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The 2006 Biennale on education in Africa

Characteristics, Conditions and Factors for Effective Schools and Literacy and Early Childhood Development Programs

The Biennale of Education in Africa is unquestionably the most important meeting of the educational cooperation community in sub-Saharan Africa. Some 300 participants are expected, including all ministers responsible for education and training in sub-Saharan Africa, all multilateral and bilateral cooperation agencies working in the education sector in Africa, African and international NGOs/CSOs, and education specialists from education ministries, universities, research institutions and networks. Among the many reasons for the growing interest of African Ministers of Education and their development partners for this event, may we kindly draw your attention to the following:

1.The unique membership and catalytic role of ADEA

Created in 1988 as a forum for donors, ADEA has grown over the years and now has a unique membership, comprising all the Ministers of Education in sub-Saharan Africa (members in their own right), regardless of linguistic or geographic region, and their main international development partners, including the twenty-two (22) bilateral and multilateral cooperation agencies that are members of the ADEA Steering Committee. ADEA is first and foremost a venue for dialogue among ministers, among agencies and between ministers and agencies - a dialogue that leads these partners to discuss policies for educational development as well as support strategies for these policies in order to encourage needed reform.

The dialogue within ADEA displays a professional, development-oriented approach conducive to frank, open and substantive discussions, in order to learn from one another and to promote shared understandings based on dynamic, productive partnerships. This genuine policy dialogue is underpinned by analytical research and various contributions from the professional networks developed by ADEA's 15 Working Groups and ad hoc Groups on crucial topics for the development of education in Africa: books and learning materials, distance education and open learning, education sector analysis, early childhood development, finance and education, education statistics, non-formal education, female participation, higher education, the teaching profession, communication for education and development, effective responses to the HIV/AIDS pandemic in the education sector, improving the quality of education, training in policy dialogue, post-primary strategies.

ADEA thus serves as a catalyst and forum for joint deliberations, learning from one another, innovative ideas, new partnerships, and stronger regional cooperation and African leadership in the education sector.

2. ADEA Biennial Meetings: Ultimate venues for regional policy dialogue

The Biennial Meetings are not only the ultimate venues of this policy dialogue, they also provide an exceptional opportunity for making contacts, network building and sharing experience and knowledge. For that reason, they influence the priorities and set the agenda for present and future educational cooperation in Africa. The themes of the successive Biennial meetings provide eloquent testimony to this effect:
- Implementation of programs and educational development projects (Angers, 1993);
- The nature and process of education policy formulation (Tours, 1995);
- Partnerships for capacity development and education quality for all (Dakar, 1997);
- Promising and successful experiences to improve access, equity, quality and efficient management of education (Johannesburg, 1999);
- Sustaining and scaling up successful or promising reforms (Arusha, 2001);
- The challenge of learning: Improving the quality of education in Africa (Grand Baie, 2003).

There is consistency in the Biennial Meeting themes, in that the subjects addressed are pursued and investigated more deeply, all the while tackling or anticipating the changing priorities of educational cooperation in Africa.

3. Context of the 2006 Biennale: challenges and opportunities

The 2006 Biennale will be held in a context where Africa is still facing considerable challenges which include: civil conflicts, further impoverishment, the exponential spread of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, a number of countries in danger of failing to meet the EFA goals for 2015. In contrast to this gloomy picture, some reasons for optimism are emerging: the debt cancellation initiated by the G8, the fresh impetus given to anti-poverty programs and the Millennium development goals all reflect strong commitment on the part of the international community and constitute new opportunities to move forward.

In the process, new forms of cooperation are being established, in which sector-wide and intersectoral approaches to aid are tied to macroeconomic and global analyses of poverty. At the same time, the top political leadership of African countries is showing an increasingly strong determination to take over the ownership of development policies and programs as illustrated by the NEPAD, an initiative of the African Union that proclaims the determination of African heads of state to take responsibility for the development of Africa and to build a new type of partnership with the North on this basis.

