The Biggest NGO in Government

By David Levesque.  Independent Education Consultant.

illusionSo said the British Prime Minister Tony Blair in his autobiography, of Clare Short’s Department for International Development in the early 2000s.   Whether irony or whimsical musing, it reflected a shift in the balance of how UK government aid had previously been perceived and challenged the zeitgeist on where the balance lay between national self-interest and global humanitarian compassion.

Leaving aside possible assumptions about the nature and role of NGOs, it is interesting to highlight some of the actions and policies that might have supported this conclusion.

Underpinning the changes was the decision to create a separate government department, with cabinet status, independent of the Foreign Office.  This enabled programmes to be developed outside of British foreign policy priorities. The subsequent 2002 International Development Act enshrined poverty reduction as the focus of British development assistance.

The consequences included untying aid delivery so that it was no longer linked to British goods and services, refusing to badge UK aid so that it was seen as a global rather than a national good, giving priority to poverty reduction through every programme and project and refusing requests from other government departments for the use of aid money.  It undoubtedly helped that both the then UK Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer were supportive of development assistance, epitomised by the strong support given to the ‘make poverty history’ campaign at the 2005 Gleneagles G8 summit.

The balance began to change progressively throughout the first decade of the 21st century as Britain became involved in conflicts.  First in Sierra Leone and later in Iraqi and Afghanistan, development became part of the response to rebuilding societies. This required greater collaboration across government departments leading to the formation of a ‘3D’ partnership between development, diplomacy and defence.

The change of government in the UK in 2010 led to further modification.  An increasing aid budget and a branding of UKaid, led to calls for stronger accountability.  More money was allocated to justifying the aid budget, requiring a focus on value for money, attribution, target setting, measurement, research evidence for business plans, results based allocations and the establishment of an independent watchdog. A strengthening focus on conflict prevention required further cross government collaboration and a focus on good government as a prerequisite for poverty reduction.

If we look globally across the world of official government development assistance in 2015 it is possible to see many of the same issues.  The prevailing paradigm is towards the national self-interest end of the spectrum with the promotion of branded, tied aid, an emphasis on promoting national culture and language through partnership and scholarships and the need to finance national accountability concerns.

Some governments claim that these different perspectives are not antithetical.  It is in the national self-interest to give humanitarian assistance across the globe as this encourages peace and security.

Priorities change over time as different governments come and go but aid finance is a precious, scarce resource that deserves to be used with maximum effect for the world’s poorest people. Finding the appropriate balance between support for humanitarian objectives and national self-interest requires on-going vigilance.

The Indian Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore provided an appropriate metaphorical caution, ‘I’ve spent my days stringing and unstringing my instrument, while the song I came to sing remains unsung.’

Perhaps there is sometimes a case for government development departments looking more like NGOs.


Blair, T. 2010. A Journey.  London: Random House.


David Levesque is an independent education consultant who previously worked for DFID as a senior education adviser. Email:

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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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International Benchmarking and Measuring the Quality of Learning


TapeCurrent post-2015 proposals for universal goals, targets and indicators, and the mushrooming of global initiatives, meetings and reports, suggest a shift of focus away from developing country contexts and towards a global framework of development. One of the key elements of this framework seems to be a strong push for internationally comparable data on learning outcomes, notably through a “data revolution” called for by the UN High Level Panel in 2013.

Between 8-13 March 2015, the 59th Annual Conference of the Comparative and International Education Society (CIES) is due to take place in Washington, DC. NORRAG, along with AIREducation International, GLOBED Master Consortium and the Open Society Foundations, is planning three panels at the 2015 CIES Conference. In the spirit of Ubuntu as described for the theme of CIES, NORRAG is looking at pluralistic approaches to benchmarking and measuring learning, which envision education as a cornerstone for the development of the whole individual who would become an active and thoughtful citizen in both social and economic spheres.

Big data, big questions

The collection of massive amounts of data on systems and participants in education, for example, could benefit by being examined in the light of potential unintended consequences, national and local needs, corporate vested interests and a more holistic approach to education only partially captured through standardized testing metrics. Moreover, funding is not unlimited, and international calls for comparable data on learning will likely strengthen global and regional institutions in contrast to national or local ones.

