Indicators for Universal Versus National Coverage of Goals and Targets

By Abbie Raikes, UNESCO, Paris.

dataThe post-2015 development agenda asks for significant changes in how we conceptualize and measure progress.  The proposed post-2015 education targets present a broader and more comprehensive emphasis on learning; beyond education, a set of targets is proposed that is inter-sectoral, meaning that education is not only a desired end in itself but also a contributor to the achievement of targets for women’s empowerment, environmental sustainability and poverty reduction. As we head into this new era, new and different actions will be required at all levels – with perhaps the most important action to be undertaken at the national level, where most decisions affecting education are made, such as policies and funding for teachers, what to prioritize in curricula, and how to promote school quality. Recently, the Technical Advisory Group for Post-2015 Education Indicators, convened by UNESCO Institute for Statistics, released a report outlining existing indicators and measurement issues to be addressed to accurately track proposed targets.  The report is available for consultation now.

Measurement plays an important role in providing feedback on whether and how targets are being reached.  Globally-comparable data, or indicators with similar meaning and relevance across contexts, have been useful in tracking progress towards Education for All goals.  Dramatic increases in data availability took place over the last decade, with more countries agreeing to collect and report comparable data on enrollment, completion, and expenditures in education through administrative systems. These data were complemented by surveys on participation in education and to a lesser extent, learning. Despite the progress, several important aspects of education system performance and outcomes were not measured well in the last decade, including lack of emphasis on quality in education, inadequate data on equity in participation and learning outcomes, and limited data on learning outcomes, especially across all domains of learning and within populations at risk for exclusion.

In the next era of education, how can global and national measurement work together to address gaps in data and spur effective action at all levels?  Below are four areas to consider:

First, national monitoring plans will be central to tracking progress.  A core set of indicators for global tracking will likely be proposed as part of the proposed post-2015 education framework.  This set will reflect globally-comparable data that is available now, and will likely be limited in scope, not including many areas with significance for country action.  Data are arguably most valuable when they provide useful feedback to decision-makers on what is working and why:  Identifying which questions are of greatest significance, and what data could help inform decisions, can then be used to define national priorities for data collection and analyses.  Indicators for global tracking are essential for tracking trends, but they are necessarily broad in scope and by design, are not directly responsive to local context, which would lessen their relevance across settings.  This small set of global indicators is expected to be supplemented by national data, to be defined and expanded by national governments, NGOs, and other stakeholders to be responsive to national issues and ultimately, will be central to making progress.

Second, equity in education may be especially important to measure at the national level.  Factors influencing equity in education (which children and youth are not enrolling in school, for example, and whether the rights of children with disabilities are being protected) are likely to vary considerably from one country to the next, due to differential effects of policies, cultural influences, and other contextual factors. Getting good estimates of equity may require using multiple sources including household surveys, administrative data, and independent research studies, a combination that is rarely available at the global level. Together, these data can be invaluable in providing more nuanced and detailed examples of action at the national level, and moreover, triangulation of global indicators with national data can provide insight into the value and meaning of global indicators.

Third, cooperation between international, regional and country efforts can lead to efficiencies in developing new global indicators. Good measurement requires careful delineation of what construct should be measured and how, as well as an investment in testing items within a range of contexts.  Given the demand for new indicators, there is a great need for cooperation and sharing of expertise and resources across countries to develop new ways of measuring.  The results from national studies can then be used to propose new indicators for collection at the global level, especially when several countries or regions work together to define and test new indicators.  Innovations in measurement, such as the introduction of common cores of items for measuring learning, have the potential to significantly increase efficiency of measurement, and require strong cooperation among national and regional entities.

Fourth, provide resources for national data systems. As part of the proposed education agenda, it is essential to provide financial and technical support to national statistical offices and education ministries to support capacity development, especially as demands for data on learning and diverse sub-populations increases.

In sum, a global agenda arguably requires globally-comparable indicators; without knowing whether goals are being reached, a global agenda is impeded in its ability to spur action.  But this should not detract from the importance of national measurement:  at the heart of effective monitoring, data should be responsive to demand, and produced for those who will use it to make decisions to improve education, which necessitates accurate and reliable data at the national level. As we move towards 2030, innovations in measurement and data collection will likely place even greater emphasis on national data, with global tracking across all areas drawing increasingly from national data sources.

