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The fourth General Assembly GCE

14 March 2011: The fourth General Assembly of the Global Campaign for Education (GCE) was held in Paris, France, from 22 to 25 February 2011 at an important time in terms of significantly reduced funding and momentum to achieve the Education For All (EFA) goals and Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 2 and growing challenges regarding education quality and the impact of civil conflict and natural disasters on education provision as highlighted by this year’s Global Monitoring Report. The Global March delegation at the Assembly included Chairperson Kailash Satyarthi, Governing Board members Mr Elie Jouen, Mr Cleophas Mally and Ms Ana Vasquez Gardini, and Executive Director Nick Grisewood.

Call to action by GCE President

In his opening address to the more than 200 participants from national and regional education coalitions and organisations from around the world, outgoing GCE president and Global March Chairperson Kailash Satyarthi reminded the assembly that they represent the hopes and aspirations of the poor, the abject and the vulnerable worldwide and they needed to ensure that the dream of education for all could be realised. “Education is the solution to poverty and marginalisation,” he said. “ It is vital in tackling education for all that the EFA effort is closely linked to other important development issues, such as child labour elimination, social exclusion, health, gender and cultural inequality, and that it is mainstreamed across all development programmes and resources.”

He underlined the need for the international community to make good on its commitment to finance EFA and particularly the Fast-Track Initiative (FTI). He acknowledged the challenges facing all countries today, particularly in developing regions, due to the global economic crisis and now the food security crisis. These challenges affect progress in education and the number of people in abject poverty around the world is increasing. “More hunger and greater social tensions will inevitably impact on education,” he said. “People are losing their jobs. Families are going hungry. And child labour is increasing.”

In this context, the Assembly was being held at a crucial moment and he called on GCE delegates to continue their vital advocacy work to ensure that national governments and the international community realise that education is key to the recovery effort. In closing, Mr Satyarthi emphasised the following: “We need to convince the G20 to keep education high on its core agenda and strengthen South-South partnerships. Education is for today, not tomorrow.”

Public conference demands increased education investment

The first day of the Assembly was a public conference on the theme “Financing quality public education: A right for all”. The conference tackled key issues related to quality public education, including the need to fight continued barriers to education for girls and women, securing the necessary resources to achieve MDG 2, early childhood education and the learning challenge and the need to focus on quality, particularly in terms of learning outcomes.

Speaking on the panel dealing with financing of education, former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown echoed the words of Kailash Satyarthi by calling on world leaders to invest in education arguing that it is the “central agenda” to help the global economy recover. Mr Brown, who co-convenes the GCE’s high-level panel with Ms Graça Machel, said: “We stand here today not just united in our demand of education for all, but certain that only when it is delivered will the world's economic recovery be achieved and a future of jobs and justice be secured. There is no greater investment than in the life of a child.”

He expressed his anger and frustration that young people were being forced to bear the brunt of the global recession and expressed his appreciation to the GCE and its members for carrying the torch for education for all in the world. He reminded delegates that what is considered impossible one day, is possible today and that the GCE must focus on making change irresistible. In closing, he highlighted three key areas for future focus:

The need to establish an Africa Infrastructure Fund to build schools and develop and strengthen education infrastructure.

The need to train more teachers, at least two million each year.

The need to ensure access to new technology, especially the internet, for education and social development.

The rallying cry for more and more immediate resources was taken up by Mr Satyarthi in his presentation on financing. He said: “If we carry on at the current rate, it will take 100 years or more to achieve the EFA goals. We are in a situation of education emergency and education activists must reject the growing opinion that there are no more funds to support education investment.” He went on to outline three key points to secure financing:

To encourage all governments to spend 20 per cent of their budgets on education and to put pressure on the IMF and other international finance institutions to be more flexible in their economic policies as education is key to economic recovery.

To mobilise additional resources through Official Development Assistance (ODA) to ensure that the financing gap is addressed.

To call for the establishment and enactment of an International Financial Transactions Tax and other innovative proposals to generate public funds for education.

Mr Fred van Leeuwen, General Secretary of Education International (EI), underlined the importance of the GCE stating that “… We need the campaign more than ever before …”. He reminded delegates that MDG 2 focuses only on basic education but it is vital to focus on the next education steps as well to ensure the emergence of societies with democratic growth to provide children with a future. He warned the international community to take heed of the current social upheavals in North Africa and the Middle East as disaffected youth is a social timebomb that must be addressed and education is central to this approach. “It is not a question of if governments should take action, but that they must do it to address the widening gap of social inequalities. Growth must be equitable.”

He welcomed the renewed interest of the World Bank in quality teachers for quality learning and hoped that this would impact on their professional training and working conditions. He deplored the approach of using teachers as scapegoats for bad education and underlined the need to invest in teachers to improve education. “Teachers are committed,” he said. “But other societal actors must own up to their responsibilities. Recruitment of non-professional teachers must stop.”

Mr Qian Tang, Assistant Director-General for the Education Sector, UNESCO, echoed the comments of the speakers and highlighted that where real and sustained progress was made in education was in those countries where national expenditure was increased. “Combining political will and domestic finance make a major difference. Aid should complement and not replace national financing,” he said. Nevertheless, the drop in funding availability had been felt in all developing countries and it was felt most acutely in those countries which had limited or no social protection plans in place for the most vulnerable. Mr Tang went on to emphasise the need to address inequalities in education and to improve the quality of learning outcomes.