The first panel, on ‘Big data, big questions’, will explore questions concerning the political economy of big data collection efforts and administration of standardized tests designed to evaluate and rank student and teacher performance. There is a need to interrogate key assumptions about the need for, and characteristics of, large-scale data collection and testing. Who defines quality, and how? Is comparability truly possible and when is it necessary? Once needs have been defined, how can projects and interventions be taken to an appropriate scale? Who are and who should be the actors in deciding the what, how and why of measurement? Who are the custodians and purveyors of the results? Who has access and who should have access? What obligations do private sector actors have with respect to the collection, storage, ownership and use of tools and results, and with what controls? How will it be possible to determine whether principles of social justice and quality are being followed or compromised? And, finally, what mechanisms and conditions need to be established to make sure decisions and implementation are both fair and open to those who will be most affected by the use of data?

The presentations will include:

Alternative and complementary methodologies

The second panel, on ‘Alternative and complementary methodologies’, will look at initiatives that focus on quality, citizen participation (including education personnel), examples of broad measures of quality, and evaluating the evaluators. The panel will be organized around three complementary perspectives to current approaches to the post-2015 “data revolution”:

  1. A focus on longitudinal studies and effects: many desirable outcomes of education are medium and long-term e.g., as productive workers, active citizens, discerning consumers, problem solvers, and family formers. Most benchmarking of “learning outcomes” is necessarily a snapshot at a particular time point, which thus provides limited evidence about longer-term impacts of education. It is entirely possible that existing data can be better utilized to tease out longer-term impacts of learning on individuals, families, communities and countries to support more longitudinal approaches to data collection and analysis.
  2. Impact assessment: there is an urgent need to understand the impact of assessment practices. How do we develop, test and promote ways to more closely scrutinize reforms in learning assessment and related processes, notably in light of both expected desirable and unintended consequences?
  3. Capacity building and empowerment for national and local data gathering: What kinds of assessment practices and information are more likely to result in real change in schools and classrooms? What should be the roles of teachers, citizens, school leaders, academics, and assessment specialists in improving and conducting learning assessments? How can different actors be empowered to increase their voice and participation in existing assessment techniques?

The presentations under this panel will include:

Addressing urban violence though education

The recognition that urban violence is a considerable threat to the stability and development of states and the wellbeing of their citizens has led national and international researchers to examine the role and effectiveness of violence prevention and reduction programs or citizen security programs in urban settings. Consequently, there has been a number of mapping exercises and analyses involving these initiatives. Recent examination of such initiatives (especially in Latin America) has shown a shift from ‘heavy-handed’ approaches (which emphasize the use of police force for dealing with violence), towards ‘softer handed’ civil society methods (which aim to create order through prevention or addressing conflict drivers). Often, education and training is at the heart of these methods.

Given the changing nature of conflict and violence globally – one that sees both armed conflict and so-called non-conflict increasingly taking place in urban settings – the third panel, on ‘Addressing urban violence though education’, will explore a simple question: what formal and nonformal education strategies are being implemented to address urban violence?

Brazil and South Africa are two examples of countries which have shown high levels of socio-economic development, but also inequality and interpersonal and public violence. Both countries have addressed violence, but have approached it from different contextual perspectives. In Brazil, armed violence prevention and reduction programs and citizen security programs seek to address conflict in urban settings. In South Africa, civil society has taken the lead on violence prevention and reduction, less through a security lens, and more through a socio-economic/poverty reduction lens. In both cases, initiatives that focus on formal and nonformal education (broadly conceived) can offer insights into good practices and lessons learned. Indeed, the case studies of Brazil and South Africa illustrate the relationship between conflict, violence, and education programming opportunities.

The presentations under this panel will include:

>> Read existing NORRAG NewsBite Blogs on Data and Learning Outcomes

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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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Education as a Stronghold? The Ambiguous Connections between Education, Resilience and Peacebuilding

By Mieke T.A. Lopes Cardozo, University of Amsterdam.

The resilience-hype: the new kid on the education-in-emergencies block

In a NORRAG NEWSBite blog-post Roger Dale (2014) convincingly argued how “without theory, there are only opinions”, in response to the seemingly unquestioned belief in ‘big data’ country comparisons and the political implications connected to PISA survey results. This argument, I believe, could also be loosely applied with a different focus, namely the recent massive adoption of the concept of resilience by actors working in the field of Education, Conflict (or Peacebuilding) and Emergencies. I argue there is a need for a solid theorisation and understanding of the roots and current conceptualisations of the term resilience, in order to unravel how, why and in what ways this swift adoption of this resilience discourse might impact on the experiences of those actually living educational realities in emergency or conflict situations. To search for common ground and a way to bridge the work (and thinking) of humanitarian, reconstruction and development actors in (post-)conflict and emergency situations, resilience has recently been adopted as a potential ‘glue’ between those sectors – also when looking at the role of education. But what do we really mean when we use the concept resilience?