To address these challenges and seize these opportunities, Africa has no more powerful lever than that offered by education. As a vital factor in economic growth, equitable redistribution of income, protection of health and the environment, and the promotion of democratic citizenship and national cohesion, education is both an sine qua non condition and a powerful driving force for sustainable development. This pivotal role of education, which is increasingly recognized in the international arena, is precisely what explains the collective commitments to and the mobilization in support of the EFA goals.

4.Theme of the 2006 Biennale: Effective learning, and effective education and training systems

The 2006 Biennale is fully in line with the international and African movement to promote the virtuous circle of education and development, because it is based on one of the main lessons drawn from the analysis of successful experiences in Africa (the 1999 Biennale): the combination of broader access, increased equity and improved quality is both a necessary condition and a key factor for the success of development-oriented education policies.

While significant progress has been made in terms of access to schooling in Africa (currently 9 out of 10 children begin school), repetition and dropout rates remain extremely high, and primary school completion rates and acquisition levels very low. The fact that out of 100 children who begin school only 60 complete their primary education underscores the mediocre performance of education systems. Rates of effectiveness in education in Africa today are among the lowest worldwide and indicate where the priorities of education policies should lie. Consequently, there is a need for more attention to and investment in the quality of efforts made to achieve education for all. For this reason, the ADEA Steering Committee, after consulting all African Ministers of Education, and agreeing with the opinion expressed by the majority of them, have decided to pursue policy dialogue on the improvement of quality in education by articulating it to the theme and objective of reinforcing the effectiveness of learning, as well as that of education and training systems. This main theme will be combined to other themes that have received strong support from ministers: schools, literacy, and early childhood development.

5. A participatory preparation process

To elicit active preparation and participation from both African countries and their partners, the ADEA Steering Committee set up three ad hoc groups to conduct studies on the chosen themes. This exercise is intended to support African countries in their efforts to meet the challenge of providing basic education for all. The methodology developed for the study is based on the analysis, sharing and exchange of acquired experience and knowledge concerning the improvement of educational quality. Taking this participatory approach based on praxis as its foundation, the objectives of the exercise are: (i) to give more wide-ranging consideration to relevant policies, strategies and practices, taking into account the specific contexts to which they belong; (ii) to identify African solutions developed by African countries in response to African problems related to strengthening effectiveness; (iii) to encourage, through the exchange of ideas, the emergence of enriched political visions and commitments.

The two main focuses of this study are the analysis of country experiences (case studies identified and conducted by African countries) and a review of the literature on topics directly related to educational effectiveness. Numerous country case or inter-country case studies are being undertaken in order to nurture discussion on the themes of literacy, effective schools and early childhood development.

6. The organization of the Biennale

In the meantime, while waiting for the agenda to be finalized, thinking concerning the organization of the Biennale has led to the meeting schedule below:

27th March 2006

The meeting of the Caucus of Ministers will be organized in collaboration with the African Union to discuss the following themes:
-the action plan of the African Union with regard to the education sector;
-the priorities and strategic objectives of ADEA for the period 2007-2011.

As is the custom during the Biennale, the Caucus of Ministers shall elect the Bureau of African Ministers that will be part of ADEA's Steering Committee for a period of two years.

The official opening ceremony shall take place at the end of the afternoon and will be chaired by the President of the Republic of Gabon.

28th March 2006

The plenary sessions during which the themes to be discussed will be introduced are planned on the second day of the Biennale. The themes to be discussed are: effective schools, literacy programs and early childhood development programs.

29th and 30th March 2006

Parallel sessions each focusing on the different themes of the Biennale are planned during these two days. These sessions will facilitate exchanges and the elaboration of strategies and measures to be implemented in order to improve learning effectiveness in schools and other places delivering literacy and early childhood development programs.

31st March 2006

The Biennale will end with a plenary session during which the conclusions and findings of the individual parallel sessions will be consolidated.

Visits and side events such as exhibitions and experience and innovations sharing forums will also be organized during the Biennale.