Education for all is still a dream

The global Education for All project has been a success even though it has not met all of its goals. More efforts are needed, particularly to support the primary education of minorities.

The eighth and final report issued by the project indicates that only one third of all countries in the world have fulfilled the Education for All objectives set by UNESCO in 2000. Only half of the world's countries have attained the objectives relating to universal primary education open to all. In fact, the improvement rate of adult literacy has deteriorated.

Nevertheless, the global situation for education is not all bleak, points out Analyst Asma Zubairi, who worked on the report.

“If we compare the current global trend to the 1990s, the situation has clearly improved,” Zubairi points out.

“Despite the population growth in the poorest countries, an increasing percentage of children begin school everywhere in the world. Globally, this means millions of pupils in school.”

The World Education Forum convened last week to evaluate the attainment of the Education for All goals and the Millennium goals set by the UN. The Forum also agreed on a joint stand on education as part of the sustainable development goals for after the year 2015, which the UN countries will approve in September 2015.

Higher threshold for minorities

In April, Zubairi visited the University of Helsinki to introduce the most recent Education for All report. The report highlighted problematic areas alongside its positive message.

­“The situation is most difficult in unstable or war-torn countries, such as Iraq. After them, the most challenging region is sub-Saharan Africa,” Zubairi explains.

Ethnic and religious minorities facing discrimination are in a particularly difficult situation. Their children are significantly less likely to attend school than those of the mainstream population on average.

“Discrimination can take the form of requiring school uniforms or textbook fees. The resulting expenses can pose an insurmountable obstacle for certain children’s schooling,” Zubari explains.

Overall the problem is also about money. For free primary education to become a reality everywhere in the world, at least 20 billion euros of additional funding are required during the period ending in 2030.

What can Finland do?

One cornerstone of equal education is high-quality teacher training, states Professor Gunilla Holm, who heads the Nordic Centre of Excellence Justice through Education in the Nordic Countries

“Countries with underdeveloped education systems often suffer from a lack of qualified teachers. While we are improving children's opportunities to attend school, we should also invest in supporting teacher training in these countries.”

Building a teacher training system from the ground up will not happen overnight – a great deal of time and resources are required. This is where Finland could help.

“Finnish teacher training is well-known everywhere in the world, so Finland could help develop teacher training in different countries,” says Professor Holm.

The Education for All goals were published in April simultaneously in several countries. The announcement in Finland took place at an event organised by the University of Helsinki with participation from the Nordic Centre of Excellence Justice through Education in the Nordic Countries, the Faculty of Behavioural Sciences and the Global South network.

Education for All project on the UNESCO website.