What is resilience?

Resilience is rooted in several academic disciplines and approaches, including the natural sciences, (children’s) psychology, social sciences, development studies, etc. For instance, from a psychology perspective and studying children’s resilience and self-efficacy, Liebenberg and Ungar (2009: 3) write how: “Resilience is the positive end of the development continuum that occurs for children who experience both acute and chronic exposure to stressors like poverty, abuse, war, violence, neglect, drug addictions, mental illness, disability, marginalization, racism, and a myriad of other ways their well-being is threatened”. Mark Duffield, in an online recorded presentation in 2012, questioned the idea that in times of austerity “we all need to be resilient”, weather this is to “bounce back” from natural disasters, massive economic crises or acts of terrorism. He convincingly argued why the current dominance of resilience-thinking in both popular media and political discourse is troublesome, as it follows a neo-liberal reasoning that urges every individual to take care and responsibility for their own security and ability to cope with risks.

Moving from these more academic debates into the ongoing debates and usage of ‘resilience’ by a range of international actors now, the World Banks’ Education Resilience Approaches (ERA) programme claims that resilience is important because it helps individuals and communities to deal with adversities, through promoting strong education systems and social cohesion in fragile contexts. In an earlier OECD report (2008: 13), resilience is framed as the opposite end of fragility, as “resilience derives from a combination of capacity and resources, effective institutions and legitimacy, all of which are underpinned by political processes that mediate state-society relations and expectations”. While acknowledging the sensitivities of using the term ‘fragility’ and ‘fragile states’ as a negative demeanour, UNESCO-IIEP in an editorial of a newsletter (2009) also places resilience at the other end of the fragility-continuum and portrays education as a means to rebuild resilience. USAID (2012: 5), in the context of food insecurity and (natural) disasters, defines “resilience to recurrent crisis as the ability of people, households, communities, countries, and systems to mitigate, adapt to and recover from shocks and stresses in a manner that reduces chronic vulnerability and facilitates inclusive growth”. In this view, building resilience will contribute to reduced humanitarian need over time. The UNDP (2013) similarly relates resilience more closely to natural disasters, and as a means to prevent crisis and enable recovery. Education (infrastructure) is included as an important part of the reconstruction process.

The Peacebuilding, Education and Advocacy (PBEA) Programme, a partnership among UNICEF, the Government of the Netherlands, the national governments of participating countries and other key partners, is a cross-sectoral programme that focuses on education and peacebuilding. “Its overall goal is to strengthen resilience, social cohesion, and human security in conflict-affected contexts, including countries at risk of, experiencing or recovering from conflict.”  UNICEF more broadly seems to adopt a primarily humanitarian approach to strengthen resilience that is focused on the agency of children and youth, as well as the communities they belong to, as it illustrated in a Global Mapping of Communication for Development Interventions in Peacebuilding and Conflict Transformation (2013).

In sum, the concept of resilience and how it relates to education in conflict and emergency situations, is employed by a range of different actors, all with slightly varying conceptualisations, rationales and approaches to establish resilience.

Resilience for whom? And resilience for what?

While it is certainly not the purpose of this text to provide one clear-cut and overarching working definition for resilience, if this would even be a possibility, what I do propose is to consider a range of questions and areas in need of further exploration if the route of resilience is taken (seriously).

  • What is the reason that the concept or idea of resilience gained so much popularity, not least in the field of education in situations of conflict and emergencies – and who/what are the main driving forces?
  • Who is actually supposed to become ‘resilient’, is everyone or every group in society positioned to ‘become equally resilient’ or would some people perhaps be better situated or equipped to become ‘more resilient than others’?
  • And if people are stimulated or supported to become ‘resilient’, who is supporting this resilience, and what ‘type of resilience’ would be the desired result?
  • What if in some cases resilience would mean to continue with a status quo that is not necessarily beneficial for all groups in society (in terms of social justice and equality)?
  • And moving from the individual to the collective or institutional level, what if an education system that was partly a driver of structural inequalities that contributed to the causes of conflict in the first place, becomes resilient and hence continues to trigger such tensions?

In short, what I want to highlight with raising these questions as a starting point for further discussion, is a concern that an emphasis on resilience might lead development actors to prioritize strategies that focus more on immediate coping with adversity, rather than the (often longer-term) addressing of inequalities and injustice in order to transform the structural conditions that generate conflict in the first place. A possible concern is that a burden of responsibility is placed on individuals and communities, rather than governments and institutions as duty bearers.

