Syria Donors Conference: A ‘Vision of Hope’ for the Next School Year?

By Hiba Salem, University of Cambridge.

Syria london conf

“Never has the global community raised so much money in a day”, states Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, referring to the $10bn pledgeduring the Syria Donors Conference, which took place in London a week ago today on the 4th of February, 2016. The one-day conference I previously discussed invited world leaders to gather and respond to the urgent call for funds to provide better education, job opportunities, and medical care for Syrians, within Syria and its neighboring countries. The key pledging sessions included contributions by donor countries. Leaders of refugee-hosting nations neighboring Syria (Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey) also provided insights on the current challenges faced in hosting the influx of Syrian refugees. These sessions resulted in pledges to provide quality education for an additional 1.7 million Syrian refugee children, by the end of the 2016-2017 school year, and over 1.1 million job opportunities, by 2018. Funds allocated to refugee-hosting nations are expected to improve job opportunities and living conditions for Syrian refugees as well as host communities. However, funds used to support job creation have not been pledged as full grants and hosting nations are expected to repay a portion of these concessional loans.

What this means for the livelihoods and education of Syrian refugees

The UK Secretary State for International Development, Justine Greening, referred to the Conference’s response to the Syrian crisis as “unprecedented”. Not only have donor countries joined in solidarity to raise an unmatched number of over $10bn, but they have also recognised the need to adopt a response that moves beyond a basic call for funds, with terms such as “resilience” and “independence” shaping the discussions. Refugee-hosting nations remarked on the poor living conditions Syrian families tolerate and their impact on children’s ability to stay in school and learn.

Jordan’s Minister of Planning and International Cooperation and Lebanon’s Prime Minister stated that humanitarian aid is not enough without a comprehensive plan that includes economic opportunities Additionally, Helen Clark, Administrator of United Nations Development Programme, discussed the importance of supporting jobs and livelihoods, access to proper water, sanitation and health provision, as well as meeting the needs of women, girls and other vulnerable groups. As King Abdullah II of Jordan stated, “our country will continue to do what we can do to help those in need, but it cannot be at the expense of our own people’s welfare”.

These discussions therefore presented a need for an innovative and holistic response: one that ensures Syrian families regain their livelihoods and a vision of hope for the future. The need for Syrians to receive quality education is described as crucial to rebuilding Syria. Contributing leaders continued to re-emphasise the risk of a “lost generation” and warned of the possible replications of conflict and instability if the global community fails to provide quality education for out-of-school children. Refugee-hosting nations stated their willingness to grant work permits for Syrian refugees, should the funds allocated help create economic zones or jobs that do not affect the remaining citizens within the nation. Alongside improving the living conditions of Syrian refugees, all children are expected to receive access to quality education, which potentially requires provision of new educational approaches and data, and the introduction of innovative techniques through the use of technology. Funds for education aim to increase educational access, reducing the pressure placed by the double-shift system in Lebanon and Jordan, and increase alternative forms of learning.

Inside Syria: A Continuing Threat

Chancellor Merkel reminded all those attending that the Syria Donors Conference is for all Syrians, not just refugees. While a large amount of money has been raised, the crisis in Syria shows no sign of stopping and is now identified as “the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II”. During the Inside Syria pledging session, donor nations pledged financial aid and assistance for displaced Syrians within the country. Leaders clearly recognised and stated the immediate need for a political agenda. Prime Minister David Cameron stated, “if ever there was a moment to take a new approach to the humanitarian crisis in Syria – surely it is now”.

However, the conference took place only hours after peace talks in Geneva ended. The peace talks are now suspended until the 25th February, as starvation, displacement, besiegement and suffering in Syria heighten. While the UN claims the suspension of these talks is not an end or failure, the increasing violence in Syria has portrayed the complexities and challenges of ending the suffering of Syrians. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stated, “the situation in Syria is as close to hell as we are likely to find on this earth”, and the need to move with an immediate political agenda is crucial to the success of the Syria Donors Conference.

The Syria Donors Conference may be viewed as one that has pledged primarily to respond to the needs of Syrian refugees currently in neighboring countries, with an additional aim of reducing the pressures currently placed on host communities. While attention and some funds have also been raised for Syrians within the country, the current lack of a political solution poses threats to the success of the conference. The pledged aid is not only dependent on donor countries’ commitment to deliver, but current measures of aid and assistance cannot succeed should the Syrian conflict continue to heighten and cause further displacement and suffering.

