Ready, set, educate

As the 2015 target date for the Millennium Development Goals draws nearer and the 18th Conference of Commonwealth Education Ministers approaches, Marcie Shaoul believes it’s time to evaluate how close we have come in the pursuit of universal primary education, to examine why there are still so many children without access to quality schooling and to explore new approaches to achieving these goals.

On 8 July, the Commonwealth Countries League cheered on runners of varying abili­ties as they took part in the British 10k race around the city of London, raising money to enable children around the Common­wealth to go to school. Most of the runners, of which I was one, had been educated in the UK, and had been privileged to have received compulsory education. We were running because, although we may not have enjoyed double maths or chemistry, there are children out there who value what they cannot access. And rightly so. We were run­ning because, essentially, we believe that education is the starting point for a peace­ful, prosperous, tolerant world.

According to Koichiro Matsuura, former Director-General of UNESCO (1999- 2009), education is one of the principal means with which to build the “defences of peace”. Access to education is a hu­man right, and is essential in the quest for healthy societies and economies. The po­tential of education as a fundamental factor to achieving these aspirations will only be realised if it is made universally accessible to every human being on the planet.

The long-awaited answer to the question of how to secure this access is still elusive. As 2015 draws near – the target date for the Mil­lennium Development Goals (MDGs) – we are not much closer to being able to say that we have achieved MDG2, that children every­where can complete their primary education.

In August in Mauritius, the Conference of Commonwealth Education Ministers (CCEM) will take place for the final time before the conclusion of the MDGs, provid­ing an opportunity for ministers to set the education agenda for the next three years. With the global financial crisis still biting, the urgent need to sort out access to educa­tion and the issues surrounding the Com­monwealth’s education goals, the pressure on ministers to deliver is enormous.

Ministers must remember, though, that they are not alone. There are ways in which solutions can be found, namely by reach­ing out to the people of the Commonwealth and harnessing the expertise of educators and students within the network. One way of achieving that is through the Stakehold­ers’ Forum taking place in the wings of the 18CCEM. The Commonwealth Foundation will convene a critical gathering of civil society actors who will bring to their gov­ernments’ attention the fact that the Com­monwealth is severely failing to meet its education objectives, namely educating as many children and people as possible.

There are many factors at work that pre­vent children from going to school. Money is a big one, so is conflict, as is the global financial crisis. The Stakeholders’ Forum will not be able to provide solutions to all these problems, but if ministers will listen, that will be a formidable start.

However, in all our negotiations, we must not limit ourselves to looking only to the immediate future. A frequently occurring problem in the Commonwealth is the ‘brain drain’, the mass migration of key workers to richer countries, including teachers. Without the knowledge and skills of these teachers in countries where children have difficulty ac­cessing basic education, leaders will struggle to make any improvements to increasing the standard of their school systems.

So, as I and many others crossed the finish line in London, making a small dif­ference in a few people’s lives, the Stake­holders’ Forum was gearing up to convene education professionals from all over the Commonwealth to make a bigger differ­ence by debating solutions to these and oth­er issues. It will be up to ministers to take the forum’s recommendations on board. In so doing they will stand a chance of having as big an impact as possible before dawn breaks on 1 January 2016 and the MDGs are a thing of the past.

About the author:

Marcie Shaoul is Head of External Affairs at the Commonwealth Foundation


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