Abbie Raikes works in the Section for Basic Education at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris. Email: a.raikes@unesco.org

 

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Development Inc. and the Ghost in the Machine: the Idea of Global Governance

By Euan Auld, Institute of Education, London.

globeThough global governance in education is often attributed to any of a number of world powers or international organisations, in most cases a common idea has in some way infused the array of actors performing the function. I therefore begin by clarifying the origin and essence of the idea, before examining how this manifests in its various outlets (conduits and distributaries). Finally, I consider the relation between the post-2015 goals and global governance, focusing on the shift from ‘provision’ to ‘quality’ and (adapting Ball 2012) the rise of Development Inc.

First, regarding origin, the idea (or collection of ideas) I refer to is the rise of neoliberal ideals, primarily in England and the US, throughout the 1980s and 1990s, and the associated shift towards New Public Management (NPM). Second, regarding essence, and paraphrasing Baroness Thatcher, the idea does not believe in society, let alone a global society. It is individualistic and atomizing, and thrives on a combination of markets and competition. Business management is its logic, efficiency, effectiveness and productivity are its bywords, and these are pursued under the unyielding demand for ‘quality’. These standards of quality are used to develop the measurements of accountability necessary to legitimise governance.

In the context of contemporary processes of globalisation and the move towards a global knowledge economy, the demand for improved comparative datasets in education has elevated these principles to the transnational level, bringing the authority of international reference frames to governance as part of the ‘comparative turn’ (Grek 2009). The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) data has emerged as a key source, promoted by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) as a reliable proxy for a system’s stock of human capital and marketed under a relentless narrative of education quality and global economic competitiveness.

This aspirational rhetoric draws us into an unending quest, aptly characterised as the ‘will to quality’ (Pongratz 2006); a perpetual cycle of comparison and improvement. These measurements both reflect the idea and exert a normalising force, framing debates and establishing priorities. We are thus encouraged to view our existence through a shifting matrix of numbers, recasting debates on values as technical problems to be solved. Comparative data therefore serves as a key conduit for the idea, and the post-2015 shift from ‘provision’ to ‘quality’ will further extend its flow into the context of international development.

PISA for Development will be anchored to the post-2015 goals, expanding the OECD’s influence and allowing us to measure ‘quality’ and therefore track ‘progress’. The first rounds will identify ‘winners’, ‘losers’, and then ‘improvers’, galvanizing the search for ‘what works’; the Trojan horse will open its hatches and knowledge companies (distributaries: e.g. McKinsey; Pearson) will emerge to put each system’s house in order, selling their expertise and educational services (often both; what conflict of interest?) to give systems the edge against their competitors. Beneath the slick marketing and technocratic language of development packages, we find ideology and intuition dressed up as scientific ‘best practice’, and confirmatory comparisons drawn in as empirical affectations (Auld and Morris forthcoming).

They will introduce a measurement and then orient the system towards improvement on that measurement, using any gains in outcomes to demonstrate the value of the enterprise. Legitimacy is thus cultivated through the production of data, the monopolisation of expertise and the management of knowledge. This development industry both fails forward (“don’t give up, you’ll do better next time!”) and is too big to fail, requiring spiralling investment as the quest for quality unfolds in an endless cycle of testing and reform. As it expands, other goals are subsumed and resources are directed towards this narrow conceptualisation of progress. Meanwhile, it is a feature of the NPM that we are encouraged to look beyond the broader imbalances of power that underpin (global) economic inequality, recasting it as a function of the poor ‘quality’ of our education systems, our schools and our teachers, or a culture of low achievement; pushing blame down and demanding more of the individual rather than the whole.

This raises two questions: (1) are these measurements valued primarily for their utility in marshalling real progress, or for the role they play in legitimising the development industry? And, critically, (2) what are the real effects of interventions (i.e. unintended consequences), beyond the preferred measurements of quality?