Hiba Salem is a Syrian national and doctoral student at the University of Cambridge. Her research interests focus on the education of Syrian refugees in host countries neighbouring Syria, principally the situation in Jordan. 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 4,500 registered members worldwide and is free to join. Not a member? Join free here.

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Measuring Learning: the Cost of Ignorance

Silvia Montoya, Director of the UNESCO Institute for Statistics

uisLet’s be honest. For the past few months, we – the international education community – have been celebrating the victory in getting governments to adopt the ambitious Sustainable Development Goal 4 to provide inclusive and equitable quality education for all. But the party is over and now we face the enormity of ensuring that all children and youth are in school and learning by 2030. Where do we begin?

Take a look at my job title and guess my response: Data. Five of the seven new education targets concentrate on learning. Many countries already invest in learning assessments, while others are looking to follow suite. The problem is that the resulting data cannot be compared internationally and are not necessarily designed to meet the specific needs of countries.

So the first order of business is to develop the measurement frameworks needed to produce reliable measures of learning at different levels of education that can be compared across countries, time and disaggregated by age, sex, disability, socioeconomic status, geographical location and other factors.

Now let me guess your response. “Sounds great but how much will it cost?” I admit this question has kept me up more than a few nights. Once again, think back to my job title – Director of the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS), which has been given the mandate to develop these new frameworks and coordinate the production of the new data.

The good news is I can now sleep soundly. After a lot of number-crunching and analysis, I can report that learning assessment data will cost pennies compared to the cost of ignorance. A new UIS paper presents several approaches, but the bottom line is most apparent when we consider the inefficiencies that are currently plaguing education systems compared to benefits that could arise from the use of assessment data.

Table 1 presents the actual amounts governments are spending to get a student to graduate from secondary school, compared with the savings they could make by reducing repetition and dropout rates throughout primary and secondary education (theoretical expenditure).










So in sub-Saharan Africa, for example, about one-third of the money currently spent per graduate is due to inefficiencies in the system. There are many reasons why it takes longer for some students to graduate, and some of these factors are beyond the scope of the education systems. But at a minimum, every government needs accurate data to answer some key questions: Who is learning what and who isn’t? Where, when and why?

So let’s continue our economic analysis by considering how much it would cost to assess the skills of students at three levels in their education (by participating in TIMSS, PISA and EGRA) in relation to what governments are actually spending per graduate. To conduct these three assessments, it costs about US$110 per student in a sample size of about 3,000. Now let’s consider this cost in relation to the total amounts governments are actually spending on each student that completes secondary education. As shown in Figure 1, the additional assessment costs spread over the entire student population amount to pennies in relation to actual spending per graduate. For example in South Asia, the actual spending per graduate would rise by just US$ 0.00002 to regularly assess (every three to five years) the skills of students based on a reasonable sample size.


How much does it cost NOT to test?

So far, we have focused on efficiency – or what it would cost to produce the data to “do things right”. But more importantly, education systems must be effective and “do the right things”. Just imagine how frustrating it would be to discover that, after all the years of effort, students are not prepared for higher education or meaningful employment. So to be effective and efficient, we don’t just need statistics – we need comparable data, gathered under the same framework with aligned methodologies and reporting criteria to avoid bias.

So how much does it cost NOT to conduct learning assessments? Let’s take a more macro view based on the projection model of Hanushek and Woessmann, which looks at the growth in gross domestic product (GDP) that can arise from improvements in the skills of a population, measured by PISA (see Figure 2). The projection period spans 80 years to reflect the life expectancy of someone born in 2015.










According to this model, Europe & Central Asian countries with 100% enrolment rates that manage to improve their PISA scores by 25 points between now and 2030 will see a rise in GDP of 6.9% over the next 80 years. So by 2095, the annual GDP would be 28% higher than that expected with today’s skill levels. Of course, the total value of the added GDP differs by the size of the economy, so that the Germany, for instance, would see present value of gains of over US$ 12.7 trillion, while much smaller Montenegro would see gains of US$ 34 billion.

What country can afford to forego these potential gains? Clearly, the cost of not assessing learning grossly outweighs the cost of conducting an assessment or putting a child through school. Most importantly, what country can take the risk of not providing students with the skills needed to compete in the labour market?

Remember the old saying: “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance”. Well now we have a new twist: “If you think education data are expensive, try doing without.”

Silvia Montoya (@montoya_sil) is the Director of the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (@UNESCOstat).

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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 4,500 registered members worldwide and is free to join. Not a member? Join free here.


