Two years down, 13 to go – Checking in on our progress towards the SDGs

Linkedin_Hero_#ACT4SDGsToday, September 25th 2017, marks two years since the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were adopted. This momentous anniversary is an occasion for us all to make sure the SDGs remain high on the global agenda. It’s also a chance to join the UN SDG campaign in their Global Day of Action, which appeals to civil society, volunteers and citizens (#Act4SDGs).

Mountain editOne of the key elements of this campaign is to check our progress towards the SDG goals. So, how far are we from achieving SDG 4?

In last year’s Global Education Monitoring Report (GEM Report) we warned that, if current trends continue, we’re not likely to see universal primary education by 2030 in many countries, let alone universal lower or upper secondary education. Lower middle income countries aren’t expected to hit this target until 2054, and low income countries are a staggering 58 years behind schedule: in those countries, universal primary education isn’t expected until 2088. Some countries won’t see universal primary completion until the end of the century.

Of course, universal enrolment at lower and upper secondary is a key part of the SDG4 target as well. Under the scenario that past growth rates will continue, universal lower secondary completion would be achieved in 2059, and universal upper secondary completion only in 2084.

The message is clear: we must act, and we must act now. #Act4SDGs ! Continue reading

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Losing out on learning: Action to ensure refugee children get an education

By Joseph Nhan-O’Reilly, Head of Education Policy & Advocacy and Sébastien Hine, Education Research Adviser at Save the Children

peace 1The world is now witnessing the highest levels of displacement on record. According to UNHCR, an unprecedented 65.6 million people around the world have been forced from their homes. Among them are nearly 22.5 million refugees, over half of whom are under the age of 18. A new Save the Children report, Losing Out On Learning, tracks progress made in the countries that pledged at the Leaders’ Summit at the UN General Assembly last year. It shows only modest advances have been made in a year. Slow progress leaves refugees with an uncertain future and the countries that host them with inadequate support.

The refugee education crisis
The state of provision for refugee education around the world is its own emergency, as the 2019 GEM Report being drafted on migration, displacement and education will confirm. More than half of all the refugee children in the world – 3.5 million – are not in school. In the last year alone refugee children have missed more than 700 million days of school, with this figure increasing by 1.9 million days every day.

peace day 2Missing out on education means children are missing opportunities to learn, which we ordinarily do everything possible to minimise, including via national laws. When children are out of school their learning is not only no longer advancing but is also likely to regress. In fact, the longer children are out of school the more they lose skills and knowledge they have already acquired. Continue reading

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Donors and countries are not pulling their weight in funding education

Today, two events are being held during the UN General Assembly delivering a high-level political call for urgent action on education financing. As the forthcoming GEM Report due out 24 October shows, many countries and donors are not pulling their weight sufficiently in funding education. Aid is stagnating, and, at the same time, many countries are still dragging their feet in meeting the education financing benchmarks to meet our goals by 2030.

One in four countries do not reach finance targets for education

1The two key targets on public financing of education appear in the Education 2030 Framework for Action, which proposed that governments should be allocating:

  • “at least 4% to 6% of GDP to education, and/or…
  • at least 15% to 20% of public expenditure to education”

According to the latest year of data, on average, global spending on education is at 4.7% of GDP, within the target range of 4% to 6%. This ranges from 3.7% in low income countries to 5.1% in high income countries. However, allocations did not meet the second target of at least 15 to 20% of public expenditure, falling at just 14.1% by latest counting.

Although these targets are not binding for countries, failing both thresholds may be a sign that education does not receive the attention it needs. Continue reading

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Who is responsible for ensuring gender equality in education?

ukfietProblems require solutions, which requires knowing who is responsible for fixing them, and having clear steps to address the issue. This is the meaning of accountability. A longstanding issue like gender inequality, therefore, is one for which accountability is clearly not yet doing its job. What are the bottlenecks, and what are the solutions? These were the questions the GEM Report, together with the United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative, put to a roomful of people at last week’s UKFIET Conference in England. The event was the first consultation held by the team on the 2017/8 GEM Report Gender Review due out in March 2018.