From “only opinions” to a theoretical unravelling of resilience

Resilience seems to be a broad enough term to include the approaches, however ideologically underpinned, by a wide range of actors. It might especially serve those actors that frame education as an apolitical endeavour. In a sense, most of the resilience approaches adopted by international organisations mentioned above, seems to follow a (humanitarian, short term and problem solving) ‘do no harm’ approach, or in some cases a ‘conflict sensitive’ approach – resilience in this case could be seen as a way to navigate the status quo in the best possible way. Coming back to the work of Roger Dale (2006), such programming for resilience approaches that seek to (at least) restore a certain status quo, might fit with what he, based on the work of Cox, calls a problem-solving approach. My above-mentioned concerns and questions make the case for the need to move away from problem-solving approaches only, and into more transformative, social justice oriented approaches, that seek to question, challenge and address the underlying structural root causes of inequalities and conflict – while, at the same time, acknowledging the inherently political nature of any educational system or initiative. Hence, as Novelli and Smith (2011) argue in a study conducted for UNICEF, education programming should be based on high quality political economy and conflict analysis that is sensitive to the conflict dynamics of local contexts, and support from external actors has to be informed, sensitive and patient: “The more intrusive and externally driven, the less self-organized and sustainable the outcome, and we need to recognize the potential for us to do harm, despite our best intentions.”

As researchers, we can start to explore the ambiguous connections between education, resilience and transformative forms of peacebuilding, as these form an area in need for in-depth study and consideration. Finally, together with Mario Novelli and Alan Smith (2014), we recently proposed an analytical framework that is grounded in critical theory and incorporates a multi-scalar, and social justice oriented perspective to analyse the role of education in fostering sustainable and positive peace. It is hoped that the ongoing development of such a theoretical and analytical framework helps to increase an understanding of the role of education in the conflict-affected contexts it is focused on, and at the same time to understand the impact of the various resilience discourses and actual implications for programmatic responses. Following Dale’s words, with a more solid theoretical exploration, we can start to move away from “only opinions” on resilience.

Mieke T.A. Lopes Cardozo is assistant professor at the University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands, coordinator of the IS Academie on Education and International Development, and co-director of the Research Consortium on Education and Peacebuilding. Email:

>>This blog is based on NORRAG Policy Research Note #2 on “Education as a Stronghold? The Ambiguous Connections between Education, Resilience and Peacebuilding” (February 2015)

>> See other NORRAG NEWSBite blogs on Conflict, Violence Education and Training

Follow this blog by email, Facebook or via Twitter @NORRAG_NEWS

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 Partnership for Education and the Evolution of Engagement in Contexts of Conflict and Fragility

By Francine Menashy, University of Massachusetts Boston and Sarah Dryden-Peterson, Harvard Graduate School of Education.

GPE logoOfficial Development Assistance has historically focused on “good performers.” With evidence that aid works better in countries with stronger institutions and more effective policy regimes, good governance has long been a prerequisite for investment. What does this mean for international support of the education of children living in fragile and conflict-affected settings, which are by definition settings where governance is threatened?

Until recently, the picture was rather bleak. While almost half of out-of-school children globally live in fragile and conflict-affected settings, these countries have historically received only a fraction of all global aid to education. In our recent research on the Global Partnership for Education (GPE), we see evidence of change. The number of fragile and conflict-affected states funded by the GPE has grown exponentially, from 1 in 2003 (when it was the Fast Track Initiative) to 28 in 2015

Evolving Support to Fragile and Conflict-Affected States

The Global Partnership for Education (GPE) was initially launched in 2002 as the Education for All Fast Track Initiative (FTI).  A multi-stakeholder agency spearheaded by the World Bank, its goal was to galvanize donor funding in order to put any developing country with a credible Education Sector Plan on a “fast track” to achieving Education for All. Given strict eligibility requirements, very few fragile and conflict-affected countries (FACS) were able to secure funding from the FTI (see GPE timeline below).

Upon the FTI’s 2011 restructuring into the GPE, the challenge of addressing educational needs in settings of conflict and fragility rose rapidly on the policy agenda of the organization. Of its 59 recipient countries in 2015, the GPE supports 28 countries experiencing fragility or conflict, double the number since just 2010. In 2013, 52 percent of the total GPE funding distributions were for states affected by fragility and conflict, up from only 13 percent in 2010. Importantly, support to education in fragile and conflict-affected states is listed as the first objective in the GPE’s 2012-2015 Strategic Plan.