Focusing on the idea behind global governance offers a series of related insights. First, it acknowledges the normalising force exerted by global dissemination of the idea, while allowing for the agency of actors across diverse contexts. Second, the idea and its outlets are not necessarily a homogenising force, as ideas are (re)interpreted across both contexts and levels. Third, just as it pushes out, the idea also pushes down, both on those working in the industry (ripples?) and those experiencing it ‘on the ground’. Fourth, global governance is not something ‘out there’, wielded by world powers and corporations, but is something which we are living and of which we a part: the ghost and the machine are not distinct. We are subject to its mechanisms and we reinforce (or resist) it with our actions. Finally, and from the above, given its complex and amorphous character, talking of global governance as an agenda to be managed seems misconceived; the idea is not under our control at all, we merely subscribe to the frame and reinforce its order.

Clearly we must play realpolitik or risk being dismissed as ideologues. The idea is neither benevolent nor evil, after all, but it takes many forms and they are not equally legitimate. The emphasis on quality risks turning development over to an industry that both perpetuates and profits from the ‘will to quality’. By way of contrast, I draw attention to research that acknowledges the reality of our broader conditions while contemplating the ethics (and implications) of contemporary globalisation processes (e.g. Unterhalter and Carpentier 2010). And yet, with the changing culture of our institutions (and hearts?), I wonder if we can preserve the space in which to research, to pursue and, just perhaps, to realise such goals post 2015.

Euan Auld is a research student at the Institute of Education, London. Email: eauld@outlook.com

References

Auld, E. and P. Morris (forthcoming). ‘Best practice’ for identifying ‘what works’?: moving from complex conditions to simple problem-solutions with international comparisons.

Ball, S. (2012). Global Education Inc.: New policy networks and the neo-liberal imaginary. London, Routledge.

Grek, S. (2009). “Governing by Numbers: the PISA ‘effect’ in Europe.” Journal of Education Policy 24(1): 23-37.

Pongratz, L. A. (2006). “Voluntary Self-Control: Education reform as a governmental strategy.” Educational Philosophy and Theory 38(4).

Unterhalter, E. and C. Carpentier (2010) Global Inequalities and Higher Education: Whose interests are we serving? Palgrave Macmillan, Houndmills.

 

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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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Rethinking Pedagogy? Student-centred Pedagogy and its Unintended Consequences

By Hülya Kosar Altinyelken, The University of Amsterdam.

turkeyIn recent decades, school pedagogy has assumed central importance in education reforms that are designed to enhance the quality of education. It has been increasingly linked to economic growth, international competitiveness, and political democratisation. Particularly after the 1990s, the global reform discourse on pedagogy has been progressively shaped by approaches that are based on constructivism. Such approaches have become part of a discursive repertoire of international rights and quality education. Donor agencies have also proven influential in placing the notions of constructivism on the international reform agenda.  Indeed, an overview of policy documents by influential international organisations reveals that skills-based and learner-centred curricula have increasingly become the default position internationally.

Turkey introduced student-centred pedagogy (SCP) in 2004 to the official curriculum of primary schools. The reform was accompanied by high aspirations; it was announced as a ‘revolutionary move’ which would transform the Turkish education system and would help to educate individuals who think creatively and solve problems, approach issues critically and challenge established authorities when needed. High expectations were raised for the potential of SCP to improve education quality and to promote intrinsic learning among students. Often, it was seen as ‘progressive’ and ‘advanced’, and viewed by various educationalists as the only alternative to the traditional teaching practices.

Nevertheless, after almost ten years into its nationwide implementation, SCP appears to be problematic in practice. Some reform-oriented practices were difficult to practice (e.g. group work, discussions among students, and the use of ICTs), and some others have resulted in unintended and unforeseen practices (parental over-involvement in project, performance and research assignments or involvement of profit-oriented actors). Teachers point to a number of issues that impede implementation, including poor teacher preparation, large classes, material scarcity, the examination system, parental opposition and inadequate student responsiveness; issues that resonate in some other countries that have attempted to introduce SCP in primary schools, such as Uganda and China. Consequently, it is possible to observe adherence as well as scepticism to SCP among teachers, selective enactment of reform-oriented practices, partial resistance and some loyalty to traditional ways.

