For post-2015 education goals to achieve real change, they need the widest support possible, argues Ed Barnett, an education adviser at the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development. (The views expressed in this blog are the author’s and do not represent official policy.)
Education is both a human right and a necessary ingredient for global prosperity. A quality education can enable people to shape, strengthen and contribute to thriving economies and open, inclusive societies. It’s not just an outcome from development; it’s a foundational building block. But how should education be represented in a post-2015 development framework?
As with the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the broader post-2015 debate is seeking to define goals that express global aspirations and motivate action that transforms development and reduces poverty. The framework needs to be universally applicable but it is crucial that countries signing up to it feel the goals are relevant and belong to them. Achieving this sense of ownership is the key to real change.
Learning from and building on the MDGs and EFA goals
The MDGs have stimulated a substantial advance in access to basic education. In the decade to 2008, more than 50 million extra girls and boys were able to enrol. Now the world needs not only to build on the progress made through the EFA goals and MDGs but also to address their shortcomings.
There are still 61 million boys and girls out of school and there is a global learning crisis, which has been well documented in recent blogs. Little progress was made on EFA where measurement was unclear and the MDGs were criticized for not being nationally “owned”; universal targets ignored the fact that each country was starting from a different point.
Less often discussed is the significance of demographic change and the increased burden this will place on future education systems. By 2050, most of DFID’s bilateral partners in Africa will see their populations double, and in Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia they are set to triple. In 11 of the world’s poorest countries, half the population will still be aged 23 or younger in 2050.
The massive youth bulge in many low income countries is growing and these young people are increasingly unemployed. What would they choose as their top priorities? In a thought-provoking study commissioned by the ONE Campaign, education comes far behind jobs, economic management and agriculture as pressing concerns felt by people in Africa, East Asia and Latin America. Whose voices are being heard in the UN online survey of what people want in a post-2015 world?
A consensus is growing in the global education community that post-2015 education goals should focus on getting more children into school, reducing inequalities and making sure that children are learning. But how much does this international consensus match countries’ own priorities? And how do these themes translate into measurable action?
Access, equity and learning
The remaining girls and boys out of school are likely to be the hardest to reach. Will an access target be enough to motivate action to get these children into school? Is equity mainly about using detailed data to make sure all groups progress equally, or about investing in children early, from before birth to the age of eight? Basic literacy and numeracy skills are fundamental to learning, but there is no solid evidence that this is what leads to education’s broader social benefits. Some of those benefits, like later marriage for girls, may arise from the wider socialization or personal empowerment that goes with schooling rather than, say, an ability to decode one’s own language.
We all need to ask ourselves these questions so that post-2015 education goals reflect global aspirations and are underpinned by contextually relevant and nationally owned targets and indicators. The Learning Metrics Taskforce is doing important work on this, looking to combine a set of global learning measures with nationally driven and owned learning assessments. The taskforce recently met to consider a set of measurement proposals. It’s not an easy task and yet indicators tend only to be successful when they’ve got real relevance for policy makers. Is the work on learning metrics being matched by work on developing indicators for access and equity?
A successful post-2015 framework needs wide support, to be nationally owned and to motivate action. The more views that are heard at this stage the more likely we are to achieve education’s transformational potential. I’d like to hear what your priorities are.