India’s Skills Challenge: Reforming Vocational Education and Training to Harness the Demographic Dividend

By Santosh Mehrotra, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi.

indiaThe Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) system in India needs to expand very rapidly if it is to serve the interests of the 5-6  million youth joining the labour force every year, and of an economy that is both growing rapidly as well diversifying fast.

However, the majority of India’s workforce either has less than primary education or is illiterate (53%). Moreover, less than 10% of the workforce has acquired vocational skills, although that proportion is higher if we take only the non-agricultural workforce into account (20%), and even higher if we take only the industrial workforce into account (44%). While the increase in percentage seems good it is far below comparable countries and needs to increase.

India’s skill development system has four parts. First, a very narrowly based pre-employment training system of Industrial Training Institutes (grown to about 12,000 in the last 7 years, of which 2,000 are public, the rest private). Second, there are a rapidly growing number of formal vocational training providers  that are being incubated by the National Skill Development Corporation after 2010, based on a for-profit business model, though somewhat subsidised by government. Third, vocational education is offered in senior secondary schools in classes 11-12 (which barely enrol 5% of the relevant age cohort); since 2012 government secondary schools have also begun to offer vocational education in classes 9-10, thanks to the introduction of the National Skills Qualification Framework. Finally, there is the in-firm training provided on recruitment by companies (but only 16% of Indian companies provides such training, and that too only large ones, in contrast to 85% of firms in China).

India must therefore expand TVET to cater to the majority already in the labour force who have informally acquired skills, so that recognition of prior skills and learning becomes systemic. The National Skills Qualification Framework (the base document for which was drafted by a task force of the government led by the author) makes provisions for this monumental task.

The productivity of India’s workforce is lower than many comparator countries. If India is to become a major manufacturing power, productivity in the economy needs to improve significantly. We have to create an ecosystem that promotes and rewards skills and productivity;  Government, industry and private vocational training providers need to work together to realize this objective.

To realize India’s demographic dividend we need to meet India’s skills challenge. Since economic growth took off over the last decade, non-agricultural jobs have been expanding at a rate roughly comparable to the rate at which the labour force is growing. However, it is the quality of jobs that are a matter of concern. If skilled workers don’t become available to industry at a rate comparable to the growth of demand for skills, manufacturers will increasingly resort to more capital-intensive technologies, which will lock India into a pattern of growth that is synch with its comparative advantage – relative abundant labour power.

Only large firms offer apprenticeships, and in a country with a workforce of 485 million, there are under 300,000 formal apprentices. The rest are all informal apprentices, who tend to be exploited by their employers. Changes are certainly needed in the Apprenticeship Act 1961.

While some progress towards reforming TVET in India has been made, a huge and broad ranging agenda for reform lies before the government and industry.

Industry needs to get involved to a much greater extent than ever before in TVET. Both large industries, many of which are engaged in in-house training, as well as small and medium enterprises, will need to find ways to increase in-firm training. Industry must make hiring formally trained skilled personnel an integral part of its human resource policy and include processes and practice to reward skills. Industry will also need to offer its human resources to vocational secondary schools, industrial training institutes and private vocational training providers, so that the number of instructors with practical experience increases by a very large number.

Further Reading

Mehrotra, S. (Ed) (2014) India’s Skills Challenge: Reforming Vocational Education and Training to Harness the Demographic Dividend. Oxford University Press.

King, K. (2012) The Geopolitics and Meanings of India’s Massive Skills Development Ambitions. International Journal of Educational Development 32: 665–673. [Read summary of it in NORRAG News here]

>>Other NORRAG NEWSBite blogs on Technical and Vocational Education and Training


Santosh Mehrotra is Professor of Economics, Centre for Labour and Informal Sector Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi. Previously, he was Director-General at the National Institute of Labour Economics Research and Development (NILERD, earlier called Institute of Applied Manpower Research), Planning Commission of India. 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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Strengthening International Co-operation in Education

By Colin Power, University of Queensland.

The Power of EducationThere can be no question as to the public and private benefits of education.  But education is empowering only if it is of quality and leads to learning, that is, to the continuous development of one’s knowledge, expertise, talents and values, and to the wise and ethical use of that knowledge and expertise. Quality education for all empowers communities and nations, but only if it is equally accessible to all, and certainly not if what is provided to the masses is restricted and/or of poor quality.

NORRAG members certainly are aware that over the past twenty-five years, the Education for All (EFA) alliance has played an important role in promoting, supporting and monitoring EFA. The progress made, the challenges remaining and priority areas to be addressed in seeking to achieve internationally agreed education and development goals have been set out in the EFA and Millennium Development Goal (MDG) Monitoring Reports published by UNESCO, UNDP and commented on by Power (2015).  Until recently, meeting the basic education needs of children, youth and women remained high on the policy agenda of the international development community and many countries, and slow but steady progress was made towards the goals of EFA. For example, the number of out-of-school children has fallen from over 100 million in 1990 to 57 million today, the number of adult illiterates from over 900 million to 774 million. Nonetheless, much remains to be done: education and overseas development budgets suffered in the aftermath of the global financial crisis and since 2008 the progress being made towards achieving the goals of EFA has stagnated. Education, equity and human rights are not central to the agendas of all the world’s most powerful nations and organisations.

In the mid-1990s, UNESCO’s International Commission on Education for the 21st Century (the Delors Report) reminded us that our future well-being rests on the extent to which we continue to learn throughout life.  It called for a strengthening of international co-operation in education and the sharing knowledge and experience needed to build a learning society. Ensuring all have access to the quality education and training they need throughout life is a necessary condition for peace, democracy, sustainable development. Providing the type of quality education and training needed to empower individuals and communities plays a key role in support of efforts to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger; to assure gender equity, the protection of the world’s rich cultural and natural heritage; to address the challenges posed by globalisation, advances in communication technology, global warming, climate change, extremism and terrorism. In our shrinking global village, our education systems and institutions have a key role in educating for citizenship at both the national and global level.  As UNESCO’s Director-General (Bokova) argued in 2013:

Global citizenship cannot just be an ideal – it must be a practice that is taken forward by each of us every day. It is about human rights and dignity, it is about the responsibilities we have towards others and the planet, and it is a sense of global belonging and solidarity. (The Global Consultation on Education in the Post-2015 Development Agenda, Senegal, 2013)

Throughout human history, peace and sustainable development have been about assuring a shared destiny, about the common good, about basic rights and freedoms, about justice and equity. We need to learn to live together in harmony with each other and nature, or perish.  In essence, the world needs a fairer, more humane, inclusive, ethical and intelligent approach to education and development. The world needs a revitalised, stronger and empowered UNESCO and UN system, not a weaker one.  It needs an inclusive international education and development community, one in which governments, non-government organizations, institutes and leading educators work together to ensure our education and training systems are inclusive and empowering, and build our collective capacity to lay the foundations for  peace, democracy and sustainable development.


Power, C.N. (2015) The Power of Education:  Education for All, Development, Globalisation and UNESCO.  Singapore, London: Springer.

Colin Power is the Chair of the Commonwealth Consortium for Education, Adjunct Professor, the University of Queensland, and former Deputy Director-General, UNESCO (1989-2000). 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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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

Click to enlarge








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

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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