive
“If you think education is expensive, try ignorance,” said Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, quoting former Harvard University President Derek Bok.
The EFA High-Level Group, hosted by UNESCO, is an annual gathering that for the first time was hosted in a donor country, sending a powerful signal to the international community on the urgent need for more sustained and effective support to education.
There are at least 40 million more children in primary school today than nine years ago. Gender parity is narrowing globally, school fees have been abolished in a number of countries and some of the world’s poorest countries have made dramatic progress. However, 75 million children are still out of school, more than half of them girls.
|© Simenstad, UD/2008|
|UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Hilde F. Johnson and Norwegian Minister of the Environment and International Development Erik Solheim sign an agreement to provide new funding for UNICEF with a focus on girls' education.|
Inequalities must be addressed
According to the ‘EFA Global Monitoring Report 2009’, which informed the meeting, persistent inequalities based on income and gender must urgently be addressed in order to achieve universal access to primary education. A lack of resources, qualified teachers, appropriate water and sanitation facilities, safety and security were cited as some of the challenges that need to be addressed to reach the most disadvantaged.
“All of these challenges are difficult, but not one is insurmountable,” said Queen Rania. “It isn’t often that the logic behind a policy is so clear. But when it comes to the value of educating girls, the evidence speaks for itself.”
Speakers raised the need to explore innovative approaches such as better use of technology, modernized vocational education, improved monitoring and evaluation, scaling up of best practices and improving quality.
Speaking for those without a voice
“The biggest revolution is in the field of girls’ education,” Minister of Environment and International Development Erik Solheim said at a ministerial lunch hosted by the Norwegian Government. “We see dramatic change in one generation, with girls doing better in Norwegian education in every topic, except for gym.”
|UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Angélique Kidjo speaks at the Education for All meeting.|
Gender in education was a persistent theme throughout the meeting, with advocates such as UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Angélique Kidjo speaking on behalf of those without a voice.
“We want the same thing for our African children as you have in Norway,” said Ms. Kidjo. “We have to do everything in our capacity to ensure girls go and stay in school.”
At the luncheon, the United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative (UNGEI) nominated Mr. Solheim and Danish Minister of Development Cooperation Ulla Tornaes as the first UNGEI Global Champions.
Girls’ education, key to development
A report released by UNGEI, ‘Transforming Policy and Practice for Gender in Education: a Gender Review of the 2009 Global Monitoring Report’, notes that women and girls are affected disproportionately in times of global crisis. The report goes on to show how investing in girls’ education is key to mitigating the effects of such crises and accelerating progress toward the EFA goals and the MDGs.
Following the luncheon, UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Hilde F. Johnson Mr. Solheim sealed an agreement to provide additional funding to UNICEF’s programmes for children, with a particular focus on girls. Approximately $159 million will be given for the 2008-09 period – an increase of $9 million over previous years. Eighty five per cent will go toward supporting UNICEF programmes in basic education and gender equality.
"Let us not forget that every child has a right to education,” said Mr. Solheim. “Together with UNICEF, we now focus on reaching the girls and the many children living in countries experiencing situations of fragility who still do not have access to basic education.”
Added Ms. Johnson: "Education, and especially girls' education, is a critical investment in the future. When girls go to school, every development goal set by the international community becomes achievable."
News note: Norway contributes $159 million to UNICEF under new cooperation programme
Education for All
EFA Global Monitoring Report 2009
(external link, opens in a new window)