Last week representatives from civil society coalitions working on education from 28 countries in the Asia and South Pacific region met in Hanoi. They came together to discuss how to maximize the final four months of advocacy and campaign work before the Global Partnership for Education financing conference, which will take place in Dakar, Senegal, in February 2018.
The road to the GPE financing conference
The level of energy and commitment present during the three-day meeting of the Asia South Pacific Association for Basic and Adult Education (ASPBAE) showed how civil society are primed and ready to attack the learning crisis head on.
I say ‘attack’ because the incredible speeches made throughout the meeting reminded the 100 participants that this is indeed a fight.
When faced with conflict, terrorism or natural disasters, how else can you describe the battle that needs to be won to achieve what citizens want for their future: a world where all children can go to school and learn, in safety?
‘Hanoi to Dakar’ was the theme of a discussion around how to maximize the collective efforts and resources of the coalitions, to make sure that this GPE replenishment is the time that we achieve a real step change in education funding and as such, put an end to the global learning crisis.
A wide-ranging and far-reaching crisis
At present, about a third of the world’s out-of-school primary-age children live in Asia and the Pacific, which means the campaigners and activists at the meeting have a major stake in putting an end to the learning crisis. They also have an incredible range of education experiences within the region. From stable countries investing heavily in education to countries that face violent, political and financial threats to education, the coalitions face different problems. But they are all part of the same regional and global fight.
The ideas and lessons shared between these seemingly different contexts are still transferable and it was clear that there is real strength in a movement that supports each other, across boundaries, languages and regions. The idea of ‘doing more with less’ was discussed at length with coalitions agreeing to share templates, letters, reports and contacts, while also looking to maximize social media as a collective and free advocacy platform. ;
Focus on how funds are being spent
With some countries in the region already spending on or around 20% of total government expenditure on education, as recommended by the international community, many advocacy plans are focused on how governments are spending the funds.
The plans focus on holding governments accountable for spending their education budget in a way that will provide all children, including the most marginalized, a free, quality and safe education.
An example is Vietnam, where the government has met the 20% target but where girls and children with disabilities still have difficulty to access a quality education. Indeed, it is estimated that 90% of children with disabilities are out of school in Vietnam. In a country whose population has been severely affected by disability as a terrible aftermath of war, this is leaving large numbers of children with no education at all, and therefore no way to provide for themselves and their future.
That’s why the education coalition in Vietnam is framing its advocacy work around making sure the Vietnamese government doesn’t roll back its finance commitment and calling for funds to be targeted towards the most marginalized, especially children with disabilities. It includes a call to invest in teacher training so that teachers are better prepared to teach children with a range of disabilities, and to train individuals with disabilities to become teachers.
From national to regional to international action
The meeting highlighted how effectively the region, and other elements of the Global Campaign for Education movement, are coordinating their national, regional, cross-regional and international advocacy efforts.
Research and analysis of country education budgets, along with political analysis, will feed into a regional declaration for the ASEAN Head of State Summit in the Philippines in November 2017. The same information is instrumental in the strategic advocacy asks that exist at national level, in the run up to replenishment, and beyond.
There was further planning around how all this data and analysis could be brought together with other regions, to influence the UN Sustainable Development High Level Panel (HLP) in 2019 – that will review progress on SDG 4. The pathway to influence the HLP was set out and even engagement through the Latin American regional coalition agreed, which has Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) status at the UN and offered to use this status for all the regions within the Global Campaign for Education.
The work shows political nuance and critical understanding of how interconnected different global political structures and systems are, thus requiring a truly global advocacy approach to have a significant impact. As the saying goes: ‘A global problem requires a global solution.’
What was discussed and planned in Hanoi might have focused on Asia and the Pacific, but the plans, ideas, beliefs and ambitions are truly global. I, for one, have no doubt that the conversations and the plans made this week will have a global impact for millions of children and their right to education.
The road from Hanoi to Dakar won’t be straight or easy but it might just be life-changing for the 264 million boys and girls who are currently not going to school.