By Manzoor Ahmed
Feb 6 2017 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)
It is hardly a run of the mill event when nine of the most highly populated countries (Bangladesh, Brazil, China, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Nigeria and Pakistan) get together to discuss the challenges of achieving the goal of Education for All. This is precisely what is happening from February 5 to 7. This international conference of the E-9 group as they are called, is being hosted for the first time, by Bangladesh. Launched in 1993 in New Delhi as part of the Education for All movement, this is the 11th biannual E-9 meeting but the first one in the global Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 2030 era.
The importance of the event is seen in participation of a large number of high level government officials from these nations. It will, for instance, include ministerial delegations from the nine countries headed by ministers or vice-ministers. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina will address the inaugural session. Irena Bukova, Director General of UNESCO, will also be present.
Having shared their progress, concerns and plans in education during the first two days, the countries are expected to adopt an outcome document to be called the Dhaka Declaration on the final day.
SDG4, one of 17 Sustainable Development Goals, is a pledge the world community made in September 2015 at the United Nations “to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning for all.” This overarching goal has been elaborated as seven targets.
The targets relate to the ‘what’ and ‘why’ of education. There are targets about good quality and universal early childhood development, and primary and secondary education; eliminating gender and other disparities; enabling youth and adults to acquire relevant life and livelihood skills, and literacy as a foundational tool.
The ‘why’ aims to prepare children, youth and adults to become responsible members of community and global citizens, embrace diversity, live harmoniously together and with nature, and contribute to peaceful and sustainable development.
The modalities or ‘how’ emphasise on adequate educational facilities and infrastructure, sufficient numbers of well-prepared and qualified teachers, and expanding scholarship support from developed countries to the least developed ones.
But what special role can the E-9 group play in ensuring education for all their people, most of whom are deprived of educational opportunities?
At a preparatory meeting for the conference on Wednesday, February 1, Nurul Islam Nahid, the Bangladesh Minster of Education aptly pointed out that “Achieving the global agenda of inclusive and equitable education and lifelong learning by 2030 will very much depend on the effort and success of the nine countries.” The E-9 countries represent more than half of the world’s population, two-thirds of the world’s adult non-literates, and half of the world’s out of school children. The Minister of Primary and Mass Education, Mostafizur Rahman, saw the conference as an opportunity to highlight the achievements and commitments of Bangladesh to advance the education goals and priorities.
Referring to the uniqueness of the group and its role, speakers at the preparatory meeting noted that the global environment of divisive socio-political forces and rhetoric, in which human solidarity, appreciation of diversity and respect for human rights and human dignity are under growing threat.
The conference, no doubt, provides a platform to create a strong voice of the global south represented by the E-9 Partnership as a speaker pointed out. Others saw the E-9 partnership as an occasion to promote the empowerment of people, and enhance human capabilities, through education and learning, collectively and in each country.
One speaker argued that human capability, empowerment and agency and the role of knowledge and learning are central to achieving all SDGs and targets. In that sense, education targets and strategies need to consider the links with other goals and targets; and by the same token, education and learning components of all SDGs and targets have to be articulated and given sufficient attention.
The Minster of Education of Pakistan, the chair of the E-9 group since 2014, will pass the baton at the Dhaka meeting to the Minister of Education of Bangladesh, who will be the new chair of the group for the next two years.
The Minister of Education of Bangladesh, as the chair, now has the responsibility of taking initiatives in collaboration with E-9 partners and UNESCO to make E-9 an effective forum. He has the challenge, working with his partners, of upholding the role of knowledge, education and learning in all relevant SDGs and related targets through overall national, regional and global SDG 2030 coordination as well as SDG4 coordination.
The collective effort and determination of the E-9 partnership have the possibility of raising a strong voice for hope, human solidarity and unity, challenging the divisive and dystopian world view that seems to be emerging in the global north, especially, USA and Western Europe.
The writer is Professor Emeritus at BRAC University.
This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh