Academic journal article Comparative and International Education

The Lead-Up to the Education for All Conference in 1990: Framing the "Global Consensus"

Academic journal article Comparative and International Education

The Lead-Up to the Education for All Conference in 1990: Framing the "Global Consensus"

Article excerpt


One of the themes for this special issue of the CIE published in honour of the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Comparative and International Education Society of Canada is the value of an historical perspective on our work as comparative and international education scholars. This paper presents my version of an historical perspective on the Education for All Conference in Thailand in March 1990. This conference has led to many years of research, policy development, and advocacy. However, the origins of the exercise have been lost in the mists of time, and now the shape of the discourse has been firmed up so that newer scholars in the field do not know what the original debates were all about. I think that participating in the lead-up to Jomtien was one of the most interesting phases of my professional life as a Canadian academic in an international context. This paper shows the very involved role that Canadian scholars, NGO members, government officials, and diplomats played at various levels.

This paper touches on several themes of this CIE issue. With reference to history and historical perspectives, this paper demonstrates the value of recording the past events in which CIESC members and other Canadians in related fields have participated so that readers may understand what important debates have taken place in the field. It is also intended to illustrate the past contributions of CIESC members in engaging with issues of equity and inclusion, particularly in regard to making great efforts to counter the core discourse of the EFA documents. The processes described in this paper make it clear whose voices were heard and whose were excluded in this international debate, even though the final message from the EFA organizers was that a "global consensus" had been reached about how to attain the goal of universal basic education by the year 2000.

The goal of this paper is to reprise my experience as a member of the Steering Committee from March 1989 to March 1990 and beyond, in examining the process of consultation of the conference documents. I was originally asked by Nat Colletta from the World Bank to be the CIES representative on the organizing committee for the World Conference on Education for All. That invitation led to participation at all the committee meetings and access to all of the planning documents for the EFA Conference. It was clear to me at the time that this conference was going to be one of historic importance. Therefore, I kept verbatim handwritten notes of all of the discussion, and saved all of the printed matter distributed at the meetings from April 1989 to June 1990 and beyond.

The organization of this paper will be essentially chronological, in order to trace the development of the discourse concerning Education for All as a concept and the EFA Conference as an event, as each meeting carried on with revisions from the previous one. Some of the details may prove tiresome for some readers, but this will be my only opportunity to place these meetings into the historical record, afforded me by the publication of the CIESC's 50th anniversary issue. I attended all of the meetings of what was eventually termed the Steering Group, as well as the North American Regional Forum and the NGO Forum. The attendees at each meeting varied, but the discussion always focused on the latest iteration of the Background Document, the EFA Charter (later renamed the Declaration) and the Framework for Action.

Recent Literature

It is not my goal in this paper to review all the literature published since 1990, but a few brief words may be helpful. There have been literally tons of research reports and scholarly analyses published in the intervening 27 years since the Jomtien conference, enough to provide ample data for a lengthy Ph.D. thesis. In 1998, Karen Mundy wrote about the growth of educational multilateralism and the different forms it has taken since 1945. It is possible to see in her summary the main themes of the arguments that are the focus of this paper (Mundy, 1998). …

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