UNESCO Assistant Director-General, Stefania Giannini, hosted a Ministerial Breakfast Meeting of the Capacity Development for Education (CapED) Programme last week at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris. The side-event of the 40th Session of the General Conference brought together 19 beneficiary countries, as well as all five donors, including 17 ministers, to discuss SDG4 policy making and implementation.

Since SDG4 came into effect, countries have been aligning their education policies and plans to the agenda's ambitious targets, albeit to different extents. For a great number of countries SDG4 in no longer only a global agenda but has effectively become part of national policy dialogue and planning processes.

UNESCO’s delivery platform, CapED, is supporting Least Developed Countries to achieve key national priorities in the context of SDG4, to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all. To this end, it focuses on three priority areas for system strengthening: education policies and plans, skills for life and work, and teachers.

Addressing the global learning crisis

Ms Giannini opened the meeting, stressing the need for urgent action in the face of the current global learning crisis. She highlighted the added value of the CapED Programme to reinforce the capacities of Ministries of Education and support countries operationalize SDG4.

Since 2016, CapED has been piloting an innovation to look at how policies, plans, legislation, data and monitoring systems can better align to the Education 2030 Agenda. In this context, the Minister of Education of Mali took the floor, announcing that his President adopted their new education sector plan in June of this year. He explained how CapED, by mobilizing the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS), not only supported his ministry develop the plan to be aligned with SDG4, but also helped them develop a financial simulation model to allow them to gather better data for evidence-based decision making.

Similarly, the Minister of Myanmar discussed the importance of quality data. He explained that they have been reforming their Education Management Information System (EMIS) since 2014 to create a single, integrated system, managing data from all education subsectors. To address the challenge of ensuring the information generated by EMIS is effectively used for policy-making, he stated that the International Institute for Educational Planning’s (IIEP) support, through CapED, has ensured education planners and managers can interpret and analyse data for strategic planning, budgeting and evaluation. He added that Myanmar is starting its next planning cycle and, for the first time, will be able to draw on quality data to inform education priorities and policies until 2030.

Present at the meeting were CapED’s five donors, Dubai Cares, Iceland, Finland, Norway, and Sweden. The common thread of donor interventions was the importance of leaving no one behind, including gender equality, teachers as key drivers for quality, and innovation. They noted that the education challenges they face in their countries are similar to those touched on by the CapED beneficiary countries during the meeting, which highlights the universality of the 2030 Agenda. A clear message that came across was that every country – regardless of development status – and development partners should strive to raise more funds for education, as education is an investment, not an expenditure.

Leaving no one behind

The theme of leaving no one behind was also discussed by all participants. For instance, Nepal’s minister spoke about their new bill on free and compulsory education to ensure the right to quality education for all. Another facet of leaving no one behind is gender. The minister of Uganda discussed the concern that Ugandan girls are particularly under-represented in STEM. He shared that with CapED support, the country has acted to tackle this challenge and has developed national guidelines on how to implement gender responsive pedagogies in teacher training. Despite the need of targeted investment in girls’ and women’s education as a key driver for lasting change, participants also drew attention to the fact that, in certain subjects, boys are under-performing, demonstrating that leaving no one behind is about everyone.

Many interventions cited the concrete progress countries are making, alongside UNESCO, to improve their education systems. However, challenges remain. In reviewing SDG4 for the first time, the 2019 High-Level Political Forum stressed a tone of urgency to transform education and strengthen partnerships across all spectrums to accelerate progress, leverage opportunities, and meet the challenges ahead. In short, the global community is not on track to achieve SDG4 targets.

This is why programmes such as CapED need to continue supporting countries with targeted capacity development at the institutional and organizational levels for a transformation of education systems. The meeting closed with the moderator noting five main takeaways: the importance of capacity development for sustainable change; national ownership as the cornerstone for effective development support; partnerships for increased funding, innovation and scaling up best practices, teachers as the main resource for quality education, and equality to ensure no one is left behind.

Launched in 2003, the CapED Programme is UNESCO’s key operational response to support least developed and fragile countries as they implement the Education 2030 agenda. Through CapED’s capacity development approach focused on system strengthening, UNESCO assists governments in the design and implementation of education reforms that are essential to achieve national development priorities and realize SDG4.

The CapED Programme is funded by extrabudgetary resources and has mobilized more than US$ 100 million since its creation. Several external evaluations have highlighted its unique added value to UNESCO, relevant and strategic support to beneficiary countries, and value for money for partners. CapED is currently operational in 25 countries, including those recovering from conflict or in protracted crises. If you are interested to become a partner, please contact us at caped@unesco.org.

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