Without Theory, there are only Opinions

By Roger Dale, University of Bristol.

gotanydata

The phrase ‘without data you’re just another person with an opinion’ which has been frequently uttered by Andreas Schleicher as a defence of the PISA surveys, is – I argue – not only indefensibly dismissive but very misleading. I say this, because I argue that without knowing why and how they were collected (i.e, the theory/ies informing their collection), data such as those assembled by PISA remain mere agglomerations of numbers, open to the post hoc attribution of any sort of evidential status an observer might want to attach to them, with the result that we might suggest that ‘without theory, data both lack meaning and carry the capacity to seriously mislead’. Or, as Immanuel Kant put it, rather more pithily, ‘Concepts without percepts[1] are empty (but) percepts without concepts are blind’.

And this leads to a crucial question: in the absence of any theory of comparison beyond the simplest juxtaposition, and in the face of the demonstrable need for the suspension of disbelief that the same instruments can be validly claimed to provide any sort of meaningful comparison between countries that are clearly very different from each other in a number of respects, why does anyone take notice of them?

There are two quite different sets of issues here, though both relate to what is being ‘compared’ through PISA. One is ‘countries’ as the units of comparison.[2] On the one hand the analytic problems generated by methodological nationalism[3] (which I have written about at some length) are by now well recognised, and increasingly, observed. On the other hand, when comparing countries’ performance on tests, what assumptions are made about ‘countries’ as the bases of the comparisons? These difficulties have been recognised at least since Przeworski and Teune’s work on the nonsense of assuming that the proper names of countries in themselves embrace/include everything necessary to enable effective inter-country comparison, and the need to replace them by the names of variables…‘replacing the notion that ‘nations differ’ by statements formulated in terms of specific variables’ (Przeworski and Teune, 1970: 29-30).[4]

The other, and possibly greater, problem, concerns the goals of PISA, and the foundations upon which they are erected. To take just one instance: PISA says it needs to ‘develop indicators that show how effectively countries have prepared their 15-year-olds to become active, reflective and intelligent citizens from the perspective of their uses’ of these subjects (OECD, 2006: 114). No evidence is, or data are, or could be, provided for the future consequences of what 15 year olds have learned at school – which makes it sound very much like just somebody’s opinion, or a pretty baseless wish. The problem is that it is not just any somebody’s opinion, but that of – what some see as – the most powerful agent of education policy formation in the world.

So, all this leads us to ask what does it matter, what purposes does all this serve? To answer this, we need to take PISA itself as explanandum rather than explanans (requiring explanation rather than providing it), and try to theorise the basis of its success. This entails not asking just how far it has achieved what it claims to, but what differences it has actually made. One piece of evidence we have is a recent internal review of how member countries have used PISA in their own systems. This shows that in a significant number of cases, countries’ responses are based on doing what will maintain their relative ranking, rather than radically altering their education system. That is, it seems to be that it’s the position that matters, (see Breakspear, 2012), not what it’s based on – which might lead us to consider the possibility that the most effective outcome of PISA is not how it has changed the education of 15 year olds around the world, but how it has created at the level of national education systems a high level of reputational risk through ranking, which acts as very powerful pressure to demonstrate conformity. Such competitive comparison, even when lacking in validity, is an extremely effective technology of governance in governments’ attempts to control education systems.

Such fears on the part of governments, though generated by the changing forms and demands of capitalism have been formulated into diagnoses and remedies by international organisations such as the OECD.

As part of these diagnoses (which do not so much represent solutions for national governments, as provide definitions of the problems they face), measurement becomes  a tool of management. Where this happens, as has frequently been pointed out, ‘what gets measured gets managed’, though we should note that the full proposition is ‘What gets measured gets managed – even when it’s pointless to measure and manage it, and even if it harms the purpose of the organisation to do so’ (Caulkin 2008).

Concluding Comments

The data collectors of course recognise that data are never sufficient in themselves, but they seem to be content if the data feel ‘intuitively’ good enough, especially when they have been enthusiastically received by many interested and informed parties, and they fit nicely with their perpetrators’ prejudices.  So what’s the problem? Why can’t we settle for technically brilliantly produced data? Why do I argue that opinions shouldn’t be based on data alone (without knowing why and how the data/evidence was generated)? And most importantly, why does it matter so much with PISA?

The problem is four fold:

First, surveys like PISA can never reveal, let alone take into account, everything about any particular issue in one country. Nor have they (without theory) grounds to claim that the differences that we know exist between countries are irrelevant (another theory-dependent claim) (and if we say it’s not necessary to know everything, only what is important, we are already acknowledging the need for a theory of what makes them important—because they don’t speak for themselves).

