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Speech by the Danish Minister for Development Cooperation at EFA Conference

Speech by Ulla Tørnæs, Minister for Development Cooperation in Denmark, at the Education for All Conference 25 January 2006 in Eigtveds Pakhus, Copenhagen.

The contribution to education within Danish development assistance

I have been looking forward to this conference. To take stock of the progress towards fulfilling the Education for All goals is for me not only a necessary exercise – it is also something I am highly interested in.

By endorsing the Dakar Action Plan and the Millennium Development Goals, Denmark has committed itself to make an extra effort to assist in the provision of quality education for everybody. It is encouraging - and in fact a source of great relief to me – to be in the position to say that the proportion of Danish bilateral development aid, allocated to education, has increased during the last few years. 

When the government came into office in 2001, it was decided to give education higher priority. The concrete result of this decision is the addition of 5 new education sector programmes, which are broadly defined to provide better educational opportunities for both children and adults. In total, Denmark supports 8 education sector programmes in our 15 programme countries.

Furthermore, Denmark supports educational development in Afghanistan and is just beginning to do so also in southern part of Sudan. In the transition in these two countries from a situation of war-torn crisis to a democratic society, education plays a key role. Therefore, the Danish contribution here has a particular focus on education.

In terms of numbers, the enhanced focus on education means that education received more than 8 percent of Danish bilateral aid in 2004. And with the new sector programmes I expect this share to increase further through the next few years.

In this context, a word of caution about the proportional distribution of bilateral aid to different sectors.  With new aid modalities, such as general budget support and multi-sector support, the picture one gets when looking at the sector distribution of bilateral aid only tells part of the truth. In countries where part of the aid is provided as budget support, the consultations with the country about national spending are of utmost importance. With the new aid modalities, donor contributions to a particular sector cannot only be assessed from the share that goes directly to education activities. Therefore, a political dialogue about resource allocation to education within the national budget is essential. It is equally important to note that this strategy also puts the emphasis on the responsibility of the partner country to take the lead in implementing anti-poverty policy within which equal access to education of a good quality is an indispensable provision.   

In pursuance of the Education for All goals the major actors in multilateral development cooperation are the World Bank, UNICEF and UNESCO.  In our dialogue with these organisations, Denmark has for many years supported and encouraged their continued and coordinated contribution to the EFA process. 

UNESCO has, as a specialised agency, primarily a normative function. This role is very essential. Furthermore, UNESCO is the global lead coordinator for both the Education for All movement and for United Nation’s Literacy Decade. Hence, UNESCO has a central position in contributing to the international community’s support for achievement of the Education for All goals.  

As you may know, I have decided to increase the extra budgetary contribution to UNESCO from 5 million Danish Kroner last year to 20 million Danish Kroner this year. I would particularly like to see these funds contribute to strengthening UNESCO’s capability as international lead co-ordinator on the Education for All movement.  In concrete terms, I hope that this contribution will help to assure that many more children, men and women are guaranteed their right to education. 

As a major donor to UNICEF, with an annual contribution of 180 million Danish Kroner, Denmark acknowledges the important work carried out by this organisation in the field of basic education. I would like to emphasise UNICEF’s work as lead agency on United Nations Girls' Education Initiative, which aims at ensuring that an increasing numbers of girls get an education, that they stay in school, and that they are equipped with the basic tools they need to succeed later in life. 

This initiative is especially important because we all know, taught by years of experience, that an educated girl tends to marry later and have fewer children. The children she gives birth to will be more likely to survive; they will be better nourished and better educated. She will be more productive at home and better paid in the workplace. She will also be able to better protect herself against HIV/AIDS and to assume a more active role in social, economic and political decision-making throughout her life. In other words, investing in girls’ education has an extremely high rate of return.

I have noticed that the Global Monitoring Report shows steady progress towards gender parity within education. The progress is very good news – but not good enough. In poor countries, the disparity is nearly always at the expense of girls. I understand that it is different in Denmark, and therefore I am looking forward to hearing what Niels Egelund has to say later. Last year, 94 countries missed the 2005 gender parity target. 86 countries are at risk of not achieving gender parity by 2015. Thus millions of girls are still out of school.

The question for me is how Denmark can contribute to speed up the progress and help the poor countries reach gender parity. Danish assistance seeks to prioritise those aspects of the EFA goals that give particular attention to gender issues and - in the wider context - issues relating to marginalisation and vulnerability. When focusing on getting more girls in school, our ambitions must not stop when the girl has entered the classroom. A lot has to be done to improve the quality of education and to promote equity in learning achievement and opportunity for further education and training. In our partner countries we support the improvement of collection and analysis of disaggregated data to help ensure that equity will be given the necessary attention.

In the wider perspective, it is equally important to improve the opportunities for girls to continue their education into secondary and tertiary education, and technical and vocational training, and eventually for their entrance into the world of work and employment. There is, therefore, a need for support to development of the education sector aiming at eliminating the gender gap at all levels of education.

