There are multiple indicators that have been set to help monitor progress towards SDG 4. Most of these focus on results, such as completion rates, or learning outcomes. But such numbers do not tell the whole story, and to think so would be to reduce education to a more predictable, and less influential element of all our lives. To truly understand how and why progress is being made in some places and not others, countries need to be able to analyse situations using their own judgement and taking context into account. This, we believe, requires that regional organisations step up and help establish peer learning processes. We have laid out the argument for this belief in a paper produced to present to the SDG 4 Steering Committee today. The core thoughts are below.
Peer learning describes situations where public officials gain practical insights from each other. Such learning can occur through meetings, focused discussions (supported by expert papers or joint comparative assessments), experience sharing or formal training sessions. Creating the conditions for such learning to happen, which involves countries having frank exchanges on the strengths and weaknesses of their systems, is not easy.
Using regional organizations as an entry point may help address this challenge. Many regions have common educational contexts and can structure peer reviews to reflect shared values, objectives and challenges. The results of such processes are then more likely to be used in policy-making, not least because governments have an interest in the performance of neighbouring countries.
Almost all regions in the world have established entities that allow countries to share information on some of these matters to help countries learn from each other. Here are a few examples:
In the European Union (EU), Member States can call on their partners for peer support under the Education and Training 2020 agenda. There are several mechanisms put in place for that. For example, working groups focus on EU-level tools and policy guidance. The Eurydice network, set up in 1980 and covering 36 countries, produces an online database of national education systems, comparative thematic studies, and statistical factsheets in selected areas, such as teacher salaries or student fees in higher education.
The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) also assists cross-country learning, for example through its Indicators of Education Systems programme, established in 1992, which provides data on education systems in its 34 member countries and selected partner countries and made available primarily in its annual publication, Education at a Glance. Other reviews, policy outlooks, forums and networks provide diagnoses of education systems.
The Organisation of Ibero-American States (OEI) developed its own education strategy in 2010, approved by 23 heads of states and governments, which is now being aligned with SDG4. Its Institute of Monitoring and Evaluation started producing an annual publication, Miradas, monitoring progress towards the strategy’s 11 targets.
The Caribbean Community (CARICOM) set up a regional education strategy and action plan, which will be accompanied by a monitoring framework. Harmonization of education policy in the region aims to facilitate free movement of labour within a single market through common standards and mutual recognition of qualifications.
The Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organisation (SEAMEO) and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) are also taking steps to harmonize regional higher education systems to facilitate mobility of students, faculty and researchers for better regional economic integration.
The Association for the Development of Education in Africa (ADEA) began as an initiative to promote donor coordination but has been leading policy dialogue in the continent for 30 years. Its challenge is to make effective use of its accord protocol with the African Union.
These are just a few of the regional organisations already assisting with peer learning. Our paper also looks at many others taking initiatives, including the Organisation of American States, the Pacific Islands Forum and the South Asia Association for Regional Cooperation. Between them, they cover various different elements of the SDG 4 agenda, as the table below shows.
Selected areas of peer learning activities in education policy, by regional organization
Strengthening regional peer learning mechanisms and making them fit for SDG4 purpose, we believe, would require a few core elements:
A regional education strategy with targets and monitoring frameworks, aligned with SDG 4. This alignment could be supported by UNESCO regional offices and UIS. Technical units and secretariats coordinating these processes need to have clear political guidance and operate within an explicit policy cycle. Peer learning activities need to be planned to cover all priority areas over the course of the strategy. And last, but a crucial point, is that resources for this coordination work need to be dedicated accordingly. However, the potential benefits are large. Regional organizations with a strong record of peer learning processes in education are therefore encouraged to reach out to other organizations and help strengthen their capacity to conduct such processes.