My study on the topic, involving eight public schools,  and 83 teachers and principals in Ankara (the capital city), points to some unintended consequences of pedagogical reform. In Turkey, concerns over reduced curriculum content, a high emphasis on research assignments, the ‘emptiness’ of the textbooks, and the ramifications of SCP led several teachers  to conclude that  students learn less with the revised curriculum. Consequently, several teachers argued that the development of competencies is emphasised at the expense of knowledge acquisition, marginalising access to knowledge within mainstream education system. These concerns echo similar concerns in other contexts with regard to the missing ‘voice of knowledge’ within education.  The study also suggests that despite the seductive appeal of the democratic and progressive language of curriculum change, a shift to competencies and emphasis on SCP tend to aggravate social and economic inequalities because of unequal access to learning aids, educational resources and ICT. Teachers believed that SCP favours children whose parents are more involved and concerned with the education of their children, who are more educated, and have more cultural capital. Moreover the revised curriculum seemed to aggravate existing inequalities since it increased the demand for private tutoring  and reduced the chances of students succeeding in the public exams without supplementary private coaching. Therefore, there was a strong conviction among teachers that the educational gap among income groups, and between urban and rural areas would be further accentuated, leading to an increasingly stratified society.

I believe the debate on reforming pedagogical practices should refrain from positioning the notions of teacher-centred and student-centred learning in opposite locations, and such debates need to move away from a focus on  the ‘problematisation’ of implementation process and in particular of teachers. Instead, efforts should be made to develop and apply more structured alternatives (particularly in resource-poor country contexts), and to develop context-specific pedagogical approaches.

Hülya Kosar Altinyelken is an Assistant Professor of Education and International Development at the Department of Child Development and Education, The University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Email: h.k.altinyelken@uva.nl

References

Altinyelken, H.K. 2012. A Converging Pedagogy in the Developing World? Insights from Uganda and Turkey. In: A. Verger, M. Novelli, and  H.K. Altinyelken (Eds.) Global Education Policy and International Development: New Agendas, Issues and Policies. New York: Continuum.

Altinyelken, H.K. 2011. Student-Centred Pedagogy in Turkey: Conceptualizations, Interpretations and Practices. Journal of Education Policy 26(2), 137-160.

Altinyelken, H.K. 2010. Pedagogical Renewal in Sub-Saharan Africa: The Case of Uganda. Comparative Education 46(2), 151-171.

 

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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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Avoiding Post-2015 Education Pipe-dreams?

By Robert Palmer, NORRAG.

Education post2015This is the last blog in a series of post-2015 reflection blogs (see blog list below); a synthesis review of NORRAG NEWSBite’s post-2015 education blogs over the last couple of years.

Alice Albright, the CEO of the Global Partnership for Education, recently commented about the post-2015 education agenda, that ‘not having mechanisms and means turns goals into pipe-dreams’ (05.11.14, World Innovation Summit for Education, Doha).

The mechanisms and the means by which the post-2015 education ambition could be realized have received less attention than the suggestions from the education community about what should be included in the goal wording, or in the targets.

A number of NORRAG NEWSBite blogs have engaged with this issue, with much of the focus around two related themes: financing and governance.

Financing

Part of the success, or failure, of the post-2015 education goals will revolve around funds; achieving the new goal and targets requires both better use of existing resources and more resources.

Domestic fund mobilization will increasingly be by far the most important source of education funding (Fredriksen).

Initially, the thinking about innovative financing for education focused largely on its potential to increase international financing for basic education, and especially in low-income countries, in order to meet the international education goals (Burnett). Now, the thinking has shifted and Burnett argues that ‘innovative financing is actually most interesting for education when it is focused on increasing domestic financing, particularly for vocational and higher education, and especially in middle-income countries’. Bond shows how the domestic resources in developing countries can be better utilized, for example via debt conversion development bonds.

Fredriksen argues that despite the predominant role of domestic funding, Overseas Development Assistance (ODA) will continue to play an important role in many low-income countries. In another blog post, he notes that education aid must itself be transformed into a more strategic instrument (Fredriksen); it needs to be more efficient, it should be used to finance cost-effective approaches, and to catalyze additional domestic and/or external resources. In a third post, Fredriksen underlines the need for a concerted, ‘evidence-based global dialogue at a high political level on how to make aid more effective by making its allocation more evidence-based’.

Governance

For King and Palmer a crucial missing element of the post-2015 education discussions to date relates to the global governance of education and training. They argue that without changes in formal and informal mechanisms of governance, the impact of the post-2015 education goal and targets may be limited. One of these informal mechanisms of global governance is also highlighted by Barrett who argues that, as a tool for global governance, PISA has limitations and pitfalls; not least amongst these is its ownership by an organisation that is a coalition of high income countries.