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Why the Syria Donors Conference Matters Globally

By Hiba Salem, University of Cambridge.

Syria london conf

With Syria entering its sixth year of conflict, the Syria Donors Conference – scheduled for 4th February in London – has never been more important. A few days are left before the conference tackles the challenging statistics of the millions of Syrians living in dire conditions and the vastly unmet funds required. A point of crucial importance is the educational needs of Syrian children and the longer-term implications of uneducated generations. The repercussions go far beyond the borders of refugee-hosting countries alone, making it a global concern.

The Syria Donors Conference, hosted by the United Kingdom, Germany, Kuwait and the United Nations, aims to address the long-term needs of Syrians within Syria and its neighbouring countries. The international community has annually contributed to supporting refugee-hosting nations in the Middle East, only to reach an amount that has repeatedly fallen short. Today, the inadequate response to the Syrian crisis has resulted in an alarming number of unsupported and out-of-school children exposed to varying forms of harm and exploitation. Within neighbouring countries, the conditions families face present challenging demands to the hosting nation and severe consequences to the livelihoods of children. Below are key ways in which Jordan has been affected by the refugee crisis and the implications they may hold globally:

Syrian refugees make up at least 10% of the Jordanian population

In a small country of just over 6.4 million people, at least 635,000 Syrian refugees have been officially registered (though reports have also indicated a high number of unregistered refugees in the country). Jordan has generously hosted refugees fleeing various conflicts over the past decades including a high number of Iraqi and Palestinian refugees, becoming the country with the second highest refugee-to-citizen ratio in the world after Lebanon. Jordan’s response plan for Syrian refugees has been designed to address the needs of those affected by the crisis. Yet, the huge and sudden influx of Syrian refugees in Jordan has changed dramatically the country’s demography: weighing down its economic, geographical, ans educational systems.

The Government has shown serious commitment in providing Syrian children with educational opportunities: establishing double-shift school systems, employing additional teachers, providing teacher training, and building new schools. While such efforts have improved schooling opportunities, it is estimated that over 40 per cent of Syrian refugee children in Jordan are still not enrolled in formal schools. Of these children, only 13 per cent attend informal or non-formal education. Over 41 per cent of public schools in major cities such as Amman, Irbid and Mafraq are now overcrowded. Lastly, at least 99 public schools run double-shift systems to accommodate for the large number of Syrian refugees and Jordanian students, impacting the quality of education for all as school hours are reduced and only basic subjects such as science and mathematics are taught. Refugee students who are currently enrolled are at great risk of dropping out due to the bleak living conditions, transportation costs and risks, and lack of psychosocial support.

Lack of formal work opportunities put Syrian children at risk, with global implications

One key point the Conference aims to discuss is the offer of hope to Syrians – through greater access to education and the creation of jobs. Today, Syrians in Jordan are unable to achieve a sense of independence and purpose as they are denied access to employment permits. This has resulted in families relying on depleted savings and donor aid as well as informal jobs. Often, it is children who have become the greatest victims and have been forced to take on heavy responsibilities at far too young an age. Negative survival strategies have forced children to become street beggars, boys to seek work, and young girls to become child brides. School has often become the last concern for parents who struggle to pay rent or feed their children. Additionally, children are more likely to find jobs, as they may face fewer penalties if caught. These conditions are likely to be found across the other neighbouring refugee-hosting nations including Turkey and Lebanon. While some scholars have acknowledged the need to view refugees as competent and skilled people with the potential of developing and enhancing undeveloped sectors and provinces of refugee-hosting nations, these discussions have yet to impact current regulations and official host government plans.

The phrase “lost generation”, one often associated with Syrian children today, is no longer just a possibility. With over 2.8 million Syrian out-of-school children today, the thinning vision of a promising future has great repercussions for the world and its future. Not only have child marriage and child labour become a norm for these families, children have become the main target of exploitation. Studies have also raised alarming reports of young boys recruited by armed forces in exchange of salaries for their families, many of whom have voluntarily joined due to a sense of uselessness. A generation of distressed and unsupported children continues to develop as the conflict prolongs with an inadequate response. This has the potential for global instability.

The Syrian Donors Conference has arrived at a critical time and has the potential to influence the long-term response plan and funding capacity for the Syrian crisis. As the international community prepares a plan of action, the educational needs of refugee children must remain a priority. Not only is raising sufficient funds crucial, but the creation of jobs offers independence and builds hope, a matter which is vital to allowing Syrian refugees to regain some normality in their lives. Failure to respond to these needs has already resulted in negative and alarming repercussions, and the risk of a ‘lost generation’ may hold great threat on a global scale for decades to come.

