Achieving MDG 4: the necessary contribution of NGOs

Article by Mathieu Cros, Head of Research, Evaluation and Capitalisation at Aide et Action

Six years after the adoption by the UN General Assembly of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, where do we stand and what role do NGOs play?

In September 2015, the UN General Assembly adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, through which Heads of State and Government committed to achieving 17 Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, including SDG 4 stating, "Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all." With 64 million primary school-age children still out of school and 56 % of this age group not achieving the minimum level of reading literacy, achieving MDG 4 will require the concerted efforts of all education stakeholders. (Unesco, 2020 & 2019).

Indeed, the Education 2030 Framework for Action recognised that "the ambitious education goal cannot be achieved by governments alone. They will need the support of all stakeholders, including non-state actors. (Education 2030 Framework for Action). This article explores the particular contribution that NGOs can make to MDG 4, based on the experience of Aide et Action, a development through education CSO founded in 1981 to ensure access to quality education for the most vulnerable and marginalised populations: in particular children, girls and women, in 19 countries around the world, in Africa, Asia and Europe.

A missing link between institutions and communities?

At the local level, NGOs often play a key role in bridging the gap between schools and marginalized families who do not always have the necessary social skills to deal with the administrative procedures of school admission or to claim their rights. Supporting families towards effective access to education is a constant element of Aide et Action's interventions, whether it is our project with disabled girls in poor communities in India, or our work with children from allophone families living in precarious housing in the Paris suburbs.

On another note, non-formal education initiatives can be a lever to reach the people who are farthest from the school system. In Niger, in a context of security crisis, Aide et Action has set up 40 non-formal bridging classes. In one or two years, these classes have enabled out-of-school children aged 9 to 14 to acquire basic skills, and prepared them to eventually join regular schools and continue their education in the formal system.

A source of innovation in education

In some areas, NGOs have been pioneers in developing solutions to educational problems. This was the case for mother-tongue education through the Community Basic Schools in West Africa in the 1990s. These non-formal, community-run schools catered for out-of-school children and used local languages as the main medium of instruction, with a gradual transition to French as schooling progressed. This model proved successful and was subsequently adopted by a number of ministries of education.

Today, the expertise of civil society organisations could be essential to achieve MDG 4, especially with regard to promoting community participation in schools, including girls, people with disabilities and ethnic minorities, or developing education for sustainable development, peace and global citizenship. The main challenge is to develop synergies with public institutions and schools.

Between 2015 and 2020, in the Casamance region of Senegal, Aide et Action and the local educational authorities (Inspection d'Académie) have joined forces to implement the project PAEBCA to improve basic education in the region. It articulates activities carried out by the government's deconcentrated services - including the construction of 30 new schools and the training of 1,000 teachers - and activities carried out by NGOs, such as encouraging community participation in the management committees of the newly built schools, and developing citizenship and health education activities in the schools. NGOs and governments need to learn how to build such partnerships to ensure that we develop coherent and coordinated actions in support of MDG 4.

Bringing the voice of civil society to the global education agenda

Finally, NGOs have a crucial role to play in informing the public about the right to education, in raising awareness about education issues, and in monitoring political and financial commitments to MDG 4. This responsibility is crucial, as at least an additional $148 billion is needed each year to achieve universal education in low- and lower-middle-income countries by 2030.

This role is played by the Global Campaign for Education (GCE), a movement of civil society organisations that aims to coordinate voices on the global education agenda. GCE is represented in nearly 100 countries, where its national coalitions are pushing governments to meet their commitments to MDG 4. More broadly, NGOs must act as catalysts to mobilise citizens and bring their voices to the local, national and international levels.

The ambition to achieve universal enrolment is such that going it alone is bound to fail. Governments, NGOs and other education actors must develop mechanisms to better coordinate their actions and to strengthen civil society participation in policy planning and monitoring. Particular attention should be paid to funding and capacity building of local NGOs so that they can fully participate in the process. Joining forces and working together is urgent as there are less than ten years left to achieve MDG 4.

Article available in English on UNtoday, the official journal for international civil servants at the United Nations in Geneva.

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