Ironically it is the young campaigner, Malala, who is more widely known, owing to her personal story: her extraordinary bravery in standing up to the Taliban and the power of her speeches, not least at the UN General Assembly on her 16th birthday.

Kailash is less well known and most of the media coverage has focused on his work on child labour in India, bravely freeing children from conditions of slavery and abuse. What is much less known is the work Kailash has done for education. In 1998 the movement started by Kailash, the Global March against Child Labour, concluded that achieving universal education was the key positive solution to the outrage of child labour. As Kailash himself has often said "the best place for children to work is in school". 

As a result of this, in 1999 Kailash co-founded the Global Campaign for Education (GCE) – together with ActionAid, Oxfam and Education International. ActionAid was already running the "Elimu" campaign which focused on democratising education decision making – supporting stronger citizen oversight locally and forming inclusive national education coalitions to review and influence progress on education. Meanwhile Oxfam had launched their "Education Now!" Campaign, putting a human face on their work on structural adjustment and debt by focusing on education financing and demanding a global action plan.  At the same time Education International, the global federation of teachers unions, with 23 million members (at the time), launched a campaign called “Quality Public Education for All”, challenging the neo-liberal agenda and the creeping privatisation of education. The link with Kailash’s Global March Against Child Labour added a crucial dimension to the emerging Global Campaign for Education  (GCE), with a strong focus on the most excluded children and a commitment to mobilisation.

The initial focus of the GCE was to get the international community to recognise the scale of the global crisis in education – with over 100 million children out of school at that time. GCE argued for and secured in 2000 some ambitious Education for All and Millennium Development Goals that would address this crisis. Kailash became the first President of the GCE and served in that role through to 2011, helping GCE to evolve into a truly global, southern-led movement with national education coalitions now formed in over 80 countries. These coalitions in each country bring NGOs and unions together to hold their own governments to account for delivering on education rights. This is an unprecedented and exemplary movement, mobilising millions of people, with its headquarters in South Africa. There have been many dramatic successes, for example with campaigns to end user fees leading to huge surges in enrolment so that today there are 50 million more children in school than there were 15 years ago.

Kailash has been at the heart of this movement and remains on the international board of GCE. He played a key role in the development of Education Fast Track Initiative and its evolution into the $3 billion Global Partnership for Education. At all times he has emphasised the need to keep up our efforts to reach the hardest to reach:  the most excluded children, those working in appalling conditions as child labourers, the children with disabilities and those affected by conflict.

Kailash was one of the first people to celebrate Malala’s emergence as a formidable campaigner for girls’ education. She has put the issues on the global agenda more effectively than anyone, capturing the imagination of the world’s media and of the general public. Indeed, Malala has reached people at an emotional level that has helped to transform the case for education, making it one of the defining struggles of our times.

The Nobel Prize comes at a key moment for education campaigners as we come up to the deadline for the education goals which were set back in 2000 for achievement in 2015. It is now clear that these goals will not be met as 57 million children are still not in school and the quality of education for many others is shockingly poor. The key challenge is for governments and donors to learn from what worked and what did not – and then to place education at the heart of the post-2015 sustainable development goals.  As the Nobel Peace Prize makes clear, education is not just a good in itself – it is absolutely central to the achievement of wider goals of peace, development and justice.

David Archer is Head of Programme Development for ActionAid International, and serves as a member of the Board of the Global Campaign for Education and of the Global Partnership for Education.

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