On July 4, 2016 in Oslo – on a 350 meter high bluff overlooking the city – the final consultative face-to-face meeting of the Education Commission took place. With more than twenty Commissioners in attendance, every one present wanted to ensure that each second was fully accounted for without wasted moments. Indeed, every Commissioner was determined that the meeting’s findings would be brutally honesty, realistic and ambitious. The intense energy in the rooms and corridors from 8:00 am when the dialogue with civil society began, to the meeting’s close at 6:00 pm, was a privilege to experience as the best global minds hummed to make the world bolder, more creative and safe. The extraordinary Prime Minister of Norway, Erna Solberg, was present for both the civil society and the Education Commission kick-off sessions. She forcefully asserted that education is the most critical game-changer for citizens, societies and nations and reminded politicians to commit unequivocally to its logic as the binder for human happiness and global security. Even on such limited time, our goal to move toward a groundbreaking action document was furthered. Gordon Brown, the Chair of the Education Commission and the UN Special Envoy for Global Education, ensured each voice found ample space during the day.
The hand-picked group ranging from heads of government to ministers to industrialists to philanthropists – development partners to civil society groups amassed from all regions of the world drew support from incredible academics embodying the Education Commission’s energy and resolve. This has not been a closed-door Commission, but one that has worked with a network of partners and in just nine months has brought us to the doorstep of a compelling investment case for global education. The Education Commission has held 300-plus consultations in 105 countries, with 30 research institutions and more than 1000 youths and civil society groups – their voices and aspirations reflecting forcefully the soul of our work and supporting the rigorous evidence mobilized. The signature partnerships formed will be accelerators for the next phase of our work and committed to the institutional architecture of SDG4 which demands new innovative financing mechanisms to see a world at school.
The intensely productive day-long discussions explored rapidly shifting financing realities, especially in low-income and lower middle-income countries (LI &LMICs), with respect to learning, costs of inclusion/exclusion, economic growth, education evidence disaggregated by income groups and considerations of gender and geography. The Commissioners were adamant that the focus should be on principles where “equity matters and the poor and poorest cannot be left out; no child and youth will be left behind; and education must secure a place as the number one global priority through the lens of progressive universalism.” The 30 evidence-based reports commissioned from across the world will inform the broader report as does the extraordinary and diverse experience of our commissioners. The Commission’s report derives its knowledge from a cross-sectional analysis considering health, gender, emergencies/conflict, child rights, finance, technologies, economics, statecraft, nutrition, tolerance, disabilities, early childhood development, teacher development and support, citizen-led accountability initiatives, global citizenship and finance. This rich contextual data prime what is certain to be a bold outcome document poised to resonate with governments and donors urging them to own its recommendations and creatively leverage the action plan to ensure a transformative education where no child – or youth – or country is left behind for lack of resources. This requires active and innovative outcomes-based collaborations across sectors. From early childhood development to primary, secondary and post-secondary sub-sectors, the Commission’s recommendations will be mapped to learning spaces where no youth is excluded on account of disabilities, conflict or displacements.
The recommendations of the Commission create a compelling case for education transformations within a generation based on evidence from countries that have achieved such monumental shifts. Education today, in its current form, demands urgent action given an unprecedented global emergency whereby the most vulnerable within and across all countries must not grow up as foot soldiers but learners, not brides but pupils. The financing solutions include harnessing performance with outcomes, cutting profligate spending, mobilizing bold innovations, forming partnerships and ensuring that children in emergency contexts have an education through a unique blend of financing options at the domestic level and, most importantly, are targeted by international financing and philanthropic communities. The Commission recognizes at the heart of this agenda beats a vital commitment by governments to ensure every child and youth can meet critical thresholds of learning for sustainable entitlements. Indeed, this promise must be agreed to by the international community to see global safety bolstered, tolerance heightened and the environment improved. Anything less would be a missed opportunity – a promise unfulfilled. We owe it to our progeny to see the promise of global education and learning made real.
Baela Raza Jamil is an Adviser/Trustee at Idara-e-Taleem-o-Aagahi (ITA) and is a Commissioner on the International Commission on Financing Global Education Opportunity.