We view this shift to supporting countries experiencing conflict and fragility as dramatic, and we’ve been attempting to figure out why and how this change occurred. By tracing the history of policy development within the FTI/GPE via documentary analysis and interviews with key stakeholders, we have identified several drivers behind the uptake of policies relating to education in fragile and conflict-affected states. We have identified three key phases of engagement for the FTI/GPE in this issue area. These phases are not entirely distinct; but they overlap in important ways; they nevertheless provide a useful framework for understanding FTI/GPE evolving support to fragile and conflict-affected countries.

GPE Timeline 2002-2014 (click image to enlarge) 

Click to enlarge

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Phase 1: Nascent Engagement

The first phase we call “nascent engagement,” where in its first three years (2002-2005), the FTI’s agenda did not include any substantive focus on fragile and conflict-affected countries. The FTI’s mandate supported stability, efficiency, and accountability – almost necessarily excluding fragile contexts.  At the same time, we saw growing acknowledgement in the wider international development arena that, in order to achieve education for all, mechanisms needed to be in place to finance countries experiencing fragility – including conflict, post-conflict recovery, or natural disaster. Documents and interviews reveal a tension within the FTI at this time: on the one hand, upholding goals and principles of aid effectiveness (as expressed at this time in the Rome and Paris Declarations) and, on the other hand, supporting urgent educational needs in fragile and conflict-affected states.

Individual FTI staff members, donors, and evaluators reiterated throughout these early years the crucial need to engage in settings of fragility and conflict, if not prioritize them, citing the fact that very large populations of out-of-school children lived in these countries. They argued that in order to meet its mandate of increasing access to education for all, the FTI could not ignore these settings. This pressure came to a head in 2007 when post-conflict Liberia’s application to the FTI for funding was denied.

The FTI responded to this mounting pressure by setting up a Fragile States Task Team in 2007 and developing new country status categories for funding. Despite these surface changes, even by 2010 when an external evaluation of the FTI was conducted, the mechanisms by which the FTI would increase its engagement with fragile and conflict-affected states remained unclear.

Phase 2: Reflection and ReVisioning

In 2011, the FTI was rebranded and became the Global Partnership for Education (GPE). This organizational change and on-going criticism from actors within the organization and external to it ushered in a new era of attention to fragile and conflict-affected states. We call this second phase “reflection and revisioning.” Most importantly, in 2012, the vision of GPE investment in fragile and conflict-affected settings moved beyond rhetoric to become codified in the 2012-2015 Strategic Plan. This Strategic Plan identified as the first of its five objectives “Fragile and Conflict-Affected States Able to Develop and Implement their Education Plans.” Discussions on the topic of fragile and conflict-affected settings have been a regular feature at GPE Board Meetings. Each meeting of the GPE Board of Directors since 2011 has included at least one presentation and/or Board decision related to supporting fragile and conflict-affected countries.

Phase 3: Operationalization

While a new vision of GPE engagement with fragile and conflict-affected countries took hold with the 2012-2015 Strategic Plan, the mechanisms for operationalizing this engagement remained a work in progress. We identified the third phase as “operationalization,” particularly related to changes in governance and funding mechanisms.

A major change that triggered shifts in policy relevant to operationalization came in 2011, when the Steering Committee was altered to become a Board of Directors. The new constituency-based Board, in response to criticisms that the FTI was essentially a donor initiative, came to include six seats for donor countries, six seats for developing countries, three seats for multilateral agencies, three seats for civil society organizations, and one seat for the private sector and foundations. The inclusion of civil society and private foundation actors in particular brought to the Board a deeper experience of working in fragile and conflict-affected contexts and a history of campaigning globally for increased attention to children in fragile settings.

Another critical structural shift was in funding mechanisms. Moving away from a focus on “good performers”, the GPE has developed two specific ways to support investment in fragile and conflict-affected settings. First is a revised framework for determining country eligibility and possible financial support for a grant period. This “Needs and Performance Framework” includes “Fragility Status” as a key consideration, contrasting the earlier reliance on criteria based solely on prior good performance. Second is a dual approach to the management of GPE grants in-country, with the possibility of providing additional support to national education systems through third party agencies when appropriate. Both of these dimensions of funding are codified in the Operational Framework for Effective Support in Fragile and Conflict-Affected States, which was approved by the Board of Directors at a 2013 meeting in Brussels.

A New Era of Global Engagement in Fragile and Conflict-Affected Countries

The rise of education in fragile and conflict-affected states on the GPE agenda was representative of a convergence of factors, including wider consensus external to the GPE on the need for global action on education in these settings; the vocal advocacy of individuals within the GPE Board, especially upon the Board’s restructuring to include civil society and foundation actors; and the development of concrete funding mechanisms appropriate to the needs of these contexts.