The second problem is that as a result of these shortcomings, theory is replaced by the informed guess, or at best what are more politely known as empirical generalisations. The most prominent example of this in education is ‘the correlation’ whose ‘intuitive’ appeal often manages to overcome all the health warnings and examples of spuriousness that elementary methods textbooks can throw at us.[5]

The third problem is that the consequences, as opposed to the outputs, of the exercise are not implicit in its findings. This is extremely important in an area like education – because ‘the facts’ of education management do not arrive from nowhere. They do not exist, except as a result of the PISA system, and moreover they cannot be taken in isolation.  Not only are the consequences – or even the uses to which they are put – of the assumed ‘effects’ of the findings unknowable, but the findings themselves could be explained in myriad ways.

The final problem, and perhaps most important, is that this subsumption of theory to data means that we have no way of knowing why or how they work, on, and for whom, under what conditions, or of how they might be changed, either in themselves or in terms of their implications, in ways that might bring about changes deemed to be desirable.

These are the critical elements that data fetishism tends to make invisible,  but even worse, that could clear the way for the emergence of a nightmarish new paradigm of knowledge, where, as one sardonic critic put it:

‘massive amounts of data and applied mathematics replace every other tool that might be brought to bear. Out with every theory of human behaviour, from linguistics to sociology! Forget taxonomy, ontology, and psychology! Who knows why people do what they do? The point is they do it, and we can track and measure it with unprecedented fidelity. With enough data, the numbers speak for themselves.’

Roger Dale is a Professor of Education at the Centre for Globalisation, Education and Society, University of Bristol, and Co-editor and Review Editor, ‘Globalisation, Societies and Education’. Email: R.Dale@bristol.ac.uk

>>Related post: ‘Big Data’ Does Not Mean Good Data’, By Susan L. Robertson, University of Bristol.

>>See all NORRAG blogs on the OECD and PISA.

[1] A general rule prescribing a particular course of action, conduct or thought.

[2] Blog Editor: This use of countries as a unit of comparison is, of course, now widespread in many global reports.

[3] Blog Editor: First discussed in the mid-1970s, methodological nationalism is ‘the assumption that the nation/state/society is the natural social and political form of the modern world’ (Wimmer and Glick Schiller, 2002: 302). The nation-state is considered to be the appropriate primary unit of analysis.

[4] Przeworski, A. and Teune, H. (1970) The Logic of Comparative Social Inquiry. New York: Wiley-Interscience.

[5] Blog Editor: A spurious relationship is a mathematical relationship in which two variables (let’s call them x and y) have no direct causal connection, yet it may be wrongly inferred that they do. Just because x and y are correlated, this is not proof of a causal relationship; both x and y may have been affected by a third (or more) variable(s).

 

NORRAG (Network for International Policies and Cooperation in Education and Training) is an internationally recognised, multi-stakeholder network which has been seeking to inform, challenge and influence international education and training policies and cooperation for almost 30 years. NORRAG has more than 4,200 registered members worldwide and is free to join. Not a member? Join free here.

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Are Brazilians Masochists? Why do they Insist on PISA?

By Claudio de Moura Castro, Positivo, Belo Horizonte, Brazil.

Brazil flagKenneth King, NORRAG NEWS’ editor, has asked me why Brazilians insist on participating in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), despite the terrible results that come out for Brazil every time. In fact, some countries have given up because of their rankings. Do I have the right answers? Anyway, it is worth speculating on possible causes.

The facts are clear. When the first results were presented, in 2001, Brazil was the bottom in a group of 32 countries. To be fair, it joined a league of big dogs. At best, it hoped to beat Mexico. But it did not.

Subsequent rounds of PISA saw a repetition of the same dismal performance. In the last round, out of 65 countries Brazil ranked between 54th and 60th depending on the particular subject. The good news is that at least 5 countries fared worse. The bad news is that more than 50 did better. Therefore, the question persists: why stay with it?

A first thought is that Brazil has a very open society. Debate and bitter controversies are part of political life. The PISA results do not produce any more noise than other issues and scandals do. In that respect, the country is different from Mexico, Russia and Argentina, where governments often suppress information or shy away from obtaining it. Kudos for Brazil.

Another relevant aspect is the very wide acceptance in Brazil of evaluations and rankings of students, schools or territories. In fact, few countries in the world can match such a wide and comprehensive system of evaluations, ranging from the second grade of primary to PhD programs. Not only that, but results are public and easily available on line. As a broad generalization, one can state that the quality of tests and the logistics of application range from fair to very good. Notwithstanding, some tests still have shortcomings.