In another post, King and Palmer note that where governance is discussed in the education post-2015 literature, it relates more to ‘good governance’ at the national level, rather than to global governance reforms required. Further, they argue that governance targets have not been mainstreamed across the proposed post-2015 education goal. This has worrying implications for the success of education post-2015.

Wild argues that in addition to discussing the financing of education post-2015, we also need to focus on building effective national systems and political leadership that can deliver. In other words, it’s not just about how much money, but about capacity to deliver; and improved governance at the national level is critical for this. Akukwe echoes the call for a greater post-2015 focus on improving governance at the national level. She argues that ministries of education need greater capacity building support in order to develop, implement, monitor and evaluate educational progress.

Global consensus, national action?

King looks at the 20+ year history of EFA and argues that there is clearly no automatic link between global consensus and national action in national ministries of education; such action requires dedicated, long-term political commitment. The mechanisms and means of achieving the post-2015 education goal and targets need to recognize this.

Full list of blogs in this synthesis series:

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

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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 Countdown to Defining What Counts: Measurement and Education Post-2015

By Robert Palmer, NORRAG.

Education post2015This blog is the 4th in a series of post-2015 reflection blogs (see blog 1, 2,and 3 here); a synthesis review of NORRAG NEWSBite’s post-2015 education blogs over the last couple of years.

Improved data and measurement are obviously key to the success of monitoring the post-2015 agenda. The May 2013 report of the UN Secretary-General’s (UNSG) High Level Panel on Post-2015 called for a data revolution, and in August 2014 the UNSG set up an Independent Expert Advisory Group on the Data Revolution for Sustainable Development; the group published their report in November 2014.

For the education sector, the latest initiative to help identify what to measure post-2015 comes in the form of an ongoing UIS-led online consultation on the proposed post-2015 global education indicators (17 November 2014 to 30 January 2015).

NORRAG NEWSBite blogs have certainly had a fair bit to say on the issues of data and measurement, and as usual we aim to present several sides of the story.

Learning assessments and data collection initiatives for education

New assessments and data collection initiatives using international metrics and bench-marking (e.g. PISA for Development, SABER) certainly claim to emphasize quality improvements.

Anderson Simons, technical lead of the Learning Metrics Task Force (LMTF), outlines the LMTF’s recommendations for how learning should be measured across seven domains: physical well-being; social and emotional; culture and the arts; literacy and communication; learning approaches and cognition; numeracy and mathematics; and, science and technology.

Davidson, Ward and Palma of the OECD discuss the relevance of the PISA for Development initiative to the post-2015 global learning agenda, noting, for example, that it could become a ‘single reference point against which to rigorously gauge progress towards targets for the quality and equity of learning outcomes’.

In a similar vein, Malpel argues that learning assessment are not a threat, but a necessity, noting that assessment is key to improving the quality of education and accelerating learning. He draws on the example of CONFEMEN’s[1] PASEC (Programme for the Analysis of Education Systems) as an example of a large scale approach to learning assessment.

Even those bloggers who are less enthusiastic about learning assessments (such as PISA), note that other approaches such as the Brookings-UIS Africa Learning Barometer are doing an excellent job using learning metrics to expose the shallowness of another metric: enrollment rates.

We treasure what we measure?

The drive towards more standardized and quantifiable data, including the measurement of learning outcomes, brings up a number of questions on the policy implications for education and development. Collectively, these voices are concerned about a too reductionist approach to the post-2015 education framework, and the danger of falling back only on what can be neatly counted.

A NORRAG meeting on “The Brave New World of Data for Education and Development” in September 2013 as well as other blogs (e.g. Draxler, Carton) raised several questions about the drive towards more standardized and quantifiable data:

  • What data will be given priority, how will it be collected and used, by whom, and at what cost?
  • How and to what extent can quality education and lifelong learning be measured?
  • Are international metrics the priority tools for helping countries improve the quality and equality of education?
  • Does widespread standardized testing reliably inform about learning acquisition, provide appropriate accountability, and improve teacher and learner performance?
  • Who stands to gain the most from the use of worldwide standardized performance indicators?