Hiba Salem is a Syrian national and doctoral student at the University of Cambridge. Her research interests focus on the education of Syrian refugees in host countries neighbouring Syria, principally the situation in Jordan. Email:

The next issue of NORRAG News will be on ‘Refugees, Displaced Persons and Education: New Challenges for Development and for Policy’ (April 2016).

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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 4,500 registered members worldwide and is free to join. Not a member? Join free here.

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Refugees, Displaced Persons and Education: New Challenges for Development and for Policy


South Sudanese refugee children in their makeshift classroom, June 2014 – Kule 1 South Sudanese refugee camp Gambella, Ethiopia

When the Education for All Global Monitoring Report (GMR) of 2011 focused on The Hidden Crisis: Armed Conflict and Education, its focus was not principally with refugees at all, but with the massively deleterious effect of conflict on education. Arguably, the refugee crisis now affecting Europe has made this hidden crisis dramatically more open for Europe’s population, though this crisis has not been at all hidden for those states neighboring conflict. The World Economic Forum (WEF) of 2016 has argued that ‘top of the list of risks of highest concern …by a considerable margin, was large-scale involuntary migration’. Put another way, migration’s sudden impact on the front-line states of Europe and on the main European destinations, Germany and Sweden, has brought into the open and into focus the millions of refugees already located in refugee camps and in host communities in countries surrounding Syria, Somalia, Afghanistan, Palestine etc. In other words, the great burden of support for refugees and displaced persons has been long carried by countries of the Global South, and only sometimes with the assistance of the international relief agencies.

The next, and 53rd, issue of NORRAG News (NN53) (forthcoming in April 2016) draws attention to many different dimensions of refugees, displaced persons and education. However, it is not focused on economic migration or on migration for higher education per se, but on what the WEF calls ‘involuntary migration’ and its connections with education.

Amongst NN53’s many concerns are, firstly, the way that the sheer scale of the refugee crisis has captured Western media and political attention. The reports of the possibility of reaching Germany or Sweden have translated into a once-in-a-lifetime chance of gaining access to Europe with its perceived education, employment and welfare opportunities. By contrast in countries such as Lebanon and Jordan where one in five and one in seven persons respectively in the entire population is a refugee, the crisis caught media attention years ago.

Second, and related to the first, are questions about whether Europe’s bilateral aid agencies as well as the European Commission, the UN agencies and the World Bank will need to rethink their development cooperation to take account of the costs of supporting genuine asylum seekers in Europe. If so, this could parallel the long-standing debate about whether the imputed costs of scholarships to Southern students into countries such as Germany, Japan and France can be counted as development aid (See discussion in 2014 GMR). Will aid budgets need to be restructured to ensure that they are spent on what DFID calls the great global challenges – such as the root causes of mass migration? Will humanitarian appeals need to be rethought so that education constitutes more than the present 2%?

A related question about aid is how the countries of the Gulf as well as Iran have responded to this massive crisis in the Middle East region.

Third, there are huge differences between what can be called the protracted refugees crises such as that of the Palestinians, still located in camps around the Middle East, including in Syria, almost 70 years after their flight, on the one hand, and the expulsion of the Uganda Asians in 1972, for example, where no one has been in a camp for ages, on the other. The difference in educational expenditure is massive, since UNWRA is still supporting some 500,000 school children in its schools for Palestinians across the Middle East region as well as many as 7,000 thousand technical and vocational education and training students.

Fourth, there are a whole series of issues concerning the access to and quality of education for internally displaced people (IDPs) and for refugees. These cover lack of trained teachers, double-shift schooling, lack of security, ghettoization, language training, and lack of progression to higher education. There are larger questions about whether the poor quality of education, and the lack of access to jobs, in the first host countries is itself a driver for further migration to Europe or North America. There are other, related, issues that affect the education and training of what might be termed externally displaced persons – people that have crossed borders often for the same reasons as refugees but who have, for various reasons, not registered officially as refugees.

Fifth, the sheer scale of the Syrian crisis, on the very borders of Europe, like the Balkans before it, demands special attention. Syria, a country with a long-standing tradition of compulsory education, now has millions of its young people out of secure, full-time schooling. There is talk of a lost generation, almost the de-schooling of Syria. NN53 will report on the Syria Donor’s Conference, Supporting Syria and the Region, in London in February 2016, and its implications particularly for education.