Second grade students take a test, still on an experimental stage, to verify how well they can read and write. All fourth, eight and twelfth grades, public school students take a national test (Prova Brasil) and institutions are ranked according to the scores obtained.

At the end of secondary education, students take another test (ENEM), in Portuguese, Mathematics and now in Science. Schools are ranked according to the average scores obtained by their students. Also, most public universities use the ENEM’s individual results in order to select those that will be accepted.

In addition to these tests, Brazil has a unique examination, at the end of the university cycle. It is based on the curriculum of each corresponding career. Individual results are not public, but programs are assigned a grade, based on the points obtained by its students. This controversial initiative seems to have had positive results, particularly in the case of proprietary colleges (covering 75% of total enrolment).

The oldest evaluation initiatives focus on Master and Ph.D. programs. From the late seventies, all post-graduate schools came under the scrutiny of CAPES (the Education Ministry’s agency in charge of post-graduate studies in the country). Publications, credentials of faculty, peer reviews and other data are combined to produce a single number, measuring the excellence of each program. In addition to the prestige attached to high grades, the quota of fellowships of each program is a function of the scores obtained.

Considering all this, PISA is not such a big deal. Stakes are much higher for the other components of the evaluation game, in many cases, pitching one institution against the others.

Finally, perhaps one of the reasons for not dropping out of PISA is the fact that being a lousy performer in education bothers Brazilians, but not too much.  Poor PISA results created turmoil in Germany, for an entire decade. Ultimately, it led to significant improvements.

Brazilians feel embarrassed by their abominable position, but not enough to make life miserable for those in charge of education.  In other words, if the education disaster it identifies was taken more seriously, perhaps PISA would be dropped.

The silver lining is that, ever so slowly, the implications of the PISA disaster are being digested by Brazilian society. It is taking years, but it may be bringing some positive results; in terms of increasing absolute scores in the last PISA round, Brazil did better than just about any other country.

Claudio de Moura Castro, Positivo, Belo Horizonte, Brazil. Email: claudiodemouracastro@me.com

>> See all NORRAG Blogs on PISA.

NORRAG (Network for International Policies and Cooperation in Education and Training) is an internationally recognised, multi-stakeholder network which has been seeking to inform, challenge and influence international education and training policies and cooperation for almost 30 years. NORRAG has more than 4,200 registered members worldwide and is free to join. Not a member? Join free here.

 

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The Global Influence of the OECD in International Education Policies

By Simone Bloem, Université Paris Descartes/University of Bamberg.

oecdThe OECD is the co-ordinator of what some claim is currently the most important and influential international student assessment: The Programme of International Student Assessment (PISA). PISA not only includes the 34 member states of the OECD, but an almost equally large number of so-called partner countries and economies.

There may have been times when informed readers in participating countries had heard more about PISA than the OECD itself. But over time, the organisation has undoubtedly become a well-known agent to stakeholders in education policy as well as for the professionals in school systems around the world. This may well be due to the fact that the OECD is an important knowledge producer with PISA data; they not only co-ordinate the implementation and further development of the assessment, but also analyse the data and draw policy-related conclusions on this basis.

Since the first publication of PISA results in 2001, the OECD Secretariat has prepared a growing number of reports and other dissemination materials related to PISA. Its analysts and managers diffuse PISA results and policy-related conclusions at conferences and events with stakeholders from politics, educational practice and educational research in the participating PISA countries and beyond. On the basis of the various data collected as part of the PISA assessment, it provides global advice to politicians and society aiming to improve the quality, effectiveness and efficiency of national education systems. Due to its high output rate of PISA products, its global outreach and the widespread use of its products in science, politics and the media, the OECD has become an important actor in shaping the interpretation and use of PISA data and results.

An increasing knowledge production with PISA data in the OECD Secretariat could be observed between 2001 and 2014. It is noticeable that the initial PISA reports (reports that are published simultaneously with the release date of PISA data) have grown considerably in volume and scope over the assessment cycles. While the initial PISA reports of the first assessment cycles consisted of one volume with a still manageable numbers of produced pages, tables and figures, the initial PISA reports are now published in several volumes and contain hundreds of pages and significantly more tables and text (see for example OECD, 2001, 2014). Over time, a concentration of analytical activities related to PISA has developed in the OECD Directorate for Education. Analysts in the Directorate have been preparing a growing number of PISA thematic reports, which deal with specific issues in greater detail, like gender equality, students’ motivation or performance of students with an immigrant background (see for example OECD, 2012). These reports had earlier been drafted earlier by external consultants mostly from the academic field.