Several of the most known proposals for learning assessment and approaches to bench-marking were critiqued in a few blogs:

Draxler takes a critical look at the “Global Framework of Learning Domains” that the LMTF is working towards. McLean argues that the LMTF, ‘driven by special donor-interests, is focused on improving measurement, not learning’.

Barrett questions the utility of PISA for Development, noting that the ambitions behind PISA for Development raise important questions; for example, how feasible and desirable it is to measure learning across the world along one set of scales. She argues that ‘in the end, investing in an assessment that belongs to the OECD will not improve education quality in low income countries’.

Menefee echoes the disdain felt by some towards PISA, and notes that easily accessible non-proprietary learning metric methodologies would be a valuable asset to the international education community. He also comments that metrics themselves are not the problem; it is that they make terrible managers.

A NORRAG meeting notes that a ‘bottom-up approach to data, education and development is completely lacking at the moment, and a small group of institutions (World Bank, Brookings, LMTF) appear to be proposing what to learn and what to measure’.

Verger argues that we need a comprehensive measure of educational development post-2015, and proposes a methodological and conceptual framework that could help to envision a comprehensive measure of educational progress.

The countdown to defining what counts

Clearly there will be metrics defined to track post-2015 education targets, including for assessing learning. Draxler argues that, rather than the overall goal wording itself, ‘it is the targets and the ways of measuring those targets that are the most influential drivers of the development goals and of education as part of those goals’.

With about six months to go to the World Education Forum in South Korea, those with some suggestions and concerns about the shape of the education post-2015 agenda better start speaking more loudly as there are already several dominant voices in the room. One place to start might be by engaging directly with one of these dominant voices, the UIS, via their online consultation on the proposed post-2015 global education indicators.

In the last blog in this series, we look at the mechanisms and means of implementation of education targets post-2015.

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

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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.

 

[1] Conference of Education Ministers of Francophone Countries

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An Open Invitation to the Technical and Vocational Skills Community: It’s Time to Gate-Crash the Post-2015 Party

By Robert Palmer, NORRAG.

Education post2015This blog is the third in a series of post-2015 reflection blogs (see blog 1 and 2 here); a synthesis review of NORRAG NEWSBite’s post-2015 education blogs over the last couple of years.

Interest in technical and vocational skills has ridden high on the waves of political rhetoric over the last couple of years, and this interest was initially not matched in the post-2015 development planning process. Technical and vocational skills development (TVSD) now has several lights on the post-2015 Christmas tree (or several lights in the post-2015 forest), but will they stay lit in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in September 2015, and if so, so what?

The ‘life skills’ target is dead… (?)

It is no secret that technical and vocational skills never found a real home in the Education for All (EFA) Goals; but were instead lumped under the vague ‘life skills’ EFA Goal 3. We also know full well that the EFA ‘skills’ goal never got any traction: no one could even agree on what ‘life-skills’ meant, let alone how it should be measured or tracked.

In fact, there is still some concern that we might see a re-run of a post-2015 life skills target, especially since the term re-appeared in the July 2013 Report of the UN Secretary General, and the Muscat Agreement talks about ‘skills… for life’; it remains to be seen if it will be retained in the post-2015 synthesis report of the Secretary General, expected early December 2014. [Update: The post-2015 synthesis report of the Secretary General, The Road to Dignity by 2030, was released on 4th December 2014; and refers directly to ‘life skills’ (p.22)].

If it must return, it is hoped that: a) the term ‘life-skills’ or ‘skills for life’ is clearly defined and delineated; and, b) that there is a separate target for technical and vocational skills, and the latter is not conflated into the former.

… Long live a technical and vocational skills target?

In 2014, it is positive that there appears to be momentum to include a ‘skills for work’ target under a post-2015 education goal. Indeed the Report of the Open Working Group (OWG) of the General Assembly on SDGs included a specific target on technical and vocational skills: target 4.4: ‘by 2030, increase by x% the number of youth and adults who have relevant skills, including technical and vocational skills, for employment, decent jobs and entrepreneurship’. Furthermore, vocational training was mentioned in a further three proposed OWG education targets in relation to equity of access, gender disparity and the need for more scholarships for developing countries. This is all positive stuff, right?

Several things are still missing: key among these are clarity of concept and clarity of measurement. Neither of these issues appears to have taken much of a step forward in the last two years, which is a concern – and also illustrates the globally fragmented thinking on TVSD.