Such a strategy is a long-term vision, but its importance is undeniable. It will not only help to increase girls’ and young women’s opportunities in education and employment, but will be an equally important factor in decreasing illiteracy and eliminating gender disparities in education.

As mentioned earlier, Denmark supports these views and strategic developments at the global level through our support to United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative, and through our membership of its Global Advisory Committee.

I will now turn to the theme that the Global Monitoring Report 2006 especially deals with, namely Literacy. This theme is highly relevant as the ability to read and write is entangled with and influences, among other things, poverty, gender and democratisation – issues, which are at the very centre of development cooperation, and which receive high priority in the government’s development policy. Nevertheless, the statistics of illiteracy continue to be alarming. According to the report, 771 million adults are illiterate, and the majority is women. It is furthermore of great concern that 132 million of these adults are young people between 15 and 24 years. When the report at the same time shows that donor spending on primary education, and literacy activities in particular, continue to be insufficient, it is indeed a cause for concern. 

Insufficient investments in primary education are an indirect obstacle to improvement in adult literacy in a country. On the other hand, a too one-sided attention to formal primary education may result in neglect – at least in part – of those adults and young people who never made it to school or dropped out. There is little doubt that those of the Dakar Goals that were not integrated into the Millennium Development Goals have received less attention than the goals of universal primary education and gender parity and equity. The focus on the Millennium Development Goals can also be found in Danish development assistance, but with respect to education we see them in the broader strategic perspective.

There is, nonetheless, a justifiable logic to invest quite heavily in primary education, as it also helps to improve the literacy rate. Hence, primary education continues to receive by far the largest share of the Danish support to education.

There is, however, a fine balance, that is necessary to keep in mind, between investing in the new generations and the need to meet the obligation to help the 771 million illiterate people to retain and realise their right to acquire reading, writing and numeracy skills. For me it is essential that Denmark continues to keep a focus on primary education, but at the same time to incorporate this into a holistic approach to education in which the support is not only for those who were fortunate enough to make it to school.

All partner countries in which Denmark supports education have formulated an education sector strategy, reflecting the Education for All goals, and thus also including a strategy for literacy. Some of the countries are in the process of closing the gap of illiteracy, as they are also getting near to achieving universal primary education. I can quote Bhutan and Bolivia as examples in this respect. Others still have a long way to go, as is the case in Benin, Burkina Faso and Nepal. In all of the countries, however, focused and continuous attention is required to accelerate the process towards elimination of illiteracy.

As I said earlier, Denmark supports the process of including and strengthening literacy as an integral part of a comprehensive education strategy. I believe that literacy is a goal in itself, but also a means to achieving the other Education for All goals, as well as enhancing social and economic inclusion and participation. This is in line with the holistic thinking behind the EFA goals, which ensures that they are mutually supportive and help to provide the foundation for sustainable development.

In most countries NGOs, church organisations and community-based organisations have tried to respond to the need for literacy campaigns and programmes. However, it goes without saying that the national education system must take the lead in order to accelerate these processes. I believe that there is a vast potential in the fight against illiteracy in the mutually supportive interaction between governments and civil society.

Bolivia is an interesting example of this. In Bolivia the ministry of education is launching a new strategy framework for literacy and adult education, with enhanced government participation, but at the same time acknowledging and taking advantage of the valuable work of many civil society organisations. In Burkina Faso the government has openly recognised its limited capacity within literacy and adult education and consequently asked Denmark to support a capable local NGO with long-term experience through a specific component of the overall Danish sector support. Similar examples can be quoted from other partner countries in which Denmark supports education.  

The Global Monitoring Report highlights the link between illiteracy and poverty and social and cultural exclusion. Through the emphasis on poverty reduction in our support to education we are seeking to address the problem of illiteracy from different angles, and in line with the report’s identification of that link. It is among the poorest parts of the population that the illiteracy rate is highest and the rate for Primary Completion lowest. I should add to this that Danish support to bilingual – or perhaps even multilingual - education in various countries is provided with the view to contributing to the increase of the literacy rate.

I therefore strongly support the proposed strategy in the Global Monitoring Report to strike a sound balance between quality schooling for all children and increased attention to literacy programmes for youth and adults. I believe that Denmark has made a valuable effort to promote this balance in our development assistance, and I can assure you that we will continuously monitor the development of literacy in each of our partner countries. In the case of stagnation or a negative development, we will, together with the government and other development partners, make every possible effort to help bring the development back on a positive track. 

The Global Monitoring Report has become a useful tool to focus on many essential issues in assistance to education – and I believe there are valuable lessons to be learned for both donors and developing countries, as well as politicians and practitioners. Therefore, Denmark has also decided to provide financial support to the Global Monitoring Report.  I am now looking forward to listening to the presentation of this year’s report by the leader of the Global Monitoring Report Team, Mr. Nicholas Burnett.  

Thank you.

(Edited February 5, 2006)


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