In 2013, let’s keep our education promises – and get ready to make some more

By Pauline Rose, director of the Education for All Global Monitoring Report

Education-after-2015-logo9With less than three years until the deadline for the Education for All goals, I sincerely hope 2013 is a year of urgent action to accelerate progress – particularly given the recent stagnation , with 61 million children still out of school.

It’s likely we will have unfinished business in 2015, as well as new challenges, so I also hope we see consensus this year on the central place of equitable educational access and learning in the broader post-2015 framework.

Even though 2015 is not far away, there are three actions that can be taken to accelerate progress:

1.     Make primary schooling fee-free

Many countries have abolished primary school fees over the past decade, resulting in a massive boost to enrolment that has particularly benefited children from poor households, and especially girls in these households. But more needs to be done to reach children in countries where fees are still being charged, and to ensure schooling really is free even where fees have been abolished. Evidence in our latest EFA Global Monitoring Report shows that in seven countries that have officially abolished fees, they still make up at least 15% of household education spending, reaching over 30% in Uganda.

2.     Set national priorities by identifying marginalized groups

Identifying the groups that are being left behind is the first step to addressing the problem of the remaining 61 million children out of school. In 2012, the EFA Global Monitoring Report team developed a new, user-friendly, interactive website, the World Inequality Database on Education (WIDE), that allows easy identification of groups who are being denied education opportunities, whether due to poverty, gender or where they live – the groups that need to be given priority in national policies.

The website also shows where progress is being made. Comparing Bangladesh and Pakistan, for example, it is clear that Bangladesh’s policies targeting disadvantaged girls by providing stipends has helped to narrow gaps, which remain wide in Pakistan. The percentage of the poorest girls in Pakistan who have never been to school fell from 78% in the early 1990s to 62% in the late 2000s, a much smaller drop than in Bangladesh, where it fell from 91% to 44% over a similar period.

Comparing the percentage of children who have never been to school by wealth and gender in Pakistan from 1991 to 2007

Pakistan: children who have never been to school, 1991

Pakistan: children who have never been to school, 1991

Pakistan: children who never been to school, 2007

Pakistan: children who never been to school, 2007

Comparing the percentage of children who have never been to school in Bangladesh by wealth and gender from 1993 to 2007

Bangladesh: children who have never been to school, 1993

Bangladesh: children who have never been to school, 1993

Bangladesh: children who have never been to school, 2007

Bangladesh: children who have never been to school, 2007

3.     Ensure donors keep their promises

When international leaders met at Dakar in 2000, donors pledged that no country would be thwarted in its bid to meet the EFA goals due to lack of resources. Our latest assessment of financing trends finds that aid to education is stagnating just when it is needed the most. Cutbacks in aid are hitting education in 19 low income countries. It is vital that these negative trends are reversed before it is too late.


It is also time to lay the groundwork for action that will needed after 2015 to address unfinished business and new challenges. There are wide-ranging debates and consultations taking place on what a post-2015 framework might look like. Poverty eradication is expected to remain central, but issues not previously addressed are likely to be more prominent, including urbanization, good governance, environmental sustainability and climate change. Regardless of the precise framework, education must be included as a specific goal given its central role in meeting other development objectives. Our forthcoming 2013 GMR on Teaching and Learning for Development will facilitate this by providing robust evidence on the linkages between education and broader development outcomes.

Given what we have learned from the EFA goals and MDG framework, I hope that progress will be made in 2013 towards developing a post-2015 agenda in the following areas:

1.     Devise an overarching education goal as part of a broader post-2015 framework

One important lesson from the past decade is that the EFA goals and the education-related MDGs were not sufficiently aligned. Many observers are now lamenting the lack of attention to equity and the quality of learning in the MDG framework, yet these were always a core part of the broader EFA goals. Given that the MDGs have had a larger impact on overall development priorities, it is vital that an overarching education goal addressing equity in access and learning is framed in a way that is appealing to a broad development constituency, while ensuring that education-specific targets can be set that allow for more holistic monitoring by the education community.

Another lesson is that the precise form of wording of the goals can make a big difference to the attention they receive, with simplicity that captures the attention of non-experts likely to gain most traction – so it is time to start putting forward options for debate. Proposals so far have included “universal literacy”, “learning for all”, or “equitable access and learning”.