We are still not clear on the meaningMajor organisations still do not have their story straight on what ‘skills’ they are talking about (see NORRAG NEWS 48). If we continue down this path, we will have another catch-all skills goal.

We are still not clear on what we are measuringand this will seriously affect choice of target. Experience suggests that we do not set targets without indicators. But does this mean a clear cut rule:  no indicator, no target? If so, TVSD is in serious trouble.

The experience of goal and targeting setting from Jomtien and Dakar does indeed tells us to set targets and indicators together. What appears to be still happening with the skills for work target is that the target wording is being debated and discussed without a sufficiently linked debate on what can be measured and tracked; and in what ways measurement of technical and vocational skills therefore needs to be improved. The Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) report appears to have gone the other route; don’t even mention technical and vocational skills as a target due to difficulties in measurement. This is unhelpful. For example, the SDSN proposed indicators do not refer to technical and vocational skills in the targets, and those indicators it did mention related to the school-skill-work link were problematic for many. The latest report of the SDSN, on Indicators and a Monitoring Framework for Sustainable Development Goals, retains some of these critiqued indicators and still does not refer to technical and vocational skills. A more helpful approach would be to recognize technical and vocational skills as a priority issue for many governments, and to improve the way it is measured.

What comes first: target or indicator?

We noted above that experience tells us to set targets and indicators together. But where an important issue exists, but data is currently inadequate, the absence of a target for this issue will surely continue to encourage an absence of data. After TVSD’s neglect through the EFA and MDG era, the reference made in many proposed post-2015 education targets to technical and vocational skills has been welcomed, even though there is recognition that we are far from securing adequate TVSD data.

Have the TVSD community been invited to the post-2015 party?

Some have, but the party planners may likely have had a difficult task in identifying who should be invited.

The immense difficulty in crafting wording around a skills goal is not disputed, and it is right to critique the different propositions made for it. But the TVSD community needs to step up and ‘take the bull by the horns’. We need to see a stronger connection between the technical and vocational skills community who are already working on improving TVSD indicators, and the technocrats who are drafting post-2015 targets. Indeed, it is clear from the November 2014 draft report of the Post-2015 Education Indicators Technical Advisory Group of the EFA Steering Committee that these drafters are struggling to propose indicators for technical and vocational skills.

Any new post-2015 skills target that refers to TVSD must be devised with one eye on meaning and the other on measurement. And for this to happen the TVSD community needs to gate-crash the post-2015 party.

In the next blog in this series, we examine the issue of measurement and education post-2015.

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

Follow this blog by email, Facebook or via Twitter @NORRAG_NEWS to be alerted to new blog posts.

>>View all Post-2015 Blogs on NORRAG NEWSBite

 

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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Education Post-2015: Recurring Themes

By Robert Palmer, NORRAG.

Education post2015This is the second blog in a series of post-2015 reflection blogs (see first blog here); a synthesis review of NORRAG NEWSBite’s post-2015 education blogs over the last couple of years.

There is an overwhelming view that the next round of education targets needs to be more ambitious than the 2015 targets, even while there is acknowledgment that the 2015 targets remain an unfinished agenda. The world in 2015, and the world in 2030, will be very different from 2000, and education is regarded as being central to the whole post-2015 global development agenda (Adams). There is indeed a lot of interest in examining how global changes will impact education (and of course, vice-versa). Perhaps not surprisingly, one of most read blogs on post-2015 has been about global mega trends and the post-2015 agenda for education.

In about six months’ time at the World Education Forum in South Korea, a large piece of the post-2015 education jigsaw will be moved into position. A few months later, at the UN General Assembly, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are expected to be agreed upon; and it is now almost a given that one of the SDGs will be on education.

There has been a great deal of debate, including in NORRAG NEWSBite, about the key themes that should be reflected in the final targets; below we highlight the most salient of these, including: the right to education; lifelong learning; learning; and, equity. Of these, learning and equity were the two themes that attracted most interest among NORRAG blog writers.

The Right to Education

Abuel-Ealeh of the Global Campaign for Education (GCE) notes the compelling case for ensuring that the right to a quality, public education is realised. GCE believes that the post-2015 education agenda must be grounded in a human rights perspective.

