The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Education and Decent Work

By Myles A Wickstead, the Open University and King’s College London, advisor to Hand in Hand International and Honorary Vice-President of VSO.

On 2 August, Transforming Our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development was agreed by UN member-states and will be ratified by a meeting of Heads of Government in New York at the end of September.

These (17) new Sustainable Development Goals are much more comprehensive than the (8) Millennium Development Goals they replace, and are underpinned by 169 Targets and a set of Indicators that are yet to be determined. If that all sounds potentially rather difficult to memorise, the Preamble to ‘Transforming Our World’ packages it into ‘Ps’:  People (leave no-one behind), Planet (ecosystems need to be nurtured and used sustainably) and Prosperity (Economic Growth). It won’t happen unless there is Peace, and the development of Partnerships is essential for implementation.

The underlying Process was also important, and the Goals and Targets reflect widespread consultation with both Governments and civil society. It comes as no surprise to learn that, when asked, people put access to education and health at the top of their priorities. Perhaps less obviously, jobs and decent work came next on the list.

Look closer, however, and the reasons why become clear. Of course young people leaving the education system want jobs – but so too do people coming up to retirement age in countries that have not yet developed social protection or pension schemes. That priority is fully reflected in paragraph 27 of the Preamble to ‘Transforming Our Lives’:  ‘We will work to build dynamic, sustainable, innovative and people-oriented economies, promoting youth employment and women’s economic empowerment, in particular, and decent work for all.’

These are, importantly, universal goals.  It is an Agenda for all countries in the world, rich and poor, though clearly in many areas the less well-off countries have a further distance to travel (the Financing for Development Conference held in Addis Ababa in July recognised the concept of ‘Common But Differentiated Responsibilities’ in respect of the burden of addressing global public goods such as the environment). Clearly, the main task of national implementation in less developed countries is for Governments (who should determine policy and will bear most of the funding consequences through domestic resource mobilisation) with support from the international community. That will come in part through a shift in education policy, focusing not just on primary education but, as paragraph 25 of the Preamble says, ‘inclusive and equitable quality education at all levels’, including technical and vocational training.

International NGOs should also think about how they can support job creation. For some, that is their raison d’êtreHand in Hand, for example, has trained large numbers of people (typically poor, women farmers), developed their technical and financial skills, then linked them to markets, creating more than 2 million jobs in the process (largely in India, but increasingly in Africa and Afghanistan too). Other international NGOs will have different priorities – but they should all be thinking about training and skills development. Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO), for example, is helping local people to develop entrepreneurial skills in countries such as Tanzania.

The development of local capacity and skills is a crucial element of making progress towards the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals and their overall objective of eliminating absolute poverty by 2030.  It will be equally important in achieving the ultimate aim of official aid agencies and international NGOs – which is, job done, to make themselves redundant. That certainly sounds like an agenda the readers of NORRAG News should be keen to support.

Myles Wickstead CBE is a former Head of the British Development Division in Eastern Africa, British Ambassador to Ethiopia, and Head of Secretariat to the Commission for Africa.  He is Visiting Professor (International Relations) at the Open University and King’s College London, and Advisor to Hand in Hand International and Honorary Vice-President of VSO.  He is the author of ‘Aid and Development: A Brief Introduction’ (OUP, 2015).


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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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Skills Development vs. TVET vs. Education vs. Work: Who is the Winner after Shanghai, Incheon and Kuala Lumpur Conferences?

By Michel Carton, NORRAG.

The participants[1] at the 3rd International Congress on Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) (May 2012) adopted the Shanghai Consensus: Transforming TVET, Building Skills for Work and the Future, where they note “the ongoing conceptual debate around the definition of TVET,” including the use of other terms such as “technical and vocational skills development (TVSD)”. The Shanghai Consensus also invited the UNESCO Director-General (DG) to “facilitate the debate on the place of TVET and skills for the world of work in the post-2015 international education and development agenda.” They also recommended “the international community ensure better visibility and support for TVET”.[2]

Three years later, one can wonder whether the Incheon Declaration: Towards Inclusive and Equitable Quality Education and Lifelong Learning for All (May 2015) has taken advantage of the debate that the DG was supposed to facilitate, and whether the way TVET is presented secures its visibility. One can also wonder whether the Asia-Pacific Conference (August 2015) on Education and Training: Making Skills Development Work for the Future, that has adopted the Kuala Lumpur Declaration: Quality Education and Skills Development for Sustainable Future, has clarified the respective notions of TVET and skills development (SD), and consequently the related policy and strategy issues.

