By Pauline Rose, director of the Education for All Global Monitoring Report
A good education has been voted the top priority in the UN’s online survey on what people want in a post-2015 world. But what does a “good education” mean? And how can we set goals that will give everyone a chance to obtain it? The Education for All Global Monitoring Report’s experience in assessing progress towards the Education for All goals since 2000 offers crucial lessons for the complex process of setting new goals, targets and indicators.
It helps that the post-2015 education goals and targets proposed so far have a lot in common. There is general agreement on the need for an overarching goal that is part of the broader global framework that will replace the Millennium Development Goals, and that is clearly linked with a fuller post-2015 education framework. The majority of proposals suggest 2030 as a new deadline. While the education MDG is about reaching universal primary education, the new proposals stretch that ambition to lower secondary. There is broad consensus that a good education is not only of “good quality” but is also equitable – that is, available to all, regardless of their wealth, gender, ethnicity and other characteristics. Having co-convened the online post-2015 consultation related to equity, it’s encouraging to see the popularity of this theme.
Of the four proposals that spell out an overarching education goal, however, none have made equity explicit. Most prefer to make it implicit: “all children (and youth)…” is the phrase used by the Basic Education Coalition, Global Campaign for Education (US Chapter) and Save the Children. “Quality education for all” is proposed by the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI).
Looking beyond the overarching goal to targets and indicators, GCE-US and the Basic Education Coalition call for data to be disaggregated (broken down to show the influence of factors such as poverty, gender and ethnicity). The Commonwealth Secretariat lists the disparities it recommends be eliminated for learning outcomes (household wealth, gender, special needs, location, age and social group), and suggests equity “should be captured in subordinate goals as appropriate”. The United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID) presents a specific equity target – “Disadvantaged girls and boys, including those with disabilities and from religious and ethnic minorities have equal access to effective learning in school” – and also calls for data to be disaggregated to allow monitoring.
As you can see from the box on the left, all the EFA goals did include the language of equity (highlighted in blue), with the exception of goal 6 (education quality). So why, two years from the deadline, has that ambition still not been achieved? We must at least consider whether the language of equity is enough on its own to bring results.
Our World Inequality Database on Education (WIDE) shows how stark inequalities in education access remain. Data from 2010 show that in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, almost all the richest boys and girls in the capital city, Kinshasa, go to school. By contrast, in Katanga – a conflict-affected region – only 55% of poor females have the chance of an education. Global education’s unfinished business, in other words, concerns even this most basic of goals – getting every child into school.
Democratic Republic of the Congo, 7- to 16- years, never been to school, 2010
One conclusion to draw from the limited progress in narrowing inequality gaps is that the MDGs – which have dominated development planning – should have incorporated equity as a core principle, as the EFA goals did. Another is that the lack of measurable equity targets, and of disaggregated data, has let down the poorest, girls, those with disabilities, and those in rural areas over the past decade.
As we highlight in the box on the right, some of the current EFA goals contain measurable targets (green) while others did not, and/or had unclear definitions, making measuring progress difficult (red). Goals 1, 3 and 6 (on ECCE, skills and quality) did not define clear ways of measuring progress. This could help explain why progress towards those goals has been slower, and why 200 million young people today need a second chance at an education. This is also why quality and learning are rightly now taking centre stage in post-2015 debates.
Given that equity and measurability are key requirements, how do the post-2015 proposals fare when it comes to putting them together? Only three of the proposals provide clear ways of measuring equity, by focusing on the lowest 20%, or income quintile, and gender. Save the Children suggests several indicators to address inequality, including “ensuring all the poorest quintile can read with measurable understanding to ‘read to learn’ by end of year 3” and “narrowing the gap in literacy and numeracy learning outcomes achieved by aged 12 between the richest and poorest quintiles, and by gender”.
DFID presents a proposal for measuring the rate of progress of the bottom learning quintile to ensure it is at least as fast as the average rate of progress at a country level. The Commonwealth Secretariat proposes as an indicator the percentage of children from the bottom 20% of household income achieving a certain level in national learning assessments compared with those from the top 20% (but leaving vague whether a differential can persist). Results for Development, while not drafting any specific language of goals, also proposes that performance be measured using the top and bottom quintile.
What guiding messages should we give to the UN Secretary-General’s High Level Panel on the Post-2015 Development Agenda as they draft a framework for the coming decades?
It’s clear we need to make equity a central focus in both access to education and learning achievement. But it seems the education community hasn’t yet identified a route to get there. Based on the EFA Global Monitoring Report’s experience over the past 10 years, we can give three pieces of advice at this stage of the drafting process:
1. Be clear and simple
2. Be measurable
3. Put equity at the heart of any goal, target and indicator on educational access and learning.