Call for Contributions to NN53! If you would like to propose a contribution to the next issue of NORRAG News, please get in touch with the editor, Professor Kenneth King (, by mid-February 2016. The deadline for approved submissions is 14th March and we are expecting NN53 to be available on line in late March or early April 2016.

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 4,500 registered members worldwide and is free to join. Not a member? Join free here.

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What does the UK Aid Strategy mean for Education and Development?

By Simon McGrath, University of Nottingham.

UKaidThe UK Government has released a new aid strategy. That is, a government-wide strategy for aid, not a DFID strategy. The potential advantages and disadvantages of this have been raised elsewhere, as has the stress on “the national interest” throughout the document. However, here the focus is on what it means for a UK approach to education and development.

There are four priorities in the strategy and all have implications for education. Collectively, they suggest a significant change in Britain’s approach to education and development. The priorities are:

  • Strengthening global peace, security and governance
  • Strengthening resilience and response to crises
  • Promoting global prosperity
  • Tackling extreme poverty and helping the world’s most vulnerable.

In the 22 pages there is very little about education, but that is true for other sectors too. So, let’s look at the four priorities for what they might mean for education.

Peace, security and governance: Education has long had much to say about peace, though often it also has been complicity in violence of multiple kinds. There is likely to be an even greater interest in the future in aspects of education such as the role of madrassas in promoting peaceful dialogue or in education’s role in national rebuilding post-conflict.

More controversial will be the way that education might engage with security. Critiques already exist of the “securitisation of education”. This has been criticised on the level of broad principle but also for its practical impact in making educators even more likely to be targets of violence. That much of the money allocated under the new strategy will be managed by the National Security Council is likely to be a worry for many in the UK international education community.

However, there are real opportunities here too for a new dialogue. These are areas that DFID is relatively new in addressing in its education work, but there are elements of the academic and NGO community that have a wealth of knowledge on such issues. The strategy as a whole suggests a shift of funding towards the MENA region and Syria in particular. DFID is strengthening its education advisory team in this region but there is a new opportunity for a UK dialogue about education in that region, hopefully informed by the large numbers of educational doctoral students from the region who are studying here. These opportunities come with inherent challenges of how DFID will simultaneously shift funding towards the MENA region where education access and quality is relatively good yet at the same time “tackle extreme poverty and help the world’s most vulnerable” who are mostly based outside of the MENA region, particularly when we consider numbers of out-of-school children.

Resilience: Again, this is not an area that has not been a major DFID educational priority, although “education, environment and climate” has been the subject of a 2015 topic guide. Resilience has become an increasingly important element of academic debates about education for sustainable development and there may be particularly interesting lessons to learn from those working with small island developing states, which have taken a recent lead on education for resilience initiatives. A dialogue with the Commonwealth may be particularly useful here.

There may also be opportunities here for bridging different communities of practice and in bridging the humanitarian-development divide. Those working on education and development, education and environment and education and emergencies have often engaged too little. There is an opportunity here to build a new dialogue around education’s role in building resilience and responding to crises.

Prosperity: Education clearly has a role in promoting prosperity. In mainstream development texts, it is commonplace to see human capital as a building block of prosperity. However, there has been far less work that provides rich accounts of how education and skills support innovation and technological capability development at firm, sector and economy levels. With the advent of the SDGs, moreover, these issues need to be more clearly linked to decent work and sustainability. DFID has begun to move back into engagement with vocational education and training and higher education, recognising the potential importance of both to prosperity. However, neither policy nor research in this area is as well-developed as it needs to be.

Equally, it is widely argued that the STEM agenda is particularly vital in supporting prosperity. However, STEM education and development has not been a major focus of either DFID or British academia for the past 20 years. A stronger focus on STEM does not only raise the importance of post-school education. The ability to attract technological jobs and to create them domestically is also related to the wider distribution of STEM capabilities through secondary schooling. Indeed, across the first three priorities, there is a strong implication that secondary education needs to be given more attention than in the MDG era.

Poverty: Where the strategy most concretely engages with education is in this area, linked to a 2015 manifesto pledge to support 11m more learners into and through school. There is also some emphasis on the continued commitment to girls’ education. This is the theme that feels most like a continuation of what DFID’s education work has been best at in recent years. It is important that the unfinished business of the MDGs and EFA is not forgotten in the rush to new agendas. The main challenge here may lie in ensuring that this agenda – and education’s role therein – is closely articulated with the other three strands.