Most notably the OECD Directorate for Education has tried to strengthen the link between PISA and policy advice through new forms of data analysis and has adopted a more public oriented data communication approach with the aim of raising the relevance of the assessment and its results in politics, educational practice and society. The mostly descriptive presentation of results in the initial reports of the first assessment cycles has been supplemented by more in-depth secondary analysis and reference to countries’ experiences and reform trajectories that are intended to serve as “best practice” examples. According to OECD experts, this follows from a growing demand for policy advice on the basis of PISA data from countries and the availability of more and comparative historical data, as the PISA assessment has already had several cycles which would allow an in-depth use of PISA data. At the same time, this turn from a largely descriptive presentation of results to a more policy oriented use of PISA data is, at least in part, seen critically from members of the PISA community in and outside the OECD. Furthermore, the OECD Directorate for Education had strengthened and extended its media outreach in recent years, in particular by showing more presence in social media and by producing more accessible materials, ranging from overview brochures (e.g. OECD, 2014) and other shorter pieces of work summarising main results, to online tools allowing the public to explore PISA results themselves. In passing, it should also be mentioned that these additional activities went hand-in-hand with an increase in the number of employees working for PISA and additional financial resources available to the OECD Directorate for Education.

These developments can be interpreted as a growing politicisation of the knowledge production of PISA in the OECD’s Directorate for Education since the publication of first PISA results in 2001. It increases OECD’s visibility in society, politics and the media and ties PISA data more closely to educational policy. With this, OECD’s global influence in international education policies will likely increase even further.

Simone Bloem, Université Paris Descartes/University of Bamberg. Email: simone_bloem@yahoo.de

This blog is based on Bloem’s thesis on OECD’s knowledge production with PISA, which she will defend in November 2014.

Further reading:

Bloem, S. (2013). L’exploitation des enquêtes PISA : entre rigueur scientifique et exigences politiques. INITIO -Réformes scolaires : perspectives internationales - no. 3, automne 2013, 4-25.

>> Related post: Bloem, S. ‘PISA in Low and Middle Income Countries’ 10th Jan, 2014.

>>See all NORRAG blogs on the OECD and PISA.

NORRAG (Network for International Policies and Cooperation in Education and Training) is an internationally recognised, multi-stakeholder network which has been seeking to inform, challenge and influence international education and training policies and cooperation for almost 30 years. NORRAG has more than 4,200 registered members worldwide and is free to join. Not a member? Join free here.

 

 

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Situating Post-2015: the Global Architecture of EFA, GCE, ESD and the World Education Forum

By Bong-gun Chung, Seoul National University.

upeIt is not certain whether those who designed the Education for All (EFA) Goals and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) over a decade ago intentionally – and in a close collaboration – set the same target year of 2015 on purpose. Intended or not, the coincidence of these two great global endeavours now commencing a new set of post-2015 global development goals is a hopeful sign for those who have not been not so happy about what has been achieved so far in the EFA and the education MDGs. This time, they believe, things could be done differently with more preparation, cooperation and commitment. Indeed, from Jomtien to Dakar to the UN Millennium Summit until now we have learned by doing that global development goals are by no means easily obtainable. International Organisations and national governments have dozens of reasons and excuses for the unmet goals of EFA and MDG. That was a sheer reality vis-à-vis the dream for the new millennium.

At any rate, we should learn from our experiences and do it right this time around. Encouragingly this time the UN HQ, with an emphasis from Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, has been actively assuming a leading role in setting the development goals for coming decades. By May 2013, the UN High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda had already suggested twelve goals, including the provision of quality education and lifelong learning, to pursue beyond 2015 along with other related targets. On the other side of the theatre, contrastingly, UNESCO seemed to be a little late in consulting on the post-2015 agendas at country level; this, and the general lack of southern discussions at the time, led NORRAG to talk about a “northern tsunami, southern ripple” in an April 2013 working paper. Lately, to our relief, we see the tide begin rising in a series of meetings of UNESCO such as the EFA Steering Committee in Paris, the Global EFA Meeting (GEM) in Muscat, Oman, and the Asia-Pacific Regional Education Conference (APREC) in Bangkok, Thailand.

From these gathering clouds some swirling shapes of EFA, Education for Sustainable Development (ESD), and Global Citizenship Education (GCE)[i] debate seem to be appearing. The gist is something like this: EFA has not been accomplished yet so it needs more and continued attention; meanwhile, ESD should be carried on to the next decade through the Global Action Program; and, the GCE should be the ethos and practice of the global community beyond 2015. So the scene is the usual countervailing of concentration versus divergence so common in the rooms of any international organization. In the past decade, while there have been concrete discussions about how EFA and ESD are related in theory and practice, the discussion on links between ESD and GCE and between EFA and GCE have just begun. Even some EFA supporters suspiciously look at GCE as a strange bed fellow. So, of the three sides of the triangle, one line is still missing making the tripartite architecture weak and fragile.

