Are we on track for a global education goal? Reflections on the global meeting on education post-2015

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

This week I joined 100 education experts from around the world in Dakar, Senegal, to consider the outcomes of global consultations on post-2015 education goals, organized by UNESCO and UNICEF. The wide-ranging discussions reached consensus on the importance of stressing the right to education and, crucially, on the need for post-2015 education goals to focus strongly on access and education quality, with equity cutting across both.

Participants also supported placing greater emphasis on ensuring that no country is left behind due to insufficient finance after 2015, in line with the EFA Global Monitoring Report’s recent proposals.

The World We WantAt the same time, as Vincent Rigby of the Canadian International Development Agency stressed, it is vital to make the case for education’s importance as a gateway to other development goals; The global education community can’t take it for granted that others will consider education as high a priority as we know it is. Gordon Brown’s opening message put this powerfully, stating that if all mothers had at least secondary education, 1.8 million children’s lives could be saved each year.

I was encouraged by the enthusiasm and high ambitions that the education community expressed during the meeting, but I was also left with some concerns. Participants could have made more progress towards ensuring that new education goals are clearly and simply stated, measurable and have equity at their heart. The EFA Global Monitoring Report team, calling on its decade of tracking the EFA goals, has identified these as essential criteria for post-2015 education goals, as I outlined in an earlier blog post.

Participants agreed that the education community needed to identify an overarching education goal that would fit within the broader post-2015 development framework, to avoid the kind of mistake made with the second Millennium Development Goal (universal primary education),which was too reductionist. The document summarizing the outcomes of the Dakar meeting proposes as an overarching goal “equitable quality lifelong education and learning for all”. This proposal will be put forward to the Post-2015 High Level Panel, which will meet in Bali next week.

The wording appears to be a compromise aimed at resolving an emerging tension between two schools of thought in the education community. Should the focus be on the process of ensuring education quality, or on the outcome of learning? The former implies an all-encompassing goal, just as is being proposed for health in the form of a goal on universal health care. The latter is a plea for specificity, emphasized by Amina Mohammed, the UN Secretary General’s Special Adviser on Post-2015 Development Planning, in her opening remarks to the meeting. The proposed goal attempts to incorporate both – in the form of “quality lifelong education” as well as “learning for all”.

Those who support “quality education” see a focus on measurable learning outcomes as too narrow, and emphasize that “learning” does not capture everything that education is about.

The other school of thought sees “quality education” as too vague and difficult to measure, which would undermine the adoption of the goal. Some also feel that such a focus is likely to divert attention from the need to ensure that all children, regardless of their circumstances, are able to learn. This concern echoes the 2012 EFA Global Monitoring Report’s finding that at least 250 million children of primary school age are unable to read or write. It also underlines why it is important to identify indicators for measuring a goal early on. We present ideas for such indicators in the recent paper on potential goals that we have put forward for consultation.

The proposed goal’s reference to “lifelong education” is also troublesome. It means different things to different people, so a lot of energy would be wasted on trying to identify a common understanding of the term, and how to monitor progress towards it. We have already seen how damaging this can be for education goals and those they are meant to help: using the term “life skills” in EFA goal 3 ultimately blocked progress on this goal. Rather than using such a term, it would be clearer to refer to learning by all children, youth and adults.

Despite these concerns of clarity, simplicity and measurability, I was reassured that there is consensus on putting equity at the heart of future of education goals, with explicit mention in the proposed goal. Making equity explicit in the goal itself, as well as in the indicators and targets, is necessary to ensure we keep our promises this time around. But to achieve the desired outcomes for those who are denied the opportunity to learn because of their poverty, gender, disability or where they live, we need to put this in language that everyone can understand. This is why the EFA Global Monitoring Report team’s draft formulation of an overarching goal focuses on everyone – including all children, youth and adults – learning the basics, regardless of their circumstances.

We still have a journey to make before we reach final agreement on the wording of an overarching post-2015 education goal. But as we move forward, it is vital to continue to assess our progress in terms of these three key criteria: clarity and simplicity, measurability, and putting equity at the centre.

This entry was posted in Basic education, Equity, Learning, Millennium Development Goals, Out-of-school children, Post-2015 development framework, Quality of education, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Are we on track for a global education goal? Reflections on the global meeting on education post-2015

  1. I agree with your concern about the proposed overarching goal, “Equitable quality lifelong education and learning for all”. It’s not actionable, hardly measurable and more of a vision than a goal. The tension between the quality folks and the outcome folks seems to have resulted in a compromise that’s blue-sky.

    The solution for reducing the tension and creating a meaningful and actionable goal is using a process maturity model. The maturity model is a framework of educational practices and outcomes and therefore addresses both processes and measured learning achievement. The key is to define stages of implementation for each of the factors (the maturity) much like a rubric. Here’s an illustration of one that has five levels of maturity http://goo.gl/SiLNw. Each maturity factor is separately measured to determine an overall maturity score. The cited example has a maturity score range of 1 to 5. Using such a model, the committee might consider an overarching goal like, “Achieve an education maturity score of at least 2.5 for each country and a minimum score of 2.0 for every school.”

    The maturity model can have enough factors to satisfy every committee participant. And, the model will serve for years as the goal by simply ratcheting up the maturity score objective. Of course, even this could be blue sky if unrealistic maturity levels are set as the specific goals for any time-frame. Used appropriately, this concept will provide leading indicators of student achievement improvement while offering actionable information for continuous progress.

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    • Pauline Rose says:

      Hi Tom

      many thanks for your comment. Your point is important that the current proposal for a goal is more of a vision that is not actionable and hardly measurable. Your proposal is an interesting one, but probably too complex for a global goal – that needs to be simple to understand and straightforward to measure even in countries with less sophisticated information systems than the US. Your suggestions are, however, also useful for our next report on teaching and learning for development, where we will be looking at some issues related to the points in your framework in more detail, in particular to improve the learning of disadvantaged students. See here for information about the report: http://www.unesco.org/new/en/education/themes/leading-the-international-agenda/efareport/reports/2013/

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  2. Dr Krishna Kant Jha says:

    I have strongly observed through my research work that we are not on track for a global education goal. The reason is obvious- despite admitting the universalisation of quality education in MDG in 2000, the present set up of education could not provide accessibility to education across the world, a majority of children are out of school, there is different quality of educational institutions for rich and poor. Besides, even educated people have not given up cultural and religious blind faith. Most of them are yet involved in corrupt practices.Most of them do not get employment. So, global education system requires radical change. Propar educatioin system alone can solve major problems of inequality across the world.

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