In recent years, DFID has been moving from a focus on getting children into schools to one of their learning once there. The implications of the UK aid strategy are that the education remit has got much bigger. The new priorities imply a much greater focus on what is learned in school, including through school cultures, about peace, resilience, innovation, etc. They also imply a move way from a schools-only focus, something that the DFID approach to education had begun to anticipate. This is going to be challenging to achieve with the government’s statement of expanding payment by results as part of its new aid strategy (page 21) when we know that in the education sector, institutional and structural issues mean that learning outcomes can’t be changed overnight.

For the UK international education and development constituency, the new strategy is likely to be important in its influence on what will be funded in future years and where it will be funded (both in which countries and by which UK government departments). The implied broadening of the DFID education agenda has much to commend in it, though there will be particular sensitivities around the security dimension. There is knowledge in both DFID and in the wider international education and development community about all four strands. However, much of the recent dialogue has concentrated on the fourth. There is a moment, therefore, in 2016 for a new dialogue about the broader UK education and development agenda.

This blog was originally posted on 12th January 2016 on the UKFIET Blog.

Simon McGrath is Director of Research and Professor of International Education and Development, Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Nottingham, and the former Editor-in-Chief of the International Journal of Educational Development.. 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 4,300 registered members worldwide and is free to join. Not a member? Join free here.

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NEET: “Time to Look at the Whole Picture of Youth”

By Ummuhan Bardak, European Training Foundation.

ETF‘Unemployed youth’ has typically been the focus of youth-related discussions, in both developing and transition countries (and indeed in the so-called developed countries). Looking at the whole picture, however, there are many more young people who are ‘at risk’ than only the unemployed; e.g. youth who lack access to learning opportunities and/or are not participating in the labour force. Young people not in employment, education or training (so-called NEET) in the European Neighbourhood was the topic of a recent study published by the European Training Foundation (ETF).

As anywhere in the world, individual and family characteristics (sex, education, socio-economic background, etc) seem to be first usual suspects affecting youth vulnerability in the developing and transition countries. What is surprising – or rather disturbing – is the sheer size of the NEET population, mainly due to the large failures of education and training systems and the poor functioning of labour markets; both not playing their expected roles. Rather than containing and counteracting the challenge, these (state-funded) education systems tend to reinforce the existing inequalities in societies and amplify the negative effects of individual vulnerabilities.

Indeed, very high numbers of young people are neither in education or training nor in employment. In thirteen out of 18 countries[1] covered in the study, more than one in every four young people between 15 and 29 years old are not in education or in employment. The ETF study shows that the risk of becoming NEET increases with age: it is lowest for the 15-19 age group, higher for 20-24 year olds and the highest for 25-29 year olds (Graph 1).

Yet, the high NEET rate of the 15-19 age group (on average 20%) is a sign of missed opportunities as these young girls and boys should normally be in education or training. An education system that pushes out 20% of its students at the age of 15 as ‘early school leavers’ without providing any credible alternative (e.g. vocational training) marks them for the rest of their lives. It is disturbing to see the very high percentages of early school leavers in Albania and Turkey which are the EU candidate countries.

Graph 1. NEET rates by age groups (15-19, 20-24 and 25-29)

ETF graph1

NEET is a female condition. In most of these countries, an average of one in every three young women are likely to be NEET, compared to about one in five young men (Graph 2). Again, there is a wide variation based on gender norms and individuals’ role in society, the structure of education and vocational education and training (VET) systems, and the functioning of local labour markets. Most females who are not in education and employment are inactive and thus not looking for a job – they are mainly taking care of the family – while males are looking for a job. As an extreme case, 40% of young girls in Turkey are NEET (as against 18% of boys), out of which 93% are economically inactive, possibly with family care responsibilities.

Graph 2. NEET rate (15-29 years) by gender, and the percentage of NEET females and NEET males who are inactive

ETF graph2

One might expect that education can help young people to find jobs, but this is not always the case. More education clearly decreases the risk of being NEET in some countries, while in others, graduates of upper secondary/post-secondary education perform poorly in entering the labour market compared to early entry of those with lower education (Graph 3). Young people from households with economic difficulties (for example, low income, unemployed parents), those from an immigrant background, or from groups that are at risk of being marginalised (for example, by language, as cultural minorities, such as Roma) have higher prospects of becoming NEET.