Cardozo and Shah argues that the post-2015 education agenda needs to pay particular attention to the right to education in situations of conflict-affected and fragile states; it needs to be a post-2015 education priority. They further note that each context is different; and that the post-2015 education agenda should not treat education in emergencies in a one-solution-fits-all approach.

Lifelong Learning

Ahmed argues that the post-2015 agenda needs to emphasise lifelong learning in a learning society; where all participate in and contribute to learning throughout life. Ahmed flags up his concern about the Learning Metrics Taskforce’s focus on keeping the scope of the post-2015 education agenda confined to formal school education up to lower secondary level. He also notes that lifelong learning begins at birth (or even before); so lifelong should mean lifelong.

Learning

Anderson Simons, Technical Lead, Learning Metrics Task Force (LMTF), outlined the LMTF’s recommendations for what learning is important globally; the LMTF has come up with seven domains of learning, beginning in early childhood and extending through the transition to work and life. Meanwhile, McLean argues that the LMTF is focussed on ‘improving measurement, not learning’, and that the post-2015 education debate needs to stop talking about learning as if it were ‘disconnected from teaching, detached from teachers, different from education and somehow recently discovered’.

Beatty and Pritchett argue that a post-2015 learning target ‘to have utility… needs to be realistic enough to motivate countries, track progress instead of just set thresholds, and be reasonable and fair, based on historical progress’. To show what reasonable goals might look like, they highlight the historical progress on three international standardized tests (TIMSS, PISA, SACMEQ) in math, reading and science.

Levesque argues that the debate about education post-2015 has become over-crowded, and that the post-2015 agenda for education should focus on skills acquired through universal basic education (early childhood, various levels of schooling, out of school learning, non-formal education and lifelong learning); ‘to be understood as the right for everyone to have the opportunity to develop appropriate basic life skills’.

Equity

A number of blogs have drawn attention to the imperative to address the marginalized in the post-2015 education agenda. Progress towards Education for All has been held back by structural disparities linked to wealth, age, gender, ethnicity, language, disability, geography and other markers of disadvantage. Saeed and Zia illustrate this by referring to data from Pakistan’s Annual Status of Education Report.

Heninger recalls that conflict and disaster exacerbate individual factors contributing to lack of access. Holmås further argues that the hardest to reach, especially those in conflict and crisis situations, need to be reached in the post-2015 agenda.

Fransen, Vandenbosch, Rooms and Dewaele note the international consensus on putting equity at the heart of a post-2015 education agenda; as an illustration of how development agencies might operationalise this in their own strategies, they note how equity was integrated in different ways and at different levels in VVOB’s education portfolio.

Al-Samarrai uses the case of Indonesia to argue that education inequality needs to be tackled through better governance, and that efforts must focus on strengthening the capacity of local governments to deliver quality education services to all children.

King argues that to address educational inequalities, countries must sign up for collecting disaggregated data to assess the progress of, and differences between, the richer and poorer sections of the population, rural and urban, male and female, majority and minority language speakers etc. This will require political commitment to adopt equity goals that deliberately target the marginalised.

The global education ambition is raised

The main proposals to date (from the High Level Panel, the Sustainable Development Solutions Network, the Secretary-General, and the Open Working Group; and the education-specific ones like the Muscat Agreement, and the education post-2015 consultations) broadly agree on much of what a future goal on education should look like. From these proposals, it is clear that the key buzz words likely to be included in the goal wording are: inclusiveness and equity; quality; and, lifelong learning. Bergh and Couturier argue that ‘whatever the detail of targets and indicators, ambitions in education have ratcheted up several notches from those in the MDGs’; and ‘education is undoubtedly one goal area that will require a very substantial slice of the cake’.

Haven’t we been here before?

Tawil argues that we have actually come full circle since 1990, and notes that learning and equity are not newly discovered or emerging; After all, he notes, ‘what has the EFA movement been about if not about promoting equitable opportunities for effective and relevant basic learning for all?’

In the next blog in this series, we examine the specific issue of technical and vocational skills development in the post-2015 agenda.

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

Follow this blog by email, Facebook or via Twitter @NORRAG_NEWS to be alerted to new blog posts.

>>View all Post-2015 Blogs on NORRAG NEWSBite

 

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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