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EFA Background and History

Education for All (EFA) is a basic human right at the heart of development. It is indispensable for human capacity development and poverty eradication. It is needed to promote economic growth, create employment opportunities, and foster civic participation and personal development. EFA was recognized by Article 26 of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights  adopted in 1948 by the General Assembly of the United Nations which states that:

(1) Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.

(2) Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.

(3) Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.


In March 1990, the World Conference on Education for All (EFA): Meeting Basic Learning Needs, was held in Jomtien, Thailand. Participants from 155 countries and representatives of 160 governmental and non-governmental agencies adopted a World Declaration on EFA, which reaffirmed the notion of education as a fundamental human right and urged countries to intensify efforts to address the basic learning needs of all.

The Jomtien Framework for Action to Meet the Basic Learning Needs spelled out targets and strategies to meet the basic learning needs of all by the year 2000. The goal was to have universal access to learning; a focus on equity; emphasis on learning outcomes; broadening the means and the scope of basic education; enhancing the environment for learning; and strengthening partnerships by 2000. But the Jomtien EFA targets were not achieved by the year 2000.

In April 2000, the World Education Forum was held in Dakar, Senegal  providing the opportunity to assess the achievements, lessons and failures of the 10-year period since the Jomtien Declaration. More than 1,100 participants from 164 countries ranging from teachers to prime ministers, academics to policy makers, political activists to the heads of major political organizations attended. The assessment showed that, although the barriers to achieving EFA are formidable, progress had been achieved in proving that EFA is a realistic and achievable goal.

The international community re-affirmed its vision of EFA through the Dakar Framework for Action which proposed 12 major strategies and set six major goals to achieve quality, education for all by 2015.   

The Dakar Framework placed the main responsibility for achieving the EFA goals on countries and supported all Member States in the development and strengthening of existing national plans of action  by 2002 at the latest. These plans should be integrated into a wider poverty reduction and development framework, and should be developed through transparent and democratic processes, involving stakeholders, especially peoples' representatives, community leaders, parents, learners, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and civil society.

The 2015 EFA goals were further enhanced in September 2000 when 189 nations came together at the United Nationals Millennium Summit and endorsed the Millennium Declaration which set out the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) . The Millennium Development Goals 2 and 3 - achieve universal primary education, and promote gender equality and empower women – are directly related to EFA and share the same target date of 2015. Good education, however, also contributes to the attainment of the other six MDGs.

The Dakar Framework for Action required that a number of working groups are created to regularly monitor progress. A High Level Working Group on EFA is convened annually by the UNESCO Director-General. It brings together Ministers of Education, heads of development agencies and civil society representatives.

The EFA High Level Group in October 2001 requested that an International Strategy be created to put the Dakar Framework into operation. The International Strategy  was adopted in 2002, presenting five major actions that are essential to achieving EFA as well as ways in which the international community can support the implementation of national action plans.

UNESCO and EFA

The 2000 Dakar Framework for Action on EFA and its six goals continue to guide UNESCO’s action in the field of education . Progress has been slow and projections show that achieving the EFA goals remains a tremendous challenge. 

UNESCO and the UNESCO Asia and Pacific Regional Bureau for Education will work to ensure that EFA is firmly anchored as an integral part of the international development agenda, and in particular as a key building block for reaching the MDGs and sustainable human development, especially at the country level. It will also continue to promote education as a fundamental human right, and as a key factor to human security through the development of greater tolerance, stable societies and dialogue among cultures, civilizations and peoples. 

Accelerating progress towards the EFA goals is of the utmost necessity and urgency for attaining the MDGs. UNESCO intends to provide leadership in this process, in particular by enhancing its role as lead coordinator of all EFA partners, with a particular responsibility for maintaining their collaborative momentum. 

In East and South-East Asia, in particular, UNESCO has been instrumental in organising regular inter-agency/partner meetings of the Thematic Working Group on EFA.  These efforts to coordinate and collaborate with partners in support of EFA have led to the development of quality EFA National Action Plans and implementation schemes in many countries in the sub-region.  

Beyond coordination, UNESCO will reinforce its actions at the country level through three new core initiatives – Literacy Initiative for Empowerment (LIFE), Teacher Training Initiative for sub-Saharan Africa, and the Global Initiative on HIV/AIDS and Education (GIHAE).  These initiatives will form the programmatic core of UNESCO’s response to EFA at country level, without being exclusive of other essential interventions in education.  

The APPEAL unit, located within the UNESCO Asia and Pacific Regional Bureau for Education, has a mandate to support national efforts to implement programmes towards the achievement of all the goals of EFA.   

UNESCO will help the international community to concentrate its efforts where the needs are the greatest while ensuring that action remains country-specific and relevant to the needs of the community concerned.

UNESCO will further intensify communications and advocacy for EFA. The annual EFA Global Monitoring Report and other thematic and regional reports will be key contributions in this area. 

EFA in Asia and the Pacific