The GCE as a post-2015 agenda is rather a late comer pushed by Korea, perhaps encouraged by the UN. As a new player in the court of international development cooperation little is known about Korea’s skills and resources in educational agenda setting. Frankly speaking, so far other than technical and vocational education and training (TVET) and some higher education, Korea’s involvement in EFA, ESD, and GCE has been quite limited. It might be suggested that global volunteers should come to join Korea to design the tripartite structure of EFA, ESD, and GCE in the World Education Forum 2015.

Bong-gun Chung is a Professor at the Graduate School of International Studies, Seoul National University. Email: bchung1108@gmail.com

NORRAG (Network for International Policies and Cooperation in Education and Training) is an internationally recognised, multi-stakeholder network which has been seeking to inform, challenge and influence international education and training policies and cooperation for almost 30 years. NORRAG has more than 4,200 registered members worldwide and is free to join. Not a member? Join free here.

[i] Education for Global Citizenship is a key pillar of the Global Education First Initiative.

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The Elephant in the Post-2015 Education Room: What about the Global Governance of Education and Training? (Part 2)

By Kenneth King and Robert Palmer, NORRAG.

2015In our last post, we argued that a crucial missing element of the post-2015 education discussions to date relates to the global governance of education and training. This issue is the elephant in the education post-2015 room.

But is the global governance of education and training not at all reflected in the post-2015 education and training debate and propositions? In fact, it is there, though not in name, and not in its entirety. And this will limit the impact of the post-2015 education agenda.

Governance is used in post-2015 documents in a different sense from global governance. Where governance is discussed in the post-2015 literature, it is conceived more as ‘good governance’ – accountability and transparency, the rule of law, rights to free speech, political participation, rights to information, as well as freedom from corruption. Furthermore, there is, overall, much more attention being paid to the issue of national governance than there is to global governance.

The post-2015 discussions about global governance and the means of implementation have not yet been very sector specific. The global governance of education is therefore not being explicitly addressed. While there has been a whole stream of general post-2015 debate and dialogue on the means of implementation, on global partnership and governance – this has not been successfully connected back specifically to the post-2015 education or skills ambition (or for that matter to other sectors, like health).

Governance targets have not been mainstreamed across the proposed post-2015 education goal. There were several options for integrating governance into a post-2015 development framework. One was to have a dedicated stand-alone goal (or goals) with targets and indicators; another was to mainstream it by having relevant governance targets and indicators across other goals; and a third way was to do both. The focus in post-2015 propositions – for example from the Post-2015 High Level Panel, the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network, and the inter-governmental Open Working Group – has been on the first option, the stand-alone goal. However, this has led to a neglect in the sector post-2015 discussions, including for education and training, of the specific aspects of governance – global, regional and national – that are required in order for x, y, or z goal or target to be achieved. Indeed, governance does not directly or explicitly feature in any of the current post-2015 education goal (and accompanying target) suggestions.

We need post-2015 governance targets for education, but what would be measured? Pauline Rose, the former Director of the Education for All Global Monitoring Report, has argued that we need post-2015 financing targets for education so that policymakers can be held to account for financial commitments to achieve identified outcomes. Equally, it can be argued that we do need to mainstream the issue of governance across the post-2015 targets for education so that there are agreed upon non-financial enabling conditions needed to achieve the targets and to hold policy makers to account; for example an agreed measurement and accountability mechanism. However, just how to mainstream governance across the post-2015 education agenda, and what would actually be measured (and monitored) need further consideration.

Post-2015 education targets that are global and universally accepted? One of the components of effective global governance of education is that there be in place a set of goals that are universally accepted. It is well known, of course that neither the EFA goals nor the two education Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were regarded as being universally applicable; they were seen very much as targets for low-income countries. Fast-forwarding to the post-2015 agenda, there has been again a great deal of discussion and debate about the extent to which this new agenda, and its set of SDGs, will be universally applicable. The same debate applies to a post-2015 education goal and targets. The current formal post-2015 goals and targets are perhaps indicative of debates going on behind the scenes. The formal post-2015 proposals do contain an overall universal goal; for example, the Open Working Group on SDGs’ proposed education goal is ‘Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote life-long learning opportunities for all’, while that of the UNESCO Muscat Agreement is almost the same: ‘Ensure equitable and inclusive quality education and lifelong learning for all’. Meanwhile not all proposed formal post-2015 education targets are pitched as universal, with some being proposed to be nationally determined. For example, the UNESCO Muscat Agreement contains universal targets for basic education (universal completion) with minimum levels of learning outcomes, while early childhood care and education is proposed as a nationally determined target.