Before answering these questions, one must turn to a flashback on the work of the Second World Congress on Technical and Vocational Education, held in Seoul in 1999, entitled Work, Education and the Future. The debates led to some Recommendations: TVET – A Vision for the 21st Century, in which – in the same way as in Shanghai (2012) and Kuala Lumpur (2015) with TVET and SD – there was an open debate as to the term that was more appropriate: TVE and/or TVET. On top of this debate, one can find in the Recommendations the notions of TVE for All, Life Long Learning and Training as well as of Education and Training Systems, which are based on different rationales. Things were as confused at that time as today!

 This demonstrates that for the past 25 years, some very important international documents keep raising conceptual and language questions that are not properly answered, in spite of their consequences on the TVE/TVET/TVSD/Education/Work -related policies and practices. An in-depth analysis of the consequences of such a language mix-up over the last 25 years needs to be done, as a wording imprecision is the reflection of a conceptual confusion and an ignorance of the realities in the field. Fortunately these documents also lead to hopes and create opportunities to assess the constructive changes that have occurred in the past 25 years, as demonstrated for the three more recent ones:

  • Shanghai 2012: even though the notion of Skills Development is to be found in the Consensus, the term ‘TVET’ is more widely used. This might be explained by the fact that UNESCO is officially dealing with TVET, but one can wonder what is the difference in meaning between UNESCO’s TVET and TVSD? The difference lies in the very definition of SD as proposed in the Africa Economic Outlook 2008: TVSD is the acquisition of knowledge and practical competences and know-how in a continuum of locations starting from the formal to the informal sector. In that sense TVET is a subcomponent of TVSD. ILO uses TVSD as it has the legitimacy – that UNESCO does not have – to deal with not only the sate but with all the key stakeholders (states, employers, employees, and special arrangements for the “informal sector”) because of its tripartite constituency.  Hence the ambiguity of the UNESCO’s position in that picture, as illustrated by the convergence of TVET and SD in the title of the
  • Incheon 2015: the (very) short Declaration – in spite of its self-assessed “historic, aspirational, transformative, ambitious, innovative and holistic” nature – is very much a set-back from the Jomtien (1991) and Dakar (2000) documents (Declaration and Plan of Action), in which TVE(T) and SD were much more visible. As a reflection of the low profile of TVET in the Incheon Declaration, TVET is only mentioned once! This is a pity at a time when the economic, social and political necessity of SD – in connection with the changing globalised world[3] is expressed everywhere – including in Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 8.
  • Kuala Lumpur 2015: the evolution of the wording used for and during this Conference is worth commenting on, in connection with the previous three events. The title of the Conference is Making Skills Development Work for the Future, while the title of the KL Declaration is: Quality Education and Skills Development for Sustainable Future. This move reintroduces Quality Education as a key element for the success of SD, but sets aside the importance of Work and its dramatic changes. Let’s hope that the 2015 Human Development Report devoted to Work (not ‘Jobs’, as the 2013 World Development Report focused on) will reflect on the relations between SD and Work!

Interestingly the title of the Seoul Congress (1999) was already articulating Work and Education, whereas the Shanghai’s and the Kuala Lumpur’s ones are only referring to SD. This is an illustration of the ever-changing dual relations between the three poles of the triangle composed of Education, Training and Work. For example, because of the urgency to deal with the under-/un-employment of many youths leaving basic education today, many organisations such as the Swiss Development Cooperation insist on the necessity to link Education and Training/SD.