The GPE’s evolving support to fragile and conflict-affected states is part of a larger extension of global policy and practice on the part of donors, NGOs, and UN agencies. Its role in raising the prospects of sector-wide and longer-term development-focused funding in situations of fragility and conflict is unique and holds the potential for transformative change in educational opportunities for some of the world’s most marginalized children. Nevertheless, great challenges remain for GPE. The GPE has been subject to well-grounded criticism, including related to its dependent relationship with the World Bank. It has also been critiqued by some as falling short of its initial financing targets and its lack of attention to learning goals.

Moreover, looking forward in terms of the GPE’s evolving policy agenda, it will be important to examine the implementation of new policies at the country-level. Has the GPE been successful in its strategic objective of aiding fragile and conflict-affected countries in implementing their own education sector plans? And has the GPE’s engagement in fragile states helped it to achieve its overarching aim to increase access to education for all children and to enable them to learn?

Francine Menashy is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Leadership in Education at the University of Massachusetts Boston. Email:

Sarah Dryden-Peterson is an Assistant Professor in the Harvard Graduate School of Education, Boston. Email:


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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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Learning in Africa’s Informal Economies, 1965-2015

By Robert Palmer, NORRAG.

toolkit50 years ago, in 1965, a young doctoral student called Keith Hart arrived in Ghana to begin his fieldwork exploring the informal economic activities of the northern Frafra migrants in a poor area of the capital, Accra. Through his published work in 1973, Hart became acknowledged as “discovering” the informal sector (Hart, 1973), though of course the concept draws on the earlier dual economy work of the 1950s, as well as other studies. Keith Hart’s work not only drew attention to the reality of working in the informal economy, but also to the learning taking place there; he referred to informal apprenticeships and noted the potential to build upon such training.

50 years later, it is still the case that the vast majority of all learning taking place in Africa’s informal economies is on-the-job informal learning; this can be either through an informal apprenticeship, or simply experiential learning through work. And there have been repeated attempts – with varying degrees of success – to formalize such learning, especially the informal apprenticeships, in Africa.

What has significantly changed in the last 50 years is the formal education background of many of those learning and working in Africa’s informal economies. While, traditionally, those working in the informal economy have been regarded as possessing a low skills base and low levels of education, nowadays large numbers of much more educated people are entering Africa’s informal economies. The interaction between formal schooling and on-the-job learning and training that many will subsequently get through apprenticeship or via casual labour can be beneficial (Palmer et al., 2012). But while there are still generally low skill and educational entry requirements to the informal economy, enterprise owners in some trades tend to favour selecting more educated youth to take on as apprentices. For example, auto-mechanic master craftspeople in Ghana tend to show a preference for apprentices with a complete lower-secondary education, whereas entry to a more traditional trade like dressmaking tends to have lower skill requirements (Darvas and Palmer, 2014).

2015 is not just a year to hold a party celebrating the 50th anniversary of Keith Hart’s arrival to Ghana, but by the end of this year, the world will have something much bigger to celebrate: a new set of global development goals; the Sustainable Development Goals. Formal schooling will undoubtedly feature among the education targets, and it is likely that technical and vocational skills will get a mention; but it will be up to policy makers to unpack this in Africa and to ensure that the important topic of informal training and learning in Africa’s informal economies gets due attention.

Robert Palmer is an independent education and skills consultant and one of the authors of the Toolkit on ‘Learning and working in the informal economy’. He also supports the Editor of NORRAG News and runs NORRAG NEWSBite. Email: Tweets @SkillsImpact

Further Reading

To learn more about the informal economy in Africa and its specificities, please read the Toolkit on ‘Learning and working in the informal economy – access, skills development and transition’ that has been developed by the Technical and Vocational Education and Training program on behalf of BMZ by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit GmbH. If you would like to receive the Toolkit Informal Economy Newsletter, please email

>> See other NORRAG NEWSBite blogs on Technical and Vocational Education and Training

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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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Global and Asian Perspectives on the Post-2015 Discussion

By Shoko Yamada, Nagoya University, Japan.

AsiaOn January 26th 2015 there was an international symposium entitled “Critical Perspectives on Education and Skills in the Emerging Post-2015 Development Agenda” which was hosted by the Graduate School of International Development, Nagoya University, and the Central Japan Branch of the Japan Society for International Development. It was an opportunity to bring in perspectives from different backgrounds to look critically at the issues about the emerging post-2015 development agenda in general, and, in particular, its education and skills’ dimensions. An effort was made to organize the panel with scholars from aid-providing countries in northeast Asia, namely, Japan, Korea, and China, along with Dr. Nicholas Burnett, former director of the UNESCO Global Monitoring Report and Managing Director of Results for Development, who raised key issues for the current discourse in a comparative perspective both spatially and historically. Prof. Kenneth King, Editor of NORRAG News, moderated the discussion, while I served as discussant.

