The World Education Forum (WEF), held from May 19 to 22 in Incheon, South Korea, lived up to hopes and expectations that it would be a pivotal moment in the history of the Education for All movement. The Government of the Republic of Korea graciously hosted this gathering providing superb hospitality and a constant and inspiring reminder about the transformational power of consistent investments in quality education that Korea stands for.
Global education leaders and policy makers, including 150 ministers from around the world as well as many multilateral institutions like the Global Partnership for Education, civil society and non-governmental organizations effectively sealed a broad-based consensus to implement the Education 2030 Framework for Action, which will be formally adopted later this year.
That consensus was far from certain when many parties engaged in the hard work of hammering it out over the last year and more. UNESCO deserves enormous credit for its persistent and successful stewardship of the process. Enriching panel discussions focused on crucial topics and energized participants to tackle the challenges ahead.
The Incheon Declaration
The most tangible evidence of the consensus is what will now be known as the Incheon Declaration, which clarifies the path the international community has committed to for the next 15 years. The Declaration states:
“We commit with a sense of urgency to a single, renewed education agenda that is holistic, ambitious and aspirational, leaving no one behind. This new vision is fully captured by the proposed SDG 4 “Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote life-long learning opportunities for all” and its corresponding targets. It is transformative and universal, attends to the ‘unfinished business’ of the EFA agenda and the education-related MDGs, and addresses global and national education challenges.”
The Global Partnership for Education welcomes and fully endorses the new global education goal (or SDG 4) which is far more ambitious than the Education for All and Millennium Development Goals that preceded it. The new goal sets out a comprehensive vision for education that is central to the implementation of all other post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals.
Formalizing the role of the Global Partnership for Education
We are no doubt also pleased that the Incheon Declaration specifically singles out the Global Partnership and recommends it play a central role in the implementation of the post-2015 education agenda. The declaration states:
"To this end, we entrust UNESCO, in consultation with Member States, the WEF 2015 co-convenors and other partners, to develop an appropriate global coordination mechanism. Recognizing the Global Partnership for Education as a multi-stakeholder financing platform for education to support the implementation of the agenda according to the needs and priorities of the countries, we recommend that it be part of this future global coordination mechanism.”
This represents a major pivot point in the history of the Global Partnership itself. It formalizes the role of the Global Partnership as part of the post-2015 global coordination mechanism along with the core UN agencies and the World Bank. This is a welcome recognition of the work and achievements of the Global Partnership, and we are both humbled and proud to have earned the confidence of the global community to play a critical role for a long time to come in efforts to educate the world’s children.
Immediately following the WEF, the Global Partnership’s Board of Directors met in Korea and reviewed the mission and vision of the Global Partnership to inform the preparations of a new five-year Strategic Plan (2016 to 2020). This new strategic plan will align the work of the Global Partnership with the implementation architecture of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Financing for Education will continue to be a key priority
But to achieve such an ambitious 2030 agenda for education as contained in the new SDGs will require moving far beyond business as usual. We must leverage all of the current sources of spending in education to focus on equity and quality to achieve better results.
This was also highlighted in a statement on education financing issued by 19 education ministers from GPE partner developing countries on the margins of WEF. The ministers “committed to increasing our domestic financing significantly in order to achieve equitable and inclusive quality education” and to “taking concrete steps and joint actions to deliver a better quality education for all populations, including the most marginalized and vulnerable.”
But they also noted the significant funding gap for meeting basic education goals in their countries.
"We believe that the total resource gap cannot be closed without dramatically increased efforts in external financing for education and we are deeply concerned that the Global Partnership for Education Fund target of US$3.5 billion over four years has not been met. The Global Partnership for Education is key to mobilizing global and national efforts to achieve quality education for all children, prioritizing the poorest and most vulnerable, through inclusive partnership, financing and a focus on effective education systems."
That’s an important reminder that increasing financing for education is one of our biggest priorities this year and for the foreseeable future. Financing will be at the center of two important meetings in July: the Oslo Summit on Education for Development and the Financing for Development Conference in Addis Ababa. They will set the tone for the final UN summit in September where the new SDGs will be approved.
If the enthusiasm we witnessed at the World Education Forum in Incheon is any indicator, we might well be seeing the beginning of a new and enhanced push to bring quality education to the world’s children in the coming decade and a half. Our hope is that, 15 years or more from now, we’ll look back at Incheon as the time and place where the international community made all the difference.