This situation leads to a (re)opening of an issue that has been left aside for many years: can UNESCO and ILO keep treating quality basic Education, SD and Work as separate issues despite their interdependence in reality? Is the UNESCO-based UNEVOC properly reflecting this necessary interdependence? Is ILO investing enough in the relations between Work and SD? Is it not time to (re)open the debate for the sake of efficiency? This will disrupt the present bureaucratic silo situation, where three sectors (Education, SD, Work) have their autonomous visions, rationales, budgets, projects and staff. The initiative has to be taken soon if we don’t want SDGs 4 and 8 to be managed at the expense of the needs and demands of youths and adults.

Finally, UNESCO is presented in the Incheon Declaration as the appropriate global coordination mechanism, the focal point able to lead the education 2030 agenda within the overall SDGs coordination architecture. This vision does not acknowledge the fact that education is more and more a vector rather than a sector. It also does not take into account the rapidly evolving international education and training governance arrangements, where the World Bank, UNICEF, Global Partnership for Education, OECD, private foundations, think-and-do tanks and enterprises are challenging the government’s responsibilities – and hence UNESCO’s – in the policy definition and implementation of education. This is particularly relevant for SD if we consider the previous concerns about the way TVET/SD is being dealt with in the Incheon Declaration. Let’s hope that the preparation of the next UNESCO strategy for TVET (2016-2019) will open an opportunity to overcome the bureaucratic borders. And let’s hope that the next UNGA (New York, September 2015) will adopt the same perspective, by opening the way for an intersectoral, transversal perspective for the governance of the SDGs, as well as that of Education and Training.

NORRAG is ready to contribute to this urgent evolution and play its part in convening, brokering and incubating new ideas, which it had been doing between 1996 and 2008 with the Working Group for International Cooperation on Skills Development, as well as with the latest issue of NORRAG NEWS 52: Reflections on the WEF and Financing Education and Skills.

Michel Carton is the Executive Director of NORRAG. 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.

[1] NORRAG has participated in and contributed to the 4 conferences under discussion in this Blog

[2] See the full report of the Congress : Unleashing the Potential : Transforming TVET.

[3] See: Rethinking Education : Towards a Global Common Good ?

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NORRAG NEWS 52: Reflections on the World Education Forum / Financing Education and Skills


NN52The August 2015 issue of NORRAG News (NN) – NN52 – covers two topics:

Though much of what is happening in education and skills financing is arguably not directly linked to the post-2015 agenda, the different routes towards post-2015 all have implications for finance, and especially official development assistance (ODA) financing. Thus the national and regional Education for All (EFA) assessments which came together in the World Education Forum in Incheon Korea (May 2015), a year after the Muscat Agreement, all have financing dimensions. Incheon’s ambitious Goal and draft Targets, most of which found their way into the agreed Outcome Document of the September 2015 Sustainable Development Summit, also have very serious implications for financing.

The EFA Global Monitoring Report 2015: Education for All: Achievements and Challenges 2000-2015, contained a key chapter on aid and financing; it analysed the financial resources available to education, taking into account the roles of governments, international development institutions, households and the private sector.

The Open Working Group’s (OWG) Report (July 2014) and the UN Secretary General’s Post-2015 Synthesis Report (December 2014) have both underlined the importance of ODA financing targets and national financing commitments. The post-2015 intergovernmental negotiations January-July 2015 also addressed the financing dimension of the post-2015 agenda, even as they waited for the outcome of the Financing for Development Conference in mid-July.

Beyond these different routes towards post-2015, there are financial challenges more generally for resource mobilization for education. These include demands upon ODA for DAC donors, as well as new targets for the Global Partnership for Education, and other initiatives such as the Global Education First Initiative. There have also been renewed concerns about the priority of domestic financing for education. Emerging non-DAC donors, including the BRICS countries, will be under pressure to relate to any new financing agreements post-2015. So too will private philanthropic foundations.

Apart from these, and from the continued priority focus on the funding of education as a global public good, it is crucial to look critically at the world of private education, including the mixes of the public and the private in shadow education environments, as well as the so-called low-fee private school regimes, and the no-fee school provision by non-government and civil society organizations. The extent to which the private sector and private firms are part of the solution to education finance needs to be carefully interrogated. This includes the interest several bilateral donors have in relating much more closely with the private sector.

