NGO News Desk :: 27 September 2012: It has been interesting for me, especially as a former journalist, to witness the frenetic behind-the-scene workings of the UN General Assembly this week.
I have spent the last 48 hours with our specialist policy and advocacy team. Our ambition is to align our Because I am a Girl campaign ambitions for girls and quality education with the Education First* initiative which the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has just announced.
Among the policy makers and education specialists, there is excitement and hope about Education First. For years education has been perceived to have taken something of a back seat to the very high level UN priorities of childhood and maternal health and child survival.
There has been no education equivalent of the Every Woman, Every Child strategy, which has attracted many prestigious backers and new funds. The very low levels of aid funding given to education – in the low single percentage figures – is surprising and shocking, when there appears on the surface to be a consensus about the importance of education in lifting communities and children out of poverty.
At a side-meeting organised by the Global Campaign for Education, there were shafts of light about the struggle education has had to get its fair share of attention and resources.
The ostensible focus of the discussion concerned how we close the trained teacher gap. The UN’s new Special Envoy for Education, former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown, shared some startling figures about the shortage of trained teachers: some 2 million globally of which around half of this huge deficit is in Africa.
Girl education gap
In South Sudan (the world’s newest country and one of its poorest) there are only 400 girls aged 14-15 in school when there should be some 100,000 – one in 250. There are more girls in 3 secondary schools in Oxford, UK, where I live than in the whole of South Sudan, which has a population of 10 million people. I found it almost impossible to comprehend the scale of that gap.
Brown’s contribution tees up a very thoughtful speech from Amina Mohammed, the Secretary General’s special adviser on post 2015 Development Planning, and former Nigerian Minister. She tells a fascinating story of how the nuanced goals around Education for All, which was launched in the 1990s, became overtaken by the priorities of the Millennium Development Goals – especially MDG Goal 2, with its emphasis on school access at primary level.
In the view of many, there was an unfortunate trade off: access is of course vital but it is not guarantor of a decent education. As Amina put it, we have put “children through education, but not education through them”. Governments by implication could tick the access numbers box but we all know that is a crude indicator of the success of an education system.
So, like a pendulum, the post MDG debate will move to balancing the easily measurable (access) to issues of quality with one focus being on how we close that quality teacher gap. And that means persuading national governments to spend more of their own budgets on the quality and number of teachers, with aid budgets providing support for strategic planning.
Paying teachers is not a one off cost: it is recurrent and so aid can only have a limited impact.
It will not be enough for politicians to turn all misty eyed when they remember the name of the teacher who shaped their education and turn a blind eye to the fact that a lack of teachers means their local school is overcrowded with enormous class sizes.
If they don’t act, the kids will not be in the fortunate position to remember the names of their teachers. They simply won’t have any and those that have a teacher will continue to see them leaving in despair.
Join Plan’s Because I am a Girl campaign: Raise Your Hand to support girls’ right to education.