“Eradicating extreme poverty continues to be one of the main challenges of our time, and is a major concern of the international community. Ending this scourge will require the combined efforts of all, governments, civil society organizations and the private sector, in the context of a stronger and more effective global partnership for development. The Millennium Development Goals set timebound targets, by which progress in reducing income poverty, hunger, disease, lack of adequate shelter and exclusion — while promoting gender equality, health, education and environmental sustainability — can be measured. They also embody basic human rights — the rights of each person on the planet to health, education, shelter and security. The Goals are ambitious but feasible and, together with the comprehensive United Nations development agenda, set the course for the world’s efforts to alleviate extreme poverty by 2015. “
United Nations Secretary-General BAN Ki-moon
The year 2015, which is fast approaching, is one of particular significance to groups and individuals that have campaigned for a more just and inclusive education system. Next year we can expect to see a plethora of publications either celebrating great educational achievements, or decrying the failure of governments in many countries to make adequate educational provision for significant numbers of their population. I anticipate that during this period we will see some careful massaging of figures by the governments of some countries and significant hand wringing by politicians and agencies in the more economically advantaged countries of the world. This will be followed by a collective finger pointing and the apportioning of blame, and by calls from some quarters to renew efforts in the fight to eradicate poverty, whilst others will gaze inwardly and say that we should look after “our own” rather than focusing upon the needs of others.
The reason that the year 2015 assumes such significance is related to the eight Millennium Development Goals agreed by the majority of the world’s governments in September 2000 with the laudable aims of improving the lives of millions of people who live in poverty and have poor access to decent health and education services and in communities that are becoming increasingly less sustainable. Present at the momentous signing of the document introducing the goals were 149 Heads of State and Government and high-ranking officials from over 40 other countries. When these goals were published a target date of 2015 was established with a view that significant progress would by then have been made towards their attainment.
Many recent reports have highlighted the progress made in addressing issues that impact upon the quality of life of people living in economically disadvantaged situations. The United Nations Millennium Development Goals Report 2013 highlights a number of successes:-
- The proportion of people living in extreme poverty has been halved at the global level
- Over 2 billion people gained access to improved sources of drinking water
- Remarkable gains have been made in the fight against malaria and tuberculosis
- The proportion of slum dwellers in the cities and metropolises of the developing world is declining
- A low debt burden and an improved climate for trade are levelling the playing field for developing countries
- The hunger reduction target is within reach
We should, of course, celebrate the endeavours that have led to progress in this areas. However the language used in emphasising this progress is interesting and whilst highlighting undoubted achievements should give us cause to exercise a little caution. Terms like “improved” and “within reach” are a sure indication that whilst the journey is underway, the destination may be some way off.
It is quite right that we should applaud the efforts made by governments, by NGOs and by other civil organisations and individuals to achieve goals that would improve the lives of many millions of people. In 2015 a full appraisal of the progress made will lead to the setting of a further tranche of targets and may even identify new areas of concern. The fact that a further set of goals is seen as necessary is in itself an indication of the global challenges that continue to blight the lives of many, and perhaps a reason to re-examine the ways in which actions are taken to achieve the desired outcomes.
For those of us working in education and other caring professions, the need to emphasise a significant weakness in the existing Millennium Development Goals is apparent. A report issued by the Global Campaign for Education Equal Right – Equal Opportunity: Inclusive Education for Children with Disabilities highlights a significant omission in the original goals. One of the staggering statistics included in this report emphasises that of the 57 million children worldwide estimated to still be missing out on school, more than 40% are thought to be disabled. As the authors of the report state:-
“The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), designed to combat extreme poverty, remarkably, failed to mention the one billion people across the world with disabilities – the largest ‘marginalised’ group and often among the poorest citizens in any country. There is no mention of disability in any of the 8 goals, 21 targets or 60 indicators.”
When the post-2015 development document is written it is to be hoped that this serious omission is addressed. In many countries as wealth has increased and the social and economic conditions of many have improved the gap between these more fortunate individuals and those who are most disadvantaged has widened.
The introduction of the Millennium Development Goals was a tremendous initiative and has undoubtedly helped to maintain a focus on the challenges faced by a significant proportion of the world’s population. Let’s hope that in 2030 the need to update the goals and set yet more new targets will no longer exist.
The report of the Global Campaign for Education, Equal Right – Equal Opportunity: Inclusive Education for Children with Disabilities can be accessed via the link below.