It is also necessary to examine what has happened to the apparently promising world of innovative financing for education. Which of the many creative schemes are actually delivering finance for education, and what others have the realistic potential to do so?

There is also a need to review the particular challenges of the financing of education in conflict, post-conflict and emergency situations.

Running through the review of various financing modalities and mechanisms, we need to highlight specific financing approaches which are more suited to some sub-sectors of education and skill, than to others. Again, there are particular schemes related to life-long learning, technical and vocational education and training (TVET) financing and even early childhood education financing.

A final, but key concern, in this issue of NN relates to the way different types of financial resources for education are allocated. Development partner concerns with resource allocation and monitoring of education have produced a series of schemes which have promised a good deal, from Cash on Delivery to Results-based Financing for education, and skills development funds. Running through all of these is the concern with value for money (See NN 47). But, perhaps even more importantly, there is the need for further analysis of the way that domestic resources for education are actually allocated; how efficiently and equitably are these managed, now that these have become a central priority of financing for development?

>>See the full list of articles in NORRAG NEWS 52


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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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Drifting Basis for International Norms in the 3rd Financing for Development Conference

By Zhang Chun, Shanghai Institutes for International Studies.

moneyThe 3rd Financing for Development (FfD) conference has just concluded (July 16th 2015) and agreed an action plan. While there is much criticism on the hallmark failure of the conference to agree on the creation of a global tax body, there were under-reported, yet historic, changes regarding international norm-building that will themselves have a significant impact on the evolution of the international system.

Since the creation of the Westphalian system nearly four centuries ago, international norms have been dominated by the Western powers or the developed world. With regard to building the post-2015 development agenda and a related mechanism of financing for development, the international community faces three challenges: upgrading the expiring Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the collective rise of the developing world, or the Rest, and the relative decline of the developed world or the West.

In sum, there is a fundamental challenge for the international community, that is, who should play a leading role in international norm-building. For the developing world, how to participate effectively in the norm-building process and play a bigger role is the key concern; for the developed world, how to maintain its traditional leading role in norm-building is of great importance.

Four historic trends in international norm-building

From the discussions in the 3rd FfD conference, we can conclude four historic trends in international norm-building, which definitely have adverse impacts on the developing world.

First, the moral standards for international norms have been raised to a higher level. Under the MDGs, the key goal was to reduce extreme poverty (measured by 1.25 USD per day); along with other goals, the MDGs were a kind of ‘negative growth’ goal to prevent the worst case scenario. When negotiating sustainable development goals (SDGs), the international community has argued for an integrated approach to economic, social, and environmental development. The SDGs pursue not only ‘negative growth’ but also ‘positive growth’ goals, with lots of ‘quality’ goals, such as reducing inequality, improving the quality of primary education, promoting sustainable consumption and production, among other things.

From a perspective of the moral basis of international norms, the MDG approach is much lower than that of the SDGs. In other words, MDGs’ moral standard is some kind of ‘baseline’ to meet the most basic needs of human beings; while the SDGs’ is a kind of ‘benchmark’ to meet certain quality requirement. In the context of developed vs. developing worlds, such a movement of moral standards of international norms hints at a development ladder: in the past, the difference between the developing and the developed worlds lay in ‘more’ or ‘less’; now, the difference is shifting to ‘more’ or ‘better’. Obviously, normative initiatives based on ‘better’ are more preferable than those based on ‘more’ (now mainly advocated by the developing world) in terms of moral correctness, which serves the continuing normative leadership of the developed world.

Second, multi-stakeholder partnerships begin to overtake governments as the legitimate source of international norms. The building of MDGs was dominated by Western governments. However, with the collective rise of the developing world, especially the emerging powers, Western leadership in international norms is challenged significantly. Fully aware of the power shift from the ‘West’ to the ‘Rest’ in inter-state affairs, the developed world has chosen to focus on another power shift, from the ‘State’ to ‘Society’, when dealing with global issues. Hence the inclusion of more and more actors into the building of SDGs and the FfD process. I call this an ‘enlarging norm-building community’, composed of governments, NGOs, civil social groups, transnational companies, academics, etc.