Sceptics say that international goals undermine national priorities and planning. This does not need to be the case, however: an overarching goal can and should be framed that can accommodate national priorities and strategies. Who would argue against all children being able to read a sentence by the age of 10, for example? Other sceptics say that setting quantitative targets undermines the broader aims of education. But if an education system cannot even ensure that all children are learning to read,write and count, will it really be able to promote critical thinking and problem-solving? It is vital to get the basics right for all children, so that they have a strong foundation for further learning.

250 million children can't read or count whether they're in school or not

Of 650 million children of primary school age today, 250 million children can’t read or count whether they’re in school or not

2.      Identify approaches for measuring equity in educational access and learning

Even though post-2015 approaches are still being thrashed out, there is broad agreement that equity needs to be more central. Even though the EFA goals have included equity as part of their definition, targets and indicators have not sufficiently measured progress for the most disadvantaged, and action has often focused on helping those who are easiest to reach.

Just how should we measure equity? Should we monitor the progress of the poorest 20%, for example? Or should the most disadvantaged groups for each indicator be identified by country (poorest girls living in rural areas, for example) and assess their progress relative to others in the country? Our WIDE database is a first step in showing what can be achieved using internationally comparable household survey data, but clearly there is much more work to be done to accurately monitor progress so that the most disadvantaged are not left behind after 2015. For one thing, some groups remain invisible in household survey data, such as children with disabilities, pastoralists, and those internally displaced by conflict.

Measures of equity need to include both access and learning. We estimate that around 250 million primary-school aged children are not learning the basics. Post-2015 targets need to pay greater attention not only to raising overall learning, but also to narrowing gaps in achievement to ensure that those whose are held back by their circumstances, such as poverty or where they live, have an equal chance to perform well once in school. As our 2013 Report will show, investing wisely in teachers, and other reforms aimed at strengthening equitable learning, transform the long-term prospects of people and societies.

3.     Set targets for financing education

Another lesson from the current framework is that it does not sufficiently hold to account those responsible for providing resources to ensure goals would be met. The lack of specific targets for MDG8 on global partnerships has let donors off the hook. Similarly, within the Dakar framework for action there was a lack of specific targets for ensuring that no country be left behind in education due to lack of resources.

A post-2015 framework needs to include explicit targets so that funders are held to account, and to ensure transparency in allocation of funds so that they reach the most disadvantaged. Targets should address contributions of national governments (including how they use revenue from natural resources to benefit education) and OECD-DAC donors, as well as emerging donors such as the BRICS. The private sector, which is increasingly making its presence known in international education, currently contributes a very small amount– equivalent to just 5% of aid according to our latest calculations. If private organizations are to truly make a difference to the education of children worldwide, they need to agree to be held accountable for commitments, and deliver these in a transparent way to ensure they are contributing to agreed objectives on education.

I look forward to collaborating with you all in the coming year to translate these hopes into a reality. Share your thoughts on how you think an overarching education goal could be framed, what approaches could be adopted to measuring equity in access and learning, and what targets could ensure that those with resources finally put their money where their mouth is.

This entry was posted in Basic education, Developing countries, Equity and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to In 2013, let’s keep our education promises – and get ready to make some more

  1. Melissa says:

    Making primary school completely fee free is crucial to the success of Africans because they can’t afford the fees for uniforms and textbooks. Without the elimination of fees, the cycle of poverty will not be broken by 2015 or anywhere in the near future.


  2. Jane Wall says:

    Education goals which focus on improving quality of teaching and learning and NOT just ensuring that children are sitting in a crowded, unresourced classroom – vital.


  3. SH says:

    The elimination of school fees is crucial to progress in the developing world. It’s unfortunate the west’s austerity measures (and reduced ODA budgets) are impacting so many African children at this time.


  4. Kristin says:

    We have to put hope before us and believe that even though not all will be achieved by 2015, somehow, something will be accomplished that will make 2015 better than what we have now.


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  7. ichiro says:

    it is important to change the delivery system and make formal schools more flexible. From the past experiences for so many years, It is obvious that the traditional package education has a lot of limitations to accomodate all children and ensure their learning. We need to change the curriculum, period, and pedagogy to adapt their contexts in view of lifelong learning.


  8. Pauline Rose says:

    Many thanks for all these comments. I agree that a vital first step is to abolish school fees. It is encouraging that Namibia has just done this. Countries also need to make sure that unoffiial fees do not keep children out of school.

    And getting into school is not enough. We need to make sure they are learning once there. We intend to look at this in more detail in our 2013 Report, in particular looking at the importance of quality teachers for quality and equitable learning.

    Do continue to share your ideas on these issues, as well as others on how we an accelerate progress towards the goals by 2015, and what we should focus on after 2015.


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