Prof. Kazuhiro Yoshida, vice chair of the UNESCO Education for All (EFA) steering committee and professor of Hiroshima University, compared the Muscat targets with the Intergovernmental Open Working Group (OWG) education targets. He then reviewed Japanese ODA to education since the 2000s, noting that with the shrinking ODA and the change of the administration, the current government has initiated the revision of the ODA Charter, which has redefined the meaning of “international cooperation” to include the private sector in its scope.

Dr. Bong Gun Chung, Professor of Seoul National University overviewed the trend of Korean ODA and noted the lack of consistency in its commitment to the education sector. Overall, priority is placed more on technical and vocational education and training than on basic education. Regardless of the fact that the Korean government will host the World Education Forum in May 2015, since Korean ODA is more controlled by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs than the Ministry of Education, he cautions that the UN Sustainable Development Goals (the post-Millennium Development Goal – MDG – agenda) are likely to gain more attention than the post-EFA agenda.

According to Dr. Meibo Huang, Professor of Xiamen University, although China has achieved a remarkable improvement in Human Development Indicators in the last 20 years, this success was attributed more to the national development strategy and domestic economic growth than to global agenda like the MDGs. In China, the post-2015 process is mostly driven by UN organizations and western think-tanks, and does not attract much interest from domestic agencies or academics.

Dr. Nicholas Burnett pointed out that the widespread advocacy around the post-2015 process has made it ambiguous who actually owns the process. He noted that to achieve the goals, it is important to focus on poor people as much as on poor countries. While the discussion has tended to focus on goals to be included in the agenda, he emphasized the importance of monitoring and accountability to ensure the agenda will be acted on and get the results.

For those of us who are involved in the field of international development cooperation, we rarely spend a day without hearing or reading the words “post-2015”. Ideas and opinions are expressed from all corners by means of publications, blogs, conferences, etc. and they exceed the capacity to absorb even for those concerned about it. Targets are more dispersed than when the former World Education Forum was held in Dakar in 2000, while the number and the types of stakeholders taking part in the process have increased. In this somewhat chaotic situation, it is important to examine the process from both a global comparative perspective and a regional one.

For sure, northeast Asia is not a monolithic unit. Even among the governments of Japan, Korea, and China, the situations are very different. Korea is going to host the next World Education Forum in May 2015, despite its rather recent membership of the DAC donor community. Japan can be categorized as a traditional donor, whose total amount of ODA has been decreasing consecutively in the last few years. China is, as many observers point out, increasing its presence in the field of international development without submitting itself to the DAC codes of conduct and principles of aid. Regardless of these different stances in development cooperation, they share some commonality and distinctiveness. On the one hand, “Korean”, “Chinese”, and “Japanese” models are sold on the basis that these countries were once aid recipients and can support developing countries as peers. On the other hand, there is a desire to provide a kind of counter-proposal to Western-oriented philosophies and frameworks of international development, which can be claimed to be “Asian”. That is often expressed in the terms like “support for self-reliance”, “reciprocity”, or “non-interference”. This latter desire is often muted, particularly in Korea and Japan, but is a significant undercurrent which, regardless of the sensitive relationships among these countries diplomatically and politically, is shared in northeast Asian donor countries. The lenses of Asian stakeholders, which have some distinct characteristics, would provide some opportunities to grasp the global post-2015 process more deeply and in a truly comparative manner.

In the discussion at the symposium, there was a question about who actually owns this process and what is going on in the black box of drafting agendas. In relation to that, there was a question about how much the voices from the South are reflected in this process. While there was a response from the panelists that a handful of people exercise significant influence, it was also noted that, regardless of the process, once the agenda is set, it will determine the flows of resources and priorities of the policies for the next 15 years. As the key issues to be focused in the remaining few months before September 2015, outcome-based approaches and measurement were highlighted. Also, in terms of Asian characteristics, a panelist suggested that two key North-East Asian priorities were Confucius philosophy and the emphasis on technical vocational education. As discussant, I also pointed out that a holistic and philosophical framework of education which is provided in Global Citizenship Education or Education for Sustainable Development could be understood in relation to the Asian orientation of educational thinking.

