Pauline Rose, professor of international education at the University of Cambridge and former director of the EFA Global Monitoring Report, reflects on progress and potential stumbling blocks towards finalizing agreement on a post-2015 education framework.
It was a great pleasure to attend UNESCO’s Global Education Meeting in Muscat this week to present the 2013/4 EFA Global Monitoring Report. It was encouraging to receive feedback that the report is considered by many as an important reference point not only for progress towards the current goals but also for helping to inform the post-2015 global education framework.
There has been considerable progress in developing a post-2015 framework since the global meeting in Dakar in March last year. Until a few months ago, there were serious concerns about whether an education framework would be developed. It is now clear that there is a joint commitment for a new education framework to be integrated with a broader development framework.
We now have a robust draft, including an overarching goal with seven targets, which was widely supported and constructively debated at the Muscat meeting. While the targets were not changed at the meeting itself, the intention is to update them based on key points raised by participants at the meeting. The intention is to ensure that this framework is clearly linked with the broader development framework that is currently under preparation.
The EFA Global Monitoring Report has advocated for targets to be equitable, with sufficient finance, and measurable. How did the discussions in Muscat, and the document itself, fare on this basis?
Member states, donors, and NGOs in Muscat universally criticized the targets for not including explicit language either on narrowing equity gaps or giving a specific focus to the marginalized. One outcome of the meeting is a commitment to edit the targets so they each include a particular reference to the issue. The sobering analysis in the 2013/4 EFA Global Monitoring Report that poor, rural girls only spend around three years in school in low-income countries, and that they are unlikely to achieve primary school completion for several decades, was an important source of evidence that helped to focus discussions on disadvantage in education.
An area that was more contested at the meeting was whether to include a target on financing. As it currently stands, the seventh target (identified as an input target) focuses on domestic financing. Some countries at the meeting, such as India and Zambia, called for a financing target that takes account of all sources of finance, including domestic financing, donor aid and other sources. Some donors, notably Japan and the United Kingdom, have expressed concerns about such a target.
There are good reasons for concerns – the intergovernmental committee of experts on sustainable development financing is in principle looking at the overall financing envelope for all goals in the broader development framework. However, so far that process has been opaque, and it is not clear that it will lead to tracking of education funding specifically.
Coming to an agreement on how to move forward on financing should be a priority, to make sure that the targets in education will not be held back due to lack of finance – a concern that the EFA Global Monitoring Report has highlighted as one of the key bottlenecks in achieving the current EFA goals.
Measurability was recognized by many participants as being vital to the success of the new framework. A draft document of the indicators drawn up by a technical advisory group was made available to participants, but sadly not discussed. The draft provides a sound initial basis for the work on indicators, but more needs to be done to make sure what is measured takes sufficient account of equity and marginalization, and that measurement will allow for a compelling assessment to promote action. Tracking the progress of the most marginalized with ‘stepping stone’ targets in the interim between 2015 and 2030 is one option that was proposed in the EFA Global Monitoring Report’s side event at the meeting.
Having measurable targets (and ensuring that visualizing their measurement will be politically compelling) is key to the success of the framework. Unless further attention is given soon to potential indicators, there is a danger that we will continue to go around in circles rewording targets that ultimately might not be measurable and so not appropriate.
I would therefore propose that the EFA Global Monitoring Report provides a quick snapshot of how each of the targets could be measured with existing data, based on its experience with the current goals (with illustrations of how this could be visualized) in advance of the special EFA Steering Committee meeting taking place in two weeks’ time to finalize the wording of the targets. Even though more work on indicators will inevitably be needed after this, it will help to focus the discussions.
Finally, it is reassuring to hear constructive debates among a wide range of ministers, NGOs and UN agencies on the proposed targets. Inevitably it is not possible to reach consensus, but there was clearly a strong collective will to find a way to reach agreement so that the education community speaks with one voice.However, there were notable silences from some key EFA convening agencies – no high level representation from UNICEF or the World Bank, for example. Let’s hope that all key education stakeholders come to the table with an agreed agenda in the coming year, and do not set up their own processes to influence the overarching development agenda based on individual institutional perspectives. This collective action is the only way that we can hope to ensure we don’t leave anybody behind in their right to a good quality education in the future.