Aside from the extent to which the proposed post-2015 goals and targets are being set up as ‘universal’, there are other aspects of global governance discussed in key post-2015 education and training proposals, namely issues related to measurement, to accountability, or to reference to global rules and regulations.

  • The UNESCO-UNICEF thematic consultation on education in the post-2015 development agenda did not talk directly about the global governance of education, but discussed the need for a ‘global framework’ that is very close to our concern with global governance. For example, it highlighted the need for: (a) facilitating global discussion and consensus on education by developing indicators for fulfilment of the right to education; (b) defining a minimum percentage of gross domestic product that a country is required to invest in education; (c) disseminating and supporting best practices for improving education quality, and increasing access, equity and sustainability; and (d) providing technical and financial assistance to national governments, civil society and communities when implementing education policies, reforms and programmes.
  • The UNESCO-UNICEF post-2015 global e-consultation on governance and financing of education did not result in the kind of commentary on global governance issues that the facilitators may have hoped for. Among those that did respond, there was overall much more focus on national than on global issues. Perhaps this is significant in itself; that the majority of individuals appear to consider that the governance of education is primarily a national issue. Some of the contributions, however, did relate to the global governance of education, with various aspects of it highlighted, including: the role of the international community in designing protocols for all countries to sign up to; the need to be accountable to the Paris Declaration and its successors; the need to provide funds to enable governments to provide education; the need to provide technical assistance; and, the need to facilitate the international access to appropriate information and education technology. Commentators noted that improvements were needed in the current international organisations that support the financing of education globally (including better coordination with each other, as well as the need for increased financial support for them), as well as the need to improve measurement and accountability mechanisms. Indeed, effective and transparent monitoring and evaluation at a global level was perceived as critical in order for the post-2015 ambition to materialize.
  • UNICEF, like many other bodies, did not use the terminology of global governance in its official post-2015 position, but it did very strongly subscribe to the idea that a global framework should be established.
  • UNESCO’s Position Paper on Education Post-2015 clearly lays out that the implementation of the post-2015 education agenda will necessitate ‘strengthened participatory governance and accountability mechanisms at the global, country and local levels, and improved planning, monitoring and reporting mechanisms and processes at all levels’.

The global governance of education and training looks like it will only be partially influenced by the education post-2015 framework, goal and targets. The global governance of education is not a single system. It is made up of a range of stakeholders who pursue a range of approaches and mechanisms that influence and steer education and training, whether intentionally or not. A goal and target framework is only one part of what the global governance of education is comprised of. Many other aspects of the new global governance of education remain completely unaddressed by the whole post-2015 education process. So long as the issue of governance is not mainstreamed across the education post-2015 discussion, these connections will not be made.

The weakest link in the global governance of education and training appears to relate to the lack of an effective accountability mechanism to hold stakeholders to account; and, this has worrying implications for the ambitious post-2015 education agenda.

A related concern, of course, is how the post-2105 education ambition will be financed.

This blog is based on a forthcoming Working Paper, written by Kenneth King and Robert Palmer, on ‘Post-2015 and the Global Governance of Education and Training’, Working Paper #7, available late November 2014 for free at www.norrag.org

> Follow @NORRAG_NEWS on Twitter to be alerted to it.

Kenneth King is the Editor of NORRAG News. He is an Emeritus Professor at the School of Social and Political Studies, University of Edinburgh, Scotland, UK. Email:Kenneth.king@ed.ac.uk

Robert Palmer is an independent education and skills consultant. He also supports the Editor of NORRAG News and runs NORRAG NEWSBite. Email: rpalmer00@gmail.com Tweets @SkillsImpact

NORRAG (Network for International Policies and Cooperation in Education and Training) is an internationally recognised, multi-stakeholder network which has been seeking to inform, challenge and influence international education and training policies and cooperation for almost 30 years. NORRAG has more than 4,000 registered members worldwide and is free to join. Not a member? Join free here.

 

 

 

 

 

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The Elephant in the Post-2015 Education Room: What about the Global Governance of Education and Training? (Part 1)

By Kenneth King and Robert Palmer, NORRAG.

2015Since at least 2012 there has been a significant amount of discussion and debate about what the post-2015 education and training focus should be, and about the content and wording of a possible education goal and its targets. With less than one year to go until the September 2015 UN General Assembly meeting, where it is expected that a set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including one for education, will be agreed upon, there is increasing focus turning to the means of implementation; to questions of how to achieve these SDGs.

