Academic journal article Journal of International Affairs

Education and the MDGS: Realizing the Millennium Compact

Academic journal article Journal of International Affairs

Education and the MDGS: Realizing the Millennium Compact

Article excerpt

In September 2000, heads of all 191 member states of the United Nations committed themselves to meet a set of quantifiable targets for combating poverty, hunger, disease, illiteracy, environmental degradation and discrimination against women by the year 2015. These targets, called the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), represent a global compact between developed and developing countries to increase the living standards of the world's poorest citizens.

Explicit in the MDG compact is a clear division of labor between rich and poor countries. Developing countries pledge to improve their policies, provide for more transparent and representative governance, and increase accountability to their citizens. In exchange for improvements in domestic practices, developed countries pledge to provide greater financial resources to poor countries and reform their own policies in important areas such as development assistance, debt relief and international trade.

One of the MDG education goals, Goal 2, stipulates that the world should achieve universal primary education for boys and girls by 2015. (1) In 2002, donors began working with developing country officials to set up a coordinated approach to address this Goal. For those low-income countries with credible education plans, rich countries would provide the necessary external financing to assist in the implementation of these plans. The resultant blueprint, the "Fast Track Initiative" (FTI), represents a new approach for donor financing. Donors are to combine resources to directly finance a portion of the recipient governments' education budgets, instead of each financing many separate, sometimes small "projects." Recipient countries are, in turn, required to commit to plans, which in many cases require difficult political and financial reforms.

By rewarding ambitious country-level plans with equally ambitious increases in donor assistance, the FTI could be the world's best chance for making rapid progress towards universal primary education in the poorest countries.

Thus far, the FTI has succeeded in donor coordination and facilitating significantly greater country ownership for recipient countries. But unfortunately the FTI has not delivered for those poor countries who have demonstrated a willingness to reform. Despite agreement on the logic of future financing, donors have held back from making firm commitments, so there is no transparent, unambiguous timetable for disbursements.

In September 2005, heads of state will assemble at the United Nations in New York to assess the progress that has been achieved in reaching the MDGs. The way forward for the education Goal is to give new life to the FTI. That will require that donor nations move quickly on their part of the FTI compact. To do so, we propose a straightforward plan where donor financing would be based on recipient countries' progress on a series of pre-determined, transparent benchmarks. Under this plan, both donors and recipients would be focused on a shared end goal: tangible results.


The practice of setting goals for universal primary education is not a new phenomenon. When the largest-ever gathering of heads of state attached their names--and implicitly, the full support of their respective governments--to the MDGs in 2000, they were the latest in a long line of dignitaries to pledge their support for universal primary education and gender equity in education (see Table 1).

Beginning in 1934 with the International Conference on Public Education in Geneva, developed and developing countries have repeatedly pledged to "leave no child behind" by promising that boys and girls the world round would be given the opportunity to enjoy the privilege of basic education. MDG 2, "Achieve universal primary education," is clear in this respect: "Ensure that, by 2015, children everywhere, boys and girls alike, will be able to complete a full course of primary schooling. …

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