Martin Luther King, Jr., famously said that the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.
I was reminded of his axiom as I sat through the 10th High Level Group Meeting on Education for All (EFA) in Jomtien, Thailand. It’s been 21 years since Jomtien hosted the meetings that gave birth to EFA. Children born that year are adults now, and far too many of them missed the opportunity for an education.
But the moral arc is bending further and further. The number of children out of school–the left-outs, as they are called in Bangladesh–has dropped from over 100 million to under 70 million in the past decade. Not fast enough, but the first decade it has declined at all.
These meetings, like so many that have been held in those 21 years, are long as well, and the decision-making process can be tortuous. The official statements that emerge are long on generalities ans short on actions. But as someone who has been to many such meetings, I am heartened that mindsets have changed and commitments have firmed up (see for example, last week’s announcement: UK Renews Pledge of £100 million for EFA FTI, Challenging other Donors to Match Funds)
We must make better use of these meetings, and we must do a better job of supporting real dialogue. In the age of high speed information exchange through instant messaging, Twitter, and Facebook, how can 60 of us sit in a room and spend 4 hours listening to prepared (and unprepared) speeches rather than engaging in a real exchange of views? We need to catch up with the times.
But listen to the passion of the delegate from the Philippines: “if any child anywhere is out of school, it’s important to all of us, and not just in our own countries. “. He presented a viewpoint that I call All for Education for All, and he got a lot of support.
An encouraging policy consensus has formed in areas where there was none just a few years ago: mother tongue instruction, early grades learning, disability, the need for quality and access to be viewed and supported together. This is a real bending of the moral arc, and all the long speeches and declarations can be summed up in a simple message to the world, drawn from the letters in J.O.M.T.I.E.N.:
Join Our Movement To Improve Education Now
PS: EFA FTI is currently undertaking a major replenishment campaign and I invite you to learn more about it on the FTI website: More Financing for Education and access a lot of resources (donor kits, why invest in EFA FTI, success stories, etc )
…and read FTI Senior Replenishment Adviser, Charles Tapp’s Blog entry: Investing in education for all: worth every penny