Education quality under scrutiny

The issue of the quality of education was also closely examined in the public conference and throughout the Assembly, including in terms of debate on the resolutions. This is an important aspect in terms of ensuring that education for all addresses the special needs and expectations of hardest to reach children, which includes child labourers. Indeed, many working children have either never been to school or struggle to combine working and going to school at the expense of maximising their learning outcomes. Until education for all addresses the learning needs and expectations of these marginalised and vulnerable children, then child labour will remain a feature of societies around the world.

Two key presentations by RTI International and the Hewlett Foundation focused on research into learning outcomes in several selected countries to better assess the real impact of the EFA effort in terms of what children actually learn. Literacy is particularly important in this respect as it underpins all other areas of a child’s education. If a child cannot read then this will affect learning capacities in all other subjects whether of a scientific or arts nature. The presentations highlighted the need to introduce new and simpler indicators to assess learning outcomes, for example, the ability of a child to be able to read a sentence or paragraph out loud. Other simple indicators could include being able to write a sentence or paragraph and doing straightforward mathematical sums. However, enrolment and completion rates do not tell the whole story.

According to the initial indications of research into the area of quality, while still only in a limited number of countries, there would appear to be a serious learning crisis emerging. The speakers from RTI International and the Hewlett Foundation expressed the urgent need for the GCE and others to rally around a global call to action to raise awareness of the problems in education in terms of learning outcomes and to take urgent steps to address quality challenges through the establishment of more focused indicators. This would have the added value of improving the effectiveness of resources.

Development under new GCE leadership

Assembly delegates discussed and adopted a number of important resolutions, dealing with among other things the need for public resources and democratic ownership to ensure an available, accessible, acceptable and adaptable public education. In addition, delegates agreed on the need to focus on all aspects of EFA, including improved youth and adult education to support social change and equalities and improved access to early childhood education to underpin children’s successful transition to school. Resolutions on strengthening the GCE’s engagement in girls’ education and women’s literacy, focusing on the role and needs of teachers in ensuring the delivery of quality education and addressing the needs and expectations of children and youth with disabilities were also adopted unanimously. There were important discussions on necessary reforms to the functioning and communications of the GCE and its secretariat, including agreeing to have Portuguese as a fifth official language of the GCE and planning a comprehensive review of its constitution.

It was a poignant Assembly from the perspective of Global March as an organisation and Chairperson Kailash Satyarthi as an individual as he stepped down from the Presidency of the GCE, a position he has held since the creation of GCE in 1999. Addressing delegates before the elections, Mr Satyarthi explained that he felt it was time to hand over the baton of responsibility to a new President and that he would not stand for a further term. However, he reassured the Assembly that he would always remain with the organisation in spirit and Global March would continue to assume its full responsibilities as a founding member and in contributing to the continued development of the GCE in the build up to 2015.

Kailash Satyarthi and Elie Jouen were elected for the two Global March seats on the GCE Board and will therefore continue to ensure a voice for child labourers in the EFA movement. Other members of the GCE Board are:

President – Ms Camilla Croso (Latin American Campaign for the Right to Education, CLADE)
Chair – Ms Monique Fouilhoux (Education International)
Vice-President – Ms Jennifer Chiwela (Africa Network Campaign on Education For All, ANCEFA)
Vice-Chair – Ms Maria Khan (Asia South Pacific Association for Basic and Adult Education, ASPBAE)
Mr Bright Appiah (Ghana National Education Campaign Coalition, Ghana)
Ms Rasheda Choudhury (Campaign for Popular Education, Bangladesh)
Mr Alberto Croce (Campaign for the Right to Education, Argentina)
Ms Helle Gudmansden (Education for Development, IBIS, Denmark)
Mr Refaat Sabbat (Arab Coalition for Education For All, ACEA)
Mr David Archer (ActionAid International)
Mr Imad Sabi (Oxfam International)
Ms Assibi Napoe (Education International)

In a message to GCE members following her election as the new GCE President, Ms Croso said: “Our discussions on policy issues and internal governance were inspiring for our efforts to fully implement the human right to education and shall guide our work in the coming years. Furthermore, having the opportunity to share so many experiences across all the continents strengthens our global movement and collective action. On behalf of the new Board, let me say that we look forward to working with you closely over the coming years in our continued fight towards ensuring everyone has fully realised their human right to education.”

Global March: An active member of GCE at all levels

The work of the GCE is central to efforts to restructure and re-launch the Global March as a vibrant, inclusive, coherent and dynamic movement to eliminate child labour and ensure the right of all children to free, public and good quality education. In this respect, the organisation will be working to ensure it continues to play an engaged and active role in the work of GCE, particularly in the area of inclusive and quality education.

Global March also calls on its members and partners to be similarly active in national and regional EFA and GCE movements and to ensure that the voice of child labourers continues to be heard and that the issue of their educational needs, expectations and aspirations are mainstreamed in all educational development and reforms. In particular, members and partners are encouraged to give careful consideration to the Assembly resolutions that were adopted and to use these as advocacy tools in their relations with GCE at all levels and in their work more generally. A link to these can be found below.

For more detailed information on the work of the GCE, visit its web site: www.campaignforeducation.org (available in Arabic, English, French and Spanish)

For more information on the 4th Assembly, click here (this page includes downloads of keynote presentations which contain useful information to support advocacy efforts on the promotion of quality education and EFA)

For the full list of participants at the Assembly, click here (it would be important to identify national and regional organisations and activists in strengthening networks on education, child labour and child rights generally)

For the full list and details of the new GCE Board members, click here

For a full list of the Assembly resolutions, click here (please note that these are only available in English and Arabic at present and other languages will be made available subsequently)

For the full speech of Gordon Brown, click here

For the GCE press release on the 4th Assembly, click here