International cooperation for educational justice

In this chapter, SES Foundation‘s Marcela Browne and Micaela Herbón assess the progress made towards achieving SDG 4, universal access to education, in the Latin American context and the impact of ODA, South-South Cooperation in the region, transparency and external debt on education financing.

Marcela Browne and Micaela Herbon, SES Foundation, Argentina

This is an excerpt from a chapter in the RoA Report 2020/2021. Download the full chapter here.

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, striving to “leave no one behind”, is an action plan for the benefit of the people, the planet and prosperity. Education, integral to the Agenda’s other objectives, is at the heart of its achievement. 

The commitments made to education by the rich countries in Incheon (in the 2015 World Education Forum in Korea) are closely linked to Official Development Assistance (ODA). Unfortunately, these promises have not been kept. Instead, member countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD) Development Assistance Committee (DAC) are moving away from the planned target and their commitments of 0.7% of their Gross National Income (GNI). 

The expectations for education generated by the 2030 Agenda commitments by the world’s richest countries have not been realized. UNESCO’s 2017 Global Education Monitoring Report (GEM) warned that levels of aid for education had decreased for the sixth consecutive year, especially for the secondary school sector. Worsened by the pandemic, education as a whole is in a state of emergency. 

South-South Cooperation (SSC) was born as an alternative to developed countries’ cooperation in a context of transformation of the world order and self-assertion of developing countries’ identity and independence. In Latin America, SSC’s journey has been long, intense, evolving and diverse due to various political and economic factors. 

In 1978, the Buenos Aires Plan of Action (BAPA) was created to guide and support SSC. BAPA’s founding document states that SSC’s purpose is to contribute to the well-being of the peoples and countries of the South through mutual cooperation, by which developing countries agree to respect national sovereignty, anti-colonialism and independence, equality, non-conditionality, non-interference in internal affairs and mutual benefit. 

BAPA +40, the follow up conference to BAPA, departs somewhat from the original version in its primary focus on attracting the private sector and international financial investments, with little or no mention of people’s and civil society organizations’ engagement; it thus expands corporate uptake and reinforces the reduction of civic spaces in SSC. In response to this, civil society organizations and movements called for “a people-centered South-South Cooperation” in 2019. 

These new SSC approaches are highly worrying and raise the tension between two ways of understanding the internationalization of education, and more specifically the importance of national educational policies. Regional integration agreements in education, for instance, can have a positive impact on the construction of knowledge and on the prevention of migration to developed countries.

An analysis of SSC development plans and strategies reveals that none of the countries in the Latin American region have prioritized the educational system in their core planning or cooperation strategies, thus contradicting the letter of their commitments where education has been identified as a main driver for development. 

On a more positive note, two initiatives that set examples for the possibility of creating a more humane world, based on cooperation between nations, are (1) Argentinian President Alberto Fernandez’s call to “a great Global Solidarity Pact”, as well as for the creation of “a Global Fund for Humanitarian Emergency”, and (2) Pope Francis’ call for a new education pact for the care of creation: “Reconstructing the Global Compact on Education”.

Emancipatory development has been a crucial goal originating from the South. SSC has allowed, even with the aforementioned fluctuations, a greater knowledge of the Global South. However, there continues to be a huge gap in topics linked to education, human, social, political and sustainable development rights–all of which need to be prioritized.

An increased investment in education is a necessary measure to help reduce world poverty and achieve the goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Developing countries, however, are trapped in a vicious cycle, which undermines their capacities to realize this vital objective. They are facing untenable debt loads that reduce their national sovereignty and capacities to make their own decisions. The Latin American region also faces corruption by large global corporations, which ultimately reduce the tax revenue for needed public services such as education. 

We are at a time of instability in the global regulation system, one that is increasingly favouring corporate and elite interests. A well-monitored tax system is vital if there is to be an equitable distribution of wealth and to guarantee compliance with the Goals set forth in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Central to this Agenda is the achievement of SDG 4, the right to education.