For the education sector there appears to have been very little discussion on how the proposed post-2015 education goal and targets will be implemented and what kind of macro-level governance structure may be required. Indeed, a crucial missing element of the post-2015 education discussions to date relates to the global governance of education and training. This issue is the elephant in the education post-2015 room. However, it is not one that is currently being addressed by the post-2015 education debates – including both the post-EFA debates and the post-MDG debate – and indeed it is not one that can be significantly altered by a new education goal framework anyway. The financing modalities for education post-2015 is also an under-discussed issue, that Pauline Rose has been trying to highlight.

What is the global governance of education and training anyway?

If you are reading this and wondering what this refers to and why it is important you are not alone. We asked an (admittedly unscientific) sample of 80 NORRAG members what they understood by this term.[1] The very great majority of respondents did not use the terminology itself at all, but were describing elements of what they perceived to be important influences of education at the global level. Taken in aggregate, it is these influences that we are concerned with when we talk of the global governance of education and training.

The global governance of education and training can be thought of as an organising framework for discussing how state and non-state actors[2] gain political authority and presence in education. How do they do this and how is it related to implementing post-2015 education targets?

These global education actors create formal and informal mechanisms by which they exert power and influence. The formal GGET mechanisms may include, for example: goals and targets (e.g. Education For All – EFA- Goals); laws, rules, conventions and charters; and, agreements, compacts, partnerships (including public-private partnerships – PPPs), and initiatives for policy and financial cooperation.

Let’s go back a minute; we said goals and targets? Indeed. This implies that the post-EFA targets and education SDG themselves are one, but only one, part of the formal mechanism of the global governance of education. It can be seen, therefore, that without changes in other formal mechanisms of governance, the impact of the post-2015 education goal and targets may be limited. But it does not end here. There are other global influencers at play – what might be termed informal mechanisms of global education governance – that will impact on the degree to which the post-2015 education goal and targets are influential and / or can be implemented. These mechanisms may not have been set up for the purpose of governing or regulating, but they clearly influence stakeholders when it comes to education, and some would argue that the power which they today exert has turned them into de facto mechanisms of global governance. Such informal mechanisms might include, for example, three domains:

  • Governing by “best practice – This would include the influence of education and training strategies and policy papers of grant- and loan-making development agencies, and the propagation of “best practice” knowledge and approaches (e.g. value for money, rate of return to education, competency-based training, national qualifications frameworks). These “best practice” approaches can become global norms that can influence the behaviour and prioritization of both national governments, and the grant- and loan-making development agencies themselves.
  • Governing by financial carrots and sticks – This would include the influence that grants and loans for education, as well as their associated conditionalities (now termed “triggers”), have in recipient countries. Equally, the financial carrot and stick can be used by OECD-DAC countries to influence the behaviour of international organisations, like the World Bank.
  • Governing by numbers – This would include the influence that data and indicators from assessments and testing (e.g. Programme for International Student Assessment – PISA, Trends in Maths and Science Study – TIMMS) have, as well as benchmarking and ranking approaches (e.g. Systems Assessment and Benchmarking for Education Results – SABER, world university rankings).

So to what extent are these areas of the global governance of education and training reflected in the post-2015 education and training debate and propositions? >>Read our next post

This blog is based on a forthcoming Working Paper, written by Kenneth King and Robert Palmer, on ‘Post-2015 and the Global Governance of Education and Training’, Working Paper #7, available late November 2014 for free at www.norrag.org

> Follow @NORRAG_NEWS on Twitter to be alerted to it.

Kenneth King is the Editor of NORRAG News. He is an Emeritus Professor at the School of Social and Political Studies, University of Edinburgh, Scotland, UK. Email:Kenneth.king@ed.ac.uk

Robert Palmer is an independent education and skills consultant. He also supports the Editor of NORRAG News and runs NORRAG NEWSBite. Email: rpalmer00@gmail.com Tweets @SkillsImpact

NORRAG (Network for International Policies and Cooperation in Education and Training) is an internationally recognised, multi-stakeholder network which has been seeking to inform, challenge and influence international education and training policies and cooperation for almost 30 years. NORRAG has more than 4,000 registered members worldwide and is free to join. Not a member? Join free here.

[1] While this sample of 80 members was not statistically representative of NORRAG members, the 80 people were selected because of their long-standing experience in international education and training from different regions of the world.

[2] These education-related actors include, for example: grant and loan receiving countries; Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development – Development Assistance Committee (OECD-DAC) countries; Multilaterals (e.g. UNESCO, International Labour Organisation – ILO, World Bank); Regional Banks (Asian, African, Latin American and now BRICS Development Banks); Emerging donors; Private sector companies and coalitions; Private foundations; and, international non-governmental organisations (INGOs) and think tanks.