Graph 3.[2] NEET rate (15-29 years) by educational attainment

ETF graph3

The NEET indicator visualises the existence of a very large number of ‘inactive youth’ who are not normally included in education and labour market statistics for various reasons (e.g. early school leavers, teenage mothers, those suffering from sickness, people with disabilities, and the discouraged)[3] – a situation which is exacerbated by a lack of suitable jobs for young people, and particularly young females. The vulnerability of these inactive groups is not simply a consequence of individual characteristics, but also the result of education, training and employment systems that fail to provide opportunities.

Higher number of NEET and wide variations across countries can be interpreted as signs of failing policies in education, training and employment. Through policies and support structures or the lack thereof, countries contribute to or counteract the negative impact of individual and family characteristics. For example, gender is a personal/ neutral characteristic, but government policies seem to reinforce the gender gap instead of addressing it. In summary, delivering effective public policies and social support structures in relevant fields is crucial to influence social outcomes; e.g. in areas such as childcare, primary and secondary education, vocational training, employment, healthcare, housing, and transport.

In many countries, secondary education makes little difference in preventing young people from becoming NEET, especially young girls. Therefore, we may assume the shortcomings with respect to the size, scope and quality of the education programmes provided at this level.[4] Significant efforts are needed to modernise the secondary education offer (upper secondary in particular) and to enhance the role of VET systems in providing second-chance opportunities for young adults. VET can be helpful as a credible alternative to higher education for many young people and assist in adapting the skills of the post-secondary graduates to the needs of the labour market.

‘Prevention’ is key to avoiding an uncontrolled increase in the number of young people becoming NEET and in breaking the cycle of social exclusion. Among many different policy options, countries need to prioritise the prevention of early school leaving, the modernisation of secondary education and VET provision, and the integration of young women into the labour force.

Ummuhan Bardak is a Senior Specialist in Labour Market and Migration at the European Training Foundation (ETF), which is a specialised EU Agency based in Turin (Italy). Email:   

[1] In the ETF study, 18 countries of the European Neighbourhood (Albania, FYR Macedonia, Kosovo, Montenegro, Serbia, Turkey, Armenia, Georgia, Moldova, Russia, Ukraine, Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Palestine, Tunisia, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan) are covered.

[2] ISCED 0-2 includes those people with no education, with primary education and/or with maximum lower secondary education diploma. ISCED 3-4 includes those people with upper secondary education and/or post-secondary (non-tertiary) education diploma. ISCED 5-6 includes those people with tertiary/ university education and/or post-graduate education.

[3] The discouraged or disengaged are those young people who are unemployed but not looking for job, mainly because they have lost hope of finding one.

[4] It should be noted that many university graduates can afford to “wait” for better jobs and so have late entry into the labour market. Indeed their waiting period is longer, but they tend to find good ‘career jobs’ at the end, while the low-educated cannot wait longer and have to accept any low-quality jobs. This is discussed in the report, but it is not the only reason of high number of graduate unemployment. There are also other reasons such as poor functioning of labour market, labour market saturation for high number of graduates, lack of right skills of graduates despite the existence of their diplomas, and other factors.

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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 4,300 registered members worldwide and is free to join. Not a member? Join free here.

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Education and Work’s New Lease of Life: The End of Post-2015 and the Start of 2030?

By Kenneth King, Editor NORRAG News.

Goal4Almost exactly a year ago, we told readers of the NORRAG Blog: ‘We [in NORRAG] are looking critically across this whole extraordinary process [of post-2015], and trying to capture and summarise some of the key directions – for the benefit of the many readers who just can’t keep up with the tsunami of activity around Post-2015.’ We have tried to do this through NORRAG News 52 which focused on Reflections on the World Education Forum and on Financing for Development. The hundred-year history of the move towards the global targeting of education and skills is also captured in NORRAG Working Paper 9.

At the start of the calendar year 2016, we can also bury the phrase ‘post-2015’.  It only came into fashion around 2012, and it lasted till the UN General Assembly adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in September 2015. But I wonder if the phrase, ‘post-2030’, will emerge around 2027, as future policy-makers debate what might be the world’s next goals after 2030. Or will the grand ambitions by 2030 ‘to end poverty and hunger everywhere’ and to ensure that ‘all human beings can enjoy prosperous and fulfilling lives’ have actually come to pass, as proposed in the 2030 Agenda of this year?