The consultation began by asking who is responsible for gender equality in education. It ran through some of the principal actors, including:

  • Governments: responsible for the enforcement of the right to education and non-discrimination. They must consider the gender implications of how they allocate resources, gender equality in teacher pay, how school leadership appointments are made, gender-bias free curricula and textbooks; gender-sensitive teacher training programmes; and gender sensitive school facilities.
  • Schools: responsible for ensuring safe and inclusive learning environments free from school-related gender-based violence and gender-biased student treatment.
  • Teachers: responsible for using inclusive instructional practices and fair disciplinary approaches – and promoting active discussions on gender issues, as long as the curriculum, textbooks and their preparation allow them to do so.
  • Parents: responsible for ensuring there is no-discrimination in their choices over which children go to school, and for providing equal support and encouragement regardless of their child’s gender.
  • All of us as community members or professionals: responsible for monitoring governments, schools and teachers, to challenge stereotypes and ensure discrimination is not tolerated.

Continue reading

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What matters for education reform? Lessons from the Partnership Schools for Liberia experiment and beyond

Engaging the private sector to overcome the learning crisis is all the rage in global education. This is giving rise to heated debates, as evident from responses to a paper just published on Liberia’s high-profile ‘Partnership Schools for Liberia’ (PSL) experiment.

liberia reportThe authors of the Liberia report conclude: ‘After one year, public schools managed by private operators raised student learning by 60 percent compared to standard public schools. But costs were high, performance varied across operators, and contracts authorized the largest operator to push excess pupils and under-performing teachers into other government schools.’

While the learning gains are important, this does not sound an overwhelming success, particularly given the low base of learning, and that in some cases the programme resulted in a shuffling of students between schools. Overall, there is no evidence that the programme increased enrolment in a context where only around 38% of children of the official school age are in school. As most of the children not in school are from the most disadvantaged backgrounds, these children did not have a chance to benefit from the programmes. Moreover, the learning gains of 0.18 standard deviations are also relatively modest according to J-PAL’s assessment, which suggests that a 0.1 standard deviation improvement is typically considered a small effect. Continue reading

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What do we mean by literacy in a digital world?

literacy dayThe meaning of the word literacy has developed continuously over the years. Today, the fact that International Literacy Day is on the theme of literacy in a digital world reminds us how the world has changed.

At the end of the US Revolution in 1787, Thomas Jefferson wrote from Paris that, “were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter. But I should mean that every man should receive those papers and be capable of reading them.”

Subsequent futurists  thought that books would become obsolete. In 1894, a bibliophile, Louis Octave Uzanne published ‘The End of Books’ warning that electronic media would soon replace books.

In recent years, the mass circulation of printed material rapidly declined in many countries. UNESCO stopped collecting newspaper circulation information in 2004. Not only are newspapers scarce in many countries, but so are books and libraries. For example, in Nigeria there is one library for every 1,350,000 people. Nigerian linguist Nolue Emenanjo termed Nigeria as nearly “bookless”. Continue reading

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It’s not ok if prisoners can’t read

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Image: Tiago Pinheiro

Tomorrow is International Literacy Day. A group, which has higher rates of illiteracy than other sections of the population but is rarely discussed, is those in the correctional justice system.

In the 2016 GEM Report, we noted that more than 75% of convicted persons in Italy had not completed high school in 2001, while United Kingdom incarceration rates among men aged 21 to 25 were more than eight times higher for those with no qualifications than for those with some qualification. A recent newspaper article points out that half of Britain’s prisoners are functionally illiterate. Research conducted for the European Commission revealed that in the Netherlands, 27% of early school leavers were suspected of a crime compared to 7% of non-school leavers. In Ireland, early school leavers were significantly more likely to be convicted (46.6 out of 1,000) compared with those who achieved the Leaving Certificate (1.6 out of 1,000)). Between seven and sixteen per cent of the prisoners in Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden in the late 2000s had not completed compulsory school. These startling statistics are concerning, as literacy skills can have a significant impact on a prisoner’s rehabilitation prospects.

There are significant logistical hurdles that must be overcome to provide education to those in the correctional justice system. Prisoners who have started a course in prison are often not able to finish it if they’re released in the meantime, and transfers between prisons can also severely affect prisoners’ learning and result in a loss of individual learning plans and assessment results. A study of prisoners in the United Kingdom showed that being transferred to another prison was the primary reason for a failure to complete a course. Sweden is leading the way in addressing this issue, by introducing distance learning in all Swedish prisons which means that teachers can teach students regardless of their physical location. Continue reading

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