Geeta Rao Gupta: Basic education for all 'can be achieved'

UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Geeta Rao Gupta. According to her, education in the post-2015 development agenda should have a system that will provide standards for equal and quality learning. Photo by: Mark Garten / U.N.

Ensuring every child in the world has a basic education by 2030 is a goal that can be achieved, especially after the “remarkable process” made in the 15 years after the MDGs were set by the United Nations.

“I think this is a promise we should make to our children,” UNICEF Deputy Director Geeta Rao Gupta tells Devex in an exclusive interview after the European Commission announced its new development goals for education.

Gupta says that education in the post-2015 development agenda should at least have some system that will provide standards for equal and quality learning. Those standards can be considered as “targets for learning” across countries, she added.

Here are a few experts of our conversation with the UNICEF Deputy Director in Brussels:

European Commissioner for Development Andris Piebalgs made a pledge to ensure that by 2030 “every child will be able to complete basic education, regardless of their circumstances and have basic literacy and numeracy skills.“ Do you think this commitment can be achieved?

I don’t see why it cannot be, we have to believe it. The progress we made in the last 15 years has been pretty remarkable, and we could have done even better. We have made enormous progress in bringing more children into school. Given the progress  made, and the knowledge, information and experience we gained, I don’t see why we could not achieve the goal of making sure that every child gets basic skills of literacy. I think this is a promise we should make to our children.

The aim of the conference was to mobilize political commitment and leadership. What do you think has been achieved with today’s discussion? What is  the main message delivered?

There were many ministers of education from developing countries attending and they are now feeling the pressure, coming from everybody who was present, to increase the education budget within their national budgets. We delivered them the message that domestic financing should [also] be raised in order to meet the targets. We hope they’ll take that message back to their countries.

Regarding the goal of “putting greater emphasis on equitable and quality learning” for all in the post-2015 development agenda, going beyond quantitative targets toward qualitative targets, could you define equity and “quality learning?” Should these objective be tailored country-by-country?

You can’t really measure equity or learning, but I think it’s possible to set up a metric, a system of measuring that will give us some standards that all children should achieve by the 3rd, 4th grade. Those standards could be compared across countries and considered “targets for learning.” In terms of equity what we have to define is what groups of children we want to see represented in larger numbers in the school (among the groups of children who are currently disadvantaged, like the poorest of the poor, children living with disabilities, girls). We have to define these categories, and then seeing whether we’ll be able to increase the number of these categories of children in school learning.

In the final 1,000 days of the MDG goals, what special efforts have been made and can be made in those countries currently off-track to speed up the process and for them to catch up?

A lot of efforts are under way already in order to speed up the process. The countries that are off-track feel the pressure of the [clock] ticking and are increasing their efforts. Some will speed up and get further that they would have if they hadn’t felt that pressure, but may still not meet the goals. There is the possibility that some country will not meet the targets set for education, in particular those countries affected by conflicts. I believe that setting a target triggered the progress that we have made. I think having MDGs for the post-2015 [agenda] will serve as a good rally point for government to work towards. The targets served the purpose, regardless of whether or not some countries meet or not meet the goals.

Interview conducted by Eva Donelli

Read more development aid news online, and subscribe to The Development Newswire to receive top international development headlines from the world’s leading donors, news sources and opinion leaders — emailed to you FREE every business day.

About the author

  • Carlos Santamaria

    Carlos is a former associate editor for breaking news in Devex's Manila-based news team. He joined Devex after a decade working for international wire services Reuters, AP, Xinhua, EFE ,and Philippine social news network Rappler in Madrid, Beijing, Manila, New York, and Bangkok. During that time, he also covered natural disasters on the ground in Myanmar and Japan.