Symposium materials:

Further Reading:

Shoko Yamada is an Associate Professor at the Graduate School of International Development, Nagoya University, Nagoya, Japan. Email:

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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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ASER 2014: Engaging Citizens to Measure Learning Outcomes and Spark Change in Pakistan

By Sehar Saeed, Annual Status of Education Report (ASER), Pakistan.

ASER cover picOver the past fifteen years, thanks in large part to the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) on universal primary education, major advances have been made in enrolling millions of children worldwide. However, despite significant progress, those gains have been uneven, and learning levels remain unacceptably low. At least 250 million primary-school-age children around the world are not able to read, write or count well enough to meet minimum learning standards, including girls and boys who have spent at least four years in school. Worse still, we may not know the full scale of the crisis as these figures are likely to be an underestimate because measure­ment of learning outcomes among children and youth is limited. Relative to the measurement of access, learning outcomes are more difficult to assess at the global level.

“Are our children learning?”

Every country has strategies that try to ensure all children are enrolled in schools; families, communities and schools have been working towards universal enrolment. But an equally pressing question that faces all of us is “are our children learning”? To answer this question, a growing family of civil society organizations introduced large-scale, household-based assessments of children’s basic reading and arithmetic skills, proving that it is possible to engage citizens to measure learning outcomes and to use those results to spark change.

This innovative approach to learning assessment has been implemented in several Asian, African, and Latin American countries. Armed with easy to administer tools for assessing children’s basic reading and arithmetic skills, groups of citizens are systematically measuring what their children are able to do and sharing what they discover with other citizens, educators, and leaders while mobilizing large coalitions. This grassroots effort began in India in 2005 and has been adapted for use by civil society groups in Pakistan (2008), Tanzania, Kenya, and Uganda (2009), Mali (2011), Senegal (2012) and Mexico (2013).

ASER Pakistan, as a part of this South-South initiative since 2008, has collected evidence from 144 rural districts and 21 urban centres in 2014 reaching over 93,000 households and almost 280,000 children (3-16 years) with the help of 10,000 volunteers coming together to address quality, accountability and governance. Being one of the largest annual household based surveys of children learning, each year ASER covers a representative sample covering children who are both in and out of school.

Findings of ASER 2014 state that the private sector is performing better than the government sector as far as the learning levels of children, student and teacher attendance are concerned; but the nature of state and non-state provision is very complex and no easy comparison of private and public can be made. The survey reveals a clear urban-rural divide, whereby urban areas perform better in terms of access (94% children in schools in urban areas vs. 79% in rural areas) and infrastructure facilities. An interesting trend has continued to be observed – whereby a considerable number of children are found to be going to non-state schools compared to public schools; 30% children of age 6-16 were enrolled in non-state schools in 2014 compared to 26% in 2013.

According to the ASER 2014 report, student competencies in learning English, Arithmetic, and Language are deplorable. Over half (54%) of the children from grade 5 cannot read grade 2 level text in Urdu/Sindhi/ Pashto. In English, only 42% of the surveyed grade 5 students could read sentences which should ideally be read by students from the second grade. A similar trend has been observed in Arithmetic capabilities of children where only 40% of grade 5 children could do a two-digit division respectively, something that is expected in second grade curriculum.

In addition to the assessment of children, the report also highlights school functioning across every district in Pakistan. The ASER rural survey shows that overall teachers’ attendance in government schools stood at 88% compared to 93% in private schools on the day of the survey. Private teachers were reported to have better qualifications; for example, 39% teachers in private schools are graduates in comparison to only 33% in government schools, however the reverse is the case for MA/MSC or post-graduate qualifications, whereby larger percentages of public sector teachers have a higher qualification than their private sector counterparts.

Despite the fact that only 4% private primary schools receive funds from the government (as compared to 26% public primary schools), private schools report having better at school facilities. For example, 73% private primary schools had boundary-walls as compared to 61% government primary schools. Similarly, with regard to the availability of functional toilets, it has been found that this facility was still not available in 49% public and 25% private primary schools in rural Pakistan.

The current education status of Pakistan as demonstrated by ASER 2014 clearly illustrates a bleak picture. If our objective is to educate ALL CHILDREN while creating a nexus between education and sustainable development, we need to come up with s new framework for meeting educational goals and targets focused more towards implementation. Moreover, at a time when the international community begins to plan post-2015 education goals and an associated framework, it is vital to ensure that new goals invest in citizenship and that quality learning is brought in to the centre of the debate along with enrolment!

Sehar Saeed, Program Head, ASER Pakistan. Email:

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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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