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From EFA post-2015 to EFA 2030: A Reflection on the Asia-Pacific Regional Education Conference

By Manzoor Ahmed, BRAC University.

post2015 EFA AsiaThe first of the UNESCO-organised regional consultations planned to be held in different regions leading to the World Education Forum in Incheon, Korea in May 2015 took place in Bangkok between 6-8 August 2014 for the Asia Pacific Region. This is to be followed by consultations for Latin America and Caribbean, Lima, Peru, 30-31 October 2014;  Pan-European and North America Region, Paris, 3-4 December 2014;  Arab Region, January/February 2015 (location tbc); and African Region, Kigali, 9-10 February, 2015.

Hints about the state of discourse on the future Education For All (EFA) Agenda can be surmised from the discussion in the meeting and its outcome called the Bangkok Statement.

  • It was the first regional meeting after the Muscat Agreement adopted earlier in May 2014, billed as the Global EFA Meeting. Seven new global EFA targets were adopted in Muscat to be “used” in continuing regional and national EFA discourse and to be taken as “reference” for negotiation of the post-2015 global development agenda. There was a push on the part of the Bangkok organisers to have an endorsement of the Muscat Agreement, which is indeed reflected in the statement with its categorical language supporting “the vision, principles and targets laid out in the Muscat agreement.”
  • The participants from the region, including civil society and academia, however, expressed their concerns in the discussion about several aspects of the Muscat text – the lack of a robust financing target including donor commitments, measurability of targets in country contexts and less than a global character of participation in Muscat, despite its title (including the absence at senior level of the World Bank and UNICEF).
  • The Bangkok participants clearly balked at giving a full-throated endorsement to the Muscat text, making the Bangkok Statement somewhat self-contradictory. See, for instance, their specific recommendations for GDP and national budget ratios for education (6% and 20% respectively), and reminding donors of their obligation. The participants, looking ahead to 2030, found it unacceptable that at least 12 years of education would not be universal (compared to 9 years agreed in Muscat). They clearly wanted to uphold a bold EFA vision for the future.
  • The participants were puzzled about why global citizenship and education for sustainable development had been combined in one target (Muscat target 5), not the least because of the lack of clarity about what each meant in concept and practice and how they could be juxtaposed as one common target. In the end, the compromise in Bangkok was to accommodate both under the heading “skills and competencies for life and work.”

A good debate arose in the drafting group about the responsibility of the education community to uphold an overarching vision of human agency and human capability enhancement as the central thrust of sustainable development, asserting human rights, human dignity and people’s empowerment as vital elements of sustainable human development. It was argued that “human” should be a descriptor of development along with “sustainable” to counter the justified urgency of the planetary limits and the crisis of climate change overshadowing   the human dimension of development.  EFA – the primacy of learning and the capability approach – then has to be a key goal as well as an overarching principle for defining, elaborating and assessing all global development goals. But human agency and the capability approach apparently were too academic and arcane for the majority in the drafting group and not incorporated into the outcome text. Yet, can and should the underlying argument be ignored in the EFA2030 strategy, whether this is reflected or not in the global SDG 2030?

A reasonably strong presence and active participation of civil society and NGO representatives influenced the tone and tenor of the discussion and the character of the outcome document to a degree. Whether this kind of involvement makes the discussion genuinely international, rather than only intergovernmental in the other regional consultations and the world forum itself in Korea is a pertinent question.  A pattern has emerged in global conferences to have a civil society dialogue in parallel, often prior to and in a separate venue, before embarking on the serious business of decision-making by official representatives.

Even though a timeline of 15 years to 2030 is pretty much the consensus, there seems to be a preference for the vagueness and fuzziness of “post-2015”, instead of the more definitive EFA 2030 and SDG 2030. Should we not begin to concentrate on the 15-year horizon and focus on the distance and the destination ahead, assessing progress in the past 15 years and prospects in the next 15 years. In this respect, each Muscat target is categorical about the timeline of 2030, whereas the Bangkok Statement is still about “beyond 2015.”

Manzoor Ahmed is Professor Emeritus at BRAC University, Chair of the Bangladesh ECD Network, and Vice Chair of the Campaign for Popular Education (CAMPE), Bangladesh. Email: amahmed40@yahoo.com

NORRAG (Network for International Policies and Cooperation in Education and Training) is an internationally recognised, multi-stakeholder network which has been seeking to inform, challenge and influence international education and training policies and cooperation for more than 30 years. NORRAG has more than 4,000 registered members worldwide and is free to join. Not a member? Join free here.

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