When governments start to change university systems or increase tuition fees we hear stories of students coming together to protest and claim their rights. Knowing what they want and getting organized makes them powerful. But in many places it is difficult to have your voice heard, and sometimes people don’t know what their rights are. School children in developing countries might not always know how a good teacher should perform or that they can demand their school books. It is a sad reality that 61 million children are still out of school, and many more are in education of poor quality. Across the world nearly 800 million adults cannot read or write. Therefore it is particularly important that people in these countries know their rights and how to claim them.
Providing free and quality education is the responsibility of governments. But the realisation of the right to education depends on support and commitment by various partners. A united civil society movement can make a huge contribution to the delivery of education. National education coalitions across the world, representing the voices and knowledge of NGOs, teachers’ unions, parents’ groups, community organizations and social movements, play a crucial role in demanding that education is prioritised.
The Global Campaign for Education (GCE) is a broad-based movement that campaigns for the right to education together with over 120 national education coalitions and international and regional organisations around the world. Recognizing the vital role of national education coalitions in public negotiations and advocacy, GCE set up the Civil Society Education Fund (CSEF) in 2009. The CSEF has so far supported new and existing education coalitions in 45 developing countries across Africa, Latin America and Asia and the Pacific, and provided them with the much needed resources for capacity development and advocacy activities. CSEF has facilitated collaboration among civil society, NGO partners and regional bodies and helped improving civil society coordination, membership expansion and effective engagement in policy dialogue with key stakeholders. The Global Partnership for Education (GPE) resourced the CSEF between 2009 and 2012 with US$17.6 million recognizing the important role of civil society for genuine country ownership over education sector development. Additionally, the Australian Government recently provided a further AUD$5 million for the implementation of coalition action plans for 2012.
The CSEF has supported national education coalitions to track the progress of governments and donor partners’ efforts towards the Education for All Goals. This work can be powerful because coalitions have access to information and work with people on the ground. They are best placed to do this if they are engaged in the Local Education Groups, which are made up of government officials, donor agencies and other development partners, to coordinate education development efforts at the national level. With the contribution of CSEF, national education coalitions are now members of the Local Education Groups in 33 developing countries. (Download Brochure: The Right to Education: Making it Happen)
In an interview with Ibrahima Sall (Minister of Education, Senegal, and member of the GPE Board of Directors), the Minister recognized the important role of the education coalition in Senegal, COSYDEP, during the recent mass strikes occurring in the country. He highlighted that the involvement of the coalition and its partners was crucial in ensuring a peaceful solution to a conflict that could have caused serious challenges for the country, including for the education sector. (Watch the Video with the Interview). Other examples, where the engagement of coalitions with the help of CSEF resources contributed to real change at national level are:
- In Bolivia, the National Education Coalition (CBDE) influenced the review, adjustment and enactment of the “Avelino Siñani – Alizardo Pérez (ASEP)” Education Law. A national mobilisation campaign was used to generate policy proposals presented by civil society groups to strengthen the ASEP Education Bill, with seminars and round tables being held at different stages in the process.
- In Kenya, the Elimu Yetu Coalition was actively engaged in the constitution-making process after the 2008 election process. Elimu Yetu is now monitoring the full realization of the right to basic education in Kenya. They also work with technical teams of the Ministry of Education to finalize the new Education Bill and National Education Policy.
- The Vietnam Coalition for Education for All conducted a study on government programs and policies on early childhood care and education (ECCE) which led to the issuing of an order by the Ministry of Education and Training to provide improved benefits, access and service for ECCE.
The GCE through the CSEF has built momentum for civil society to engage in the education sector. Coalitions are at different stages of engagement: some have just started their work; others have achieved full recognition by government and donor partners. To uphold the GPE’s founding principles of inclusive country level collaboration, the support to national education coalitions needs to continue beyond 2012 so that children, parents, teachers and the general society can stand up for themselves and negotiate for the right to education with politicians and donors.
By Kjersti Mowe* and Caroline Schmidt
*Kjersti Mowe is the CSEF Communications and Learning Manager in the GCE Secretariat, in Johannesburg, South Africa. She has worked with the GCE and the CSEF program since 2009.