The developed world does have a great comparative advantage in terms of their non-state actors’ strength. However, this norm-building community does not limit itself to the developed world. Indeed, through funding innumerable NGOs and civil society groups and supporting various vulnerable groups including, for example, women, the aged, and disabled, the developed world has built such a community within the developing world as well.

For the developing world, they have done their best to catch up and to build up its capacity of norm-building in the past 15 years. However, after the setting of SDGs, the developing world will find the old rules changed once again. Governments or official actors are no longer the dominant actors in international norm-building; the developing world will very likely lag behind again due to its weakness in NGOs, civil society groups, transnational companies, or non-state actors’ capacity.

Third, the technicalization of norm-building puts the developing world at a disadvantage. Traditionally, norms have been more about morality and legitimacy; with the collective rise of the developing world, the West is losing its leverages in morality and legitimacy in leading international norm-building. The less important element, techniques, now is explored as a new comparative advantage of the developed world in terms of norm-building.

In the case of the SDGs, the report of UN Opening Working Group (OWG) is a compromise between the developed and developing worlds as the debates of inter-governmental negotiations repeatedly highlighted; such a compromise exemplifies the decline of the West’s dominant role in morality and legitimacy in the SDGs. To maintain its leading role, the West showed little willingness to accept such a compromise since the start of inter-governmental negotiation in early 2015. From the very beginning of inter-governmental negotiation, the West has been calling for assigning technical experts with all the tasks of translating goals and targets into indicators, circumventing any political guidance from governments and the UN. Given its disadvantages in technical capacity, such a trend sets a new obstacle for the developing world’s participation in norm-building.

The Fourth historic change of international norm-building that frustrates the developing world is the decoupling of cost-bearing and the leadership of norm-setting. While maintaining a comparative advantage in moral standards, legitimacy, and technical capacity in norm-building, the developed world anticipates a decline of its share in global official development aid (ODA). How is it possible to realize this strategic goal of keeping a leading role in international norm-building with reduced cost-bearing?

The developed world has developed three tactics in this regard. The first is to belittle the importance of ODA from emerging donors by emphasizing the importance of domestic resources and highlighting total official support for sustainable development (TOSSD). The second is to enhance the leverage role that ODA and other official flows can play, which is exemplified in the World Bank’s Program-for-Result (PforR) and Development Supporting Loans (DSL). And the third is to grasp the moral high ground through focusing ODA on least developed countries, especially fragile states, as exemplified by the “New Deal” Plan of G7+ group.

The above four historic trends of international norm-building are very likely to exert long-term impacts on the developing world’s participation in global governance, yet they are largely overwhelmed by the global attention on the failure of a global tax body creation. If ever, here is an opportunity for both the developed and developing worlds to appreciate such sneaky changes for better cooperation. After all, it serves no one’s interest if the world remains a North-South one in the globalized age.

Prof ZHANG Chun is Deputy Director, Center for West Asian and African Studies, Shanghai Institutes for International Studies. He specializes in African peace and security, China-Africa relations, UN Post-2015 Development Agenda, and international theory. Email:


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Quality Education – at all Levels – for Everyone? Education in the Outcome Document on Post-2015 Development Goals


clappingYesterday the Outcome Document of the September 2015 UN Summit to adopt the post-2015 development agenda, Transforming Our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, was adopted by consensus (and much applause) at the UN in New York. This post is just a quick review of what the outcome document says on education.

What does this final outcome document have to say about education?

The outcome document is certainly ambitious, and envisages ‘a world with universal literacy… A world with equitable and universal access to quality education at all levels’ (p.3).

It contains a whole paragraph spelling out more of what this means:

‘We commit to providing inclusive and equitable quality education at all levels – early childhood, primary, secondary, tertiary, technical and vocational training. All people, irrespective of sex, age, race, ethnicity, and persons with disabilities, migrants, indigenous peoples, children and youth, especially those in vulnerable situations, should have access to life-long learning opportunities that help them acquire the knowledge and skills needed to exploit opportunities and to participate fully in society. We will strive to provide children and youth with a nurturing environment for the full realization of their rights and capabilities, helping our countries to reap the demographic dividend including through safe schools and cohesive communities and families’ (p.6)

13 education targets across 4 Sustainable Development Goals

In the agreed outcome document, education has its stand-alone Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) with 10 targets, in addition to 3 other education targets under SDGs linked to health, work and climate change.