Milestones in the 2015 safari towards the sustainable development goals

There have been a few key staging posts towards the SDGs:

Incheon, May 2015: World Education Forum (WEF)

Arguably, this Forum came much too late in the whole Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) process to be really influential. There was of course an agreed Incheon Declaration. But no formally agreed Framework for Action, and therefore no final Goal or Targets as there were in Dakar 15 years earlier. These were being debated in the United Nations at the very same time as Incheon; so, wisely, the World Education Forum decided to wait for the outcome of the UN process, rather than have two sets of education-related goals as we saw for the 2000-2015 period. When, finally, UNESCO’s General Conference debated and agreed the Education Goal and Targets in November 2015, they were no longer the same as the draft framework for action that was available in Incheon. Rather, they were identical to what the UN General Assembly approved in September 2015. This might suggest that, unlike Jomtien (1990) and Dakar (2000), when education constituencies decided on their own goals and suggested targets, Incheon had no such leverage, but had to wait for the UN General Assembly to decide about the education side of the SDGs.

Addis Ababa July 2015: Financing for Development

Very strategically, the Financing for Development summit steered clear of any discussions on goals or targets; its concerns were with resource mobilization to fund the world’s new development agenda, and especially domestic mobilization. When it did mention education, it was strongly implied that this could be a critical element in official development assistance (see NN52. p.50). There was a strong emphasis, however, on the role of science, technology, innovation and capacity building.

New York September 2015: UN General Assembly – Transforming our World

The UN General Assembly brought to an end the apparently innumerable debates about the goals and targets post-2015. Its key document, Transforming our World, followed very closely the Targets and Goals of the Open Working Group which reported a year earlier. The only major change was removing entirely the percentages attached to some of the Targets, which had suggested national determination. So instead of national percentages or universal coverage being set for the Targets, we get the vague phrase, ‘substantially increase’ or ‘a substantial proportion’ instead of a national or a universal target. Most disappointing of all these was the adult literacy target. Almost 65 years after UNESCO had declared that fundamental education (at basic and adult levels) would be a universal global goal, now in 2015, it was only to a ‘substantial proportion of adults’ that we would offer literacy and numeracy. This is hardly believable. It was the same with teachers; instead of going for qualified teachers universally, the SDGs only offered ‘substantially to increase the number of qualified teachers’. Another opportunity missed?

By contrast, the SDG 4 on Education also targeted universal access to so many other things, from quality early childhood education, to primary and secondary and to quality TVET and tertiary, not to mention global citizenship education and education for sustainable development, that it would be hard to say there were any priorities any more.

What about the world of work?

The same contradictions between universal access to so much versus restricted access on other dimensions was evident in the world of work.

So, on the one hand SDG 8 promised to ‘By 2030, achieve full and productive employment and decent work for all women and men, including for young people and persons with disabilities, and equal pay for work of equal value.’

On the other hand, it diminished the value of this universal aspiration and ambition by declaring in the very next sentence that by 2020 it would only ‘substantially reduce the proportion of youth not in employment, education or training’.

Similarly, the ‘worst forms of child labour’ were to be eradicated immediately, but ‘child labour in all its forms’ could continue till 2025.

Equally, the encouraged ‘formalization’ of the informal sector (micro, small and medium-sized industries) appeared to be more gradualist than the promise of decent jobs for all.

Universal or partial goals and targets: the case of migration

This trade-off between universal goals and targets versus restricted access runs through much of the SDG agenda.

For instance, in respect of the refugee crisis which has affected so many millions of people in 2015, the mention of migration in the SDGs is very bland:

‘Facilitate orderly, safe, regular and responsible migration and mobility of people, including through the implementation of planned and well-managed migration policies’.

This is a world away from the situation in 2015 with the migration of millions of people within the Middle East alone – especially to Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey – as well as the smaller number of about a million people that have migrated into the European Union, most of them to Germany. The words ‘orderly, safe, regular and responsible’ are not the terms that come to mind when thinking about the experience of 2015. The same terminology is used of refugees in Transforming our world, but it is surprising that the encouragement ‘to strengthen the resilience of communities hosting refugees’ is particularly stressed for developing countries.

There is apparently little coherence between the SDG 4 on education and skills and the SDG 10 which covers a much wider set of concerns about inequality.

We are going to try in NORRAG News 53 to draw together the SDG implications for education, skills and migration against this background of what is promised in the SDGs. We look forward to receiving ideas for contributions from the NORRAG membership.

Kenneth King is the Editor of NORRAG News. He is an Emeritus Professor at the School of Social and Political Studies, University of Edinburgh, Scotland, UK.

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 4,300 registered members worldwide and is free to join. Not a member? Join free here.

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