EFA and the MDGs are political commitments to education and development

Besides international human rights law and national laws, there are also important political commitments in the field of education. The two over-arching and most influential ones are Education for All (EFA) and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

In April 2000, the international community adopted the Dakar Framework for Action on Education for All and identified six goals to be met by 2015:

  • Goal 1: Expand early childhood care and education
  • Goal 2: Provide free and compulsory primary education for all
  • Goal 3: Promote learning and life skills for young people and adults
  • Goal 4: Increase adult literacy
  • Goal 5: Achieve gender parity
  • Goal 6: Improve the quality of education

In September 2000, States adopted the United Nations Millennium Declaration, which set eight Millennium Development Goals to end world poverty; these are also to be achieved by 2015. Two of these goals relate to education:

  • Goal 2: Achieve universal primary education
  • Goal 3: Promote gender equality and empower women

EFA and the MDGs do not create legal obligations for States; they are only political commitments. If a State does not achieve EFA and the MDGs, they cannot be held legally accountable.

They do not cover all aspects of the right to education as defined in international law. For instance, MDG 2 only focuses on achieving universal primary education. EFA has a broader spectrum covering the different levels of education from early childhood to lifelong learning, including quantitative and qualitative goals. But in practice, States have focused their attention on access to primary education and gender equality, neglecting the other fundamental aspects of the right to education.

They set up quantitative targets to be achieved in a specific time. However, the right to education as guaranteed by international law creates immediate obligations for States, including the right to free and compulsory primary education.

2015 marks the deadline for achieving both EFA and the MDGs. The reality is they will not be achieved. There are still 131 million children of primary and lower secondary school age out of school and 755 million non-literate adults (UIS Global Education Digest 2012). Marginalised groups, including girls, are still left behind and there is serious concern all over the world with regard to poor quality education.

The international community is having a global consultation to define a new framework for post-2015. Civil society organisations play a key role and have shared their views on education in this new framework (see “resources”). The UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Education has also made recommendations with respect to the future agenda.

There is a strong call for a human rights-based post-2015 agenda aimed at achieving equity and social justice with more transparency and accountability.

The right to education plays a key role in achieving EFA and the MDGs and is central in the context of the post-2015 agenda. As underlined by the UN Special Rapporteur, “all development goals have educational dimensions and the right to education provides indispensable leverage for development.” Linking States’ obligations on the right to education with political commitments is fundamental to achieving the full realisation of the right to education for everyone and to make States accountable.