What Happened to Education in the Financing for Development Conference, 13-16 July 2015, Addis Ababa?

By Kenneth King, Editor NORRAG News.

What was the Education angle in the Financing for Development (FFD) Conference? Did the FFD Conference confirm the Education Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) and Targets? How did the approach of the Outcome document of the FFD differ from the Incheon Declaration?

In the approximately 200 side events attached to the FFD in Addis, education and skills development were not that visible. There were over 6,000 participants in the conference, but very few of these had education as their principal focus. Perhaps because of the sequence of events from the World Education Forum (WEF) in Korea in May, to the Oslo Education Summit in early July, to Addis in mid-July, there was one, high-level side event sponsored by Korea, Norway, Ethiopia and UNESCO, focusing on The Investment Case for Education. A second equally key side event involving education was one jointly supported by the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria, the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) and UNAIDS on Financing Health and Education. This was one of the few events promoting two distinct sectors in one panel. But that was about the extent of education events in Addis.

Apart from the Ethiopian Minister of Education, there were few other Education Ministers. This is entirely understandable. As a financing conference, Finance Ministers were omnipresent. And the issues and debates in the side events, the corridors and the plenary sessions were about ‘tax reform’, ‘domestic resource mobilization’, ‘blended finance’, ‘multi-stakeholder partnerships’, ‘from billions to trillions’, ‘Islamic finance’, and of course ‘ development cooperation’. A whole library of materials could have been collected on these topics at the side events.

By contrast, there were lean pickings on education. Just the EFA GMR’s Policy Paper 18 on Pricing the right to education; a couple of promotional flyers from GPE on ‘Quality education for all children’ and ‘Key results’; the two-pager ‘Oslo Declaration’ from the Education Summit; and the 20 paragraphs of the Incheon Declaration: Education 2030 in UNESCO’s six languages.

The last few lines of the Oslo Declaration, a week before the FFD, had some text that ‘insists’ the FFD ‘commits to a scaling up of investments and international cooperation for education’ (Oslo, 2015: 2). This did not happen, but then there was almost no revision in Addis of the Outcome document text.  However, Oslo did set up a ‘Commission on the financing of global education opportunities’ to report before the UNGA on post-2015 in September 2016.

The final version of the Outcome document of the Third International Conference on Financing for Development (also called the Addis Ababa Action Agenda [AAAA]) did contain quite a range of material relating to education, skills, capacity development, human resource development, and science, technology, engineering and maths.

We shall just note the way that education and skills are in fact handled in the Outcome document even if there is no reference to the seven education targets linked to Incheon’s draft Framework for Action. There is a sense in which the Addis text is less school-based than Incheon.

Early on in the document (para.7), in the Section on ‘A Global Framework’, there is a powerful claim about the investment impact of education on sustainable development, and on the importance of supporting countries facing particular challenges. The ‘rights of all children’ are to be protected and no child is to be left behind.

In the same section (para. 16), in a key paragraph on productive employment and decent work for all, there is the first mention of skills, in connection with supporting credit for small and micro-enterprises. There is to be ‘adequate skills development training for all, especially for youth and entrepreneurs’.

Intriguingly, the first full paragraph (78) on formal education comes in the Section on ‘International Development Cooperation’. This, rather inappropriately, suggests that education is closely connected to official development assistance (ODA). The text’s most general affirmation is the intention to scale up ‘investments and international cooperation’ to ‘allow all children to complete free, equitable, inclusive and quality early childhood, primary and secondary education’. This language is directly reminiscent of Incheon; and there is even, like Incheon, the reference to a strengthened role for the Global Partnership for Education. Clearly, there is a strong perception in the Outcome document that global education provision is linked to ODA.

There is a crucially important acknowledgement of education and skills in the key Section on ‘Science, technology, innovation and capacity building’ (para. 119). This time, the language is rather different from that of Incheon. Now, science, technology, engineering and maths education (STEM), TVET, and tertiary education are seen to be essential elements in science, technology and innovation strategies. The Outcome document goes beyond Incheon in its proposal not just to strengthen tertiary education systems, but to ‘increase access to online education in areas related to sustainable development’.

Addis also goes further than Incheon in a powerful paragraph (115) in the same Section about the vital role of ‘capacity development’ being ‘integral to achieving the post-2015 development agenda’.

Addis, finally, goes beyond Incheon in encouraging technology transfer between foreign companies and local enterprises, including the transfer of knowledge and skills (para.117). But it underlines, in addition, the key role of ‘traditional knowledge, innovations and practices of indigenous peoples and local communities’ and the rights of people to maintain, control, protect and develop their traditional knowledge and culture.

Four points may be made about the education commitments in this Outcome document of FFD.

First, despite the key priority of domestic resource mobilization in the document (and in the conference more generally), it is only through scaling up ‘investments and international cooperation’, including through strengthening the GPE, that the main pledge about education at different levels is made.

Second, though the draft covers in its own language, however briefly, most of the target items from the Incheon Framework for Action, it contains no reference to adult literacy, numeracy or adult education, and there is no mention of global citizenship education (GCED), or education for sustainable development (ESD).

Third, the commitment to STEM and TVET comes in a section of the document concerned with science, technology, innovation and capacity building. This is quite separate from the earlier commitment to education, under international development cooperation.

Lastly, and most importantly, the Addis Ababa Outcome document covered all of the 17 SDGs but treated them according to its own priorities, and without feeling the need to reproduce the text of the goals and targets of the SDGs. It thus avoided the situation faced by the World Education Forum where it could not effectively discuss or even agree the Education Targets in case these might be later changed by the UN processes leading up to the UNGA summit in September 2015.

A final, final point. We can’t sensibly contrast the Incheon Declaration with the Outcome document of the FFD. The former is entirely concerned with a single sector, Education, and it deals quite effectively with many of the arguments for an ambitious investment in education. But it does so in just three pages. The Addis Ababa Action Agenda (or Outcome document) covers the whole spectrum of the global governance and financing of development in 38 pages. Its mandate is to review at the highest level all the dimensions of finance, trade and aid, not to mention tax, debt, science, technology and innovation, and capacity building. It does however pay very serious attention to the role of education, skills and knowledge for development as we have shown above.

Kenneth King is the Editor of NORRAG News. He is an Emeritus Professor at the School of Social and Political Studies, University of Edinburgh, Scotland, UK. Email:Kenneth.king@ed.ac.uk

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