By Manos Antoninis and Marcos Delprato, Senior Policy Analyst and Research Office respectively, for the Education for All Global Monitoring Report.
A new technical note prepared by the EFA Global Monitoring Report for the World Education Forum about the feasibility of achieving the new global education agenda by 2030, shows that, if current trends persist, the headline education target of universal secondary education completion may not even be met this century in low and middle income countries, let alone by the target date.
Are post-2015 education targets too optimistic?
The analysis shows that the lower secondary completion rate in low and middle income countries will reach 76% by 2030 and 85% by 2050, while a target of 95% will not be achieved until the 2080s. Likewise, the upper secondary completion rate in low and middle income countries will reach just 50% in 2030 and 63% by 2050, while a target of 95% will not be achieved before the end of the century.
These projections take into account the current level of completion of each country. From there onwards, countries tend to make faster progress at relatively lower rates of completion but progress tends to slow down as countries come nearer to the target. This is because it is much harder to bring and keep in school the most disadvantaged children who are hardest to reach.
Of note is the fact that the projections are based on recent rates of progress and therefore do not take into account what might happen if efforts intensify in the coming years. As such, they should only be seen as a baseline scenario of how completion rates will evolve if nothing else changes.
Making projections is risky the further into the future one looks and the estimated results need to be treated with caution, especially with respect to the date of achieving the target. Even so, it remains clear that the 2030 target date is considerably too optimistic. For example, among the 28 European Union countries, only 79% of 20-24 year olds attained upper secondary education in 2010. There is indeed hardly any precedent of a country achieving universal upper secondary completion.
These results raise the question of what level of mobilisation will make it possible to speed up progress. As the 2015 EFA Global Monitoring Report indicated, even with fast increase in domestic expenditure, aid to education will need to increase by at least four times to just achieve universal lower secondary completion. Achieving universal upper secondary completion will take dramatic changes, which the World Education Forum and the subsequent gatherings in Oslo and Addis Ababa must launch.
National targets must be consistent with global ambitions but take into account country context
The GMR note also emphasizes the tensions between global targets and national targets. Using one size fits all targets, like the MDGs, has often put poorer countries at a distinct disadvantage from the outset and has failed to take into account their conditions. It is important that monitoring the new targets is sensitive to this.
Current discussions at the intergovernmental negotiations on the sustainable development agenda now recognize that countries need to set their targets within the framework of global targets. There is a precedent in some parts of the world. For example, European Union countries have set a collective target to bring down the share of early school leavers to below 10% by 2020 but each country has its own national target.
The note shows that, in doing so, countries need to have a good assessment of their baseline and make a well-informed projection of where they could be with the appropriate investment of resources in education.