The full list of agreed education-related targets appears below:

Goal 3. Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages

3.7 By 2030, ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health-care services, including for family planning, information and education

Goal 4. Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all

4.1 By 2030, ensure that all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education leading to relevant and effective learning outcomes

4.2 By 2030, ensure that all girls and boys have access to quality early childhood development, care and pre-primary education so that they are ready for primary education

4.3 By 2030, ensure equal access for all women and men to affordable and quality technical, vocational and tertiary education, including university

4.4 By 2030, substantially increase the number of youth and adults who have relevant skills, including technical and vocational skills, for employment, decent jobs and entrepreneurship

4.5 By 2030, eliminate gender disparities in education and ensure equal access to all levels of education and vocational training for the vulnerable, including persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples and children in vulnerable situations

4.6 By 2030, ensure that all youth and a substantial proportion of adults, both men and women, achieve literacy and numeracy

4.7 By 2030, ensure that all learners acquire the knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development, including, among others, through education for sustainable development and sustainable lifestyles, human rights, gender equality, promotion of a culture of peace and non-violence, global citizenship and appreciation of cultural diversity and of culture’s contribution to sustainable development

4.a Build and upgrade education facilities that are child, disability and gender sensitive and provide safe, non-violent, inclusive and effective learning environments for all

4.b By 2020, substantially expand globally the number of scholarships available to developing countries, in particular least developed countries, small island developing States and African countries, for enrolment in higher education, including vocational training and information and communications technology, technical, engineering and scientific programmes, in developed countries and other developing countries

4.c By 2030, substantially increase the supply of qualified teachers, including through international cooperation for teacher training in developing countries, especially least developed countries and small island developing States

Goal 8. Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all

8.6 By 2020, substantially reduce the proportion of youth not in employment, education or training

Goal 13. Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts

13.3 Improve education, awareness-raising and human and institutional capacity on climate change mitigation, adaptation, impact reduction and early warning


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Do Teacher Incentives Improve Learning Outcomes?

By Silvia Montoya, UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) and Jordan Naidoo, UNESCO

Teacher-performance-pay-illustrationOver the past decade, many countries have increased their spending on education as a share of gross domestic product. Between 1999 and 2012, public expenditure on education grew by 2 to 3 percentage points in such diverse countries as: Benin, Brazil, Kyrgyzstan and Mozambique, according to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS). Yet this investment has not necessarily led to improvements in academic performance, according to international assessments. This inevitably leads to questions about school trajectories and how to ensure that all children acquire a quality education and the skills they need as adults. From curriculum reform to school infrastructure investment, there are many options to consider, but in the end they tend to focus on teachers, with discussions revolving around wages, evaluation and performance pay.

Dispelling the myth: Teachers’ salaries are neither high nor low

Everyone seems to have an opinion about teachers’ salaries, which can account for 80% of education budgets according to UIS data. In some countries, teachers are highly skilled but underpaid. In others, it is claimed they are overpaid given the poor results of their students. To better inform the debate, we should start by asking which figure should be used to compare teachers’ salary levels.

In a study for the European Commission, Fredriksson (2008) compared the salaries of primary school teachers with 10 years of experience with different types of skilled worker professions. The author found that, in most of the 29 European cities with available data, a teacher earned less than the first six types of skilled workers but more than the others. In short, the study shows the limitations of trying to decide whether a teacher earns too much or too little in debates about student performance. There are no highs or lows – just individuals or groups of individuals working in very different circumstances and societies.

Incentives and pay per performance

For some analysts, economic incentives based on student outcomes are the means to improve teaching. Part of the problem with this proposed solution lies in establishing the results to be measured. Teachers provide services to stakeholders with different expectations: from the school principal to the students, parents, taxpayers, politicians, etc. Each group has a different view in evaluating the quality and performance of teachers.

To simplify matters, many education systems rely on student assessment tests to evaluate teacher performance. Yet it is very difficult, if not impossible, to accurately measure all areas of learning. We must also recognize the cumulative nature of the educational process: the skills acquired by a child in a given year do not just reflect the performance of the teacher being evaluated. And surely we must consider the impact of a child’s wider environment (home and community). To what extent does socio-economic status affect a student’s performance?

Given the complexity of education systems, explicit incentives for teachers may do more harm than good for students in terms of their learning outcomes (Fehr and Falk, 2002). This may explain why academic results of students do not necessarily improve with performance pay, where a teacher’s salary increases in relation to an outcome, such as student scores in a standardised test. Money may not be all that matters in the education sector (Steele, Murnane and Willett, 2010).

Motivation and incentives

The current debate around performance pay ignores non-pecuniary motivation, such as the pleasure in teaching students. Economic incentives may be necessary but do not ensure love for the profession. So it is essential to consider the possible linkages between motivation and incentives as presented in an oversimplification in Table 1, given that intrinsic motivation could have many aspects and in addition there are multiple incentives.

Table 1. Combination of motivation and incentives




Source: Montoya, 2014

The ideal situation is presented in quadrant I where the intrinsic motivation and the reward are aligned. The worst case scenario in quadrant IV with no motivation and no incentive there is no effort. In the intermediate situation of quadrant II, the teacher is motivated to get results but lacks incentives to sustain the momentum over time. In quadrant III, there are incentives but they do not work because of a lack of motivation.

Part of the problem with the performance pay approach is it assumes that teachers alone are responsible for student performance. To be fair, it must also be linked to clear incentives for the student. After all, there is a limit to the teacher’s ability to motivate students.

For example, many teachers make tremendous efforts with students, especially from vulnerable or high-risk groups, but don’t necessarily see the results in assessments. Every country has highly-qualified teachers frustrated by unmotivated students or the opposite situation with motivated students confronted by unskilled teachers. How can we identify these dynamics based on a test result?

Teachers are part of the solution not the problem

Assessment results also don’t show the non-pecuniary motives, such as the desire to teach and the sense of social justice, which can drive the efforts and results of teachers.

According to the 2013 Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS) of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), some countries revealed that 90% of participating teachers loved their jobs despite some difficult working conditions.

On the positive side, teachers working in collaborative environments, allowing for exchanges of ideas, reported higher job satisfaction and confidence in their abilities. The issue lies in the egg-crate schooling model[1] where many work in isolation. More than one-half reported that they rarely or never work as a team, and only one-third had the chance to see how their colleagues teach.

Secondly, TALIS reported that 9 out of 10 teachers agreed that performance appraisals led to positive changes as long as the evaluations were not simply treated as an administrative requirement (which seems to be the rule). Yet 46% of teachers reported that they have never received any feedback from their school principal.

Overall, research shows that teachers are the most important influence in schools on children’s learning. So instead of trying to punish or reward them through salary schemes, perhaps we should take the lead from their personal inspiration in joining the workforce.

In 1939, Julio Cortázar (2009)[2], an Argentine writer and teacher, spoke of the challenges in his address to the graduates of a teacher training institute: “Those who have studied to become a teacher without really knowing what they want or expect beyond the position and the monetary benefits have already failed”. But for those devoted to the mission of teaching, “the sacrifice will make them happy. Because in every true master we find a saint”.

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

Jordan Naidoo is the Director of Education for All and International Education Coordination at UNESCO

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

[1] The egg-crate schooling model refers to the stacking of one change on top of existing structures.

[2] Cortázar, J. (2009). Papeles Inesperados. Alfaguara. Buenos Aires, Argentina.

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Measurement Fetishism

By Steven Klees, University of Maryland.

TapeAt my first university job, in the early 1970s, a professor whose expertise was statistics and research methods said, “If you can’t measure it, it doesn’t exist.”  I thought, then and now, that that statement is both extreme and absurd.  More recently, in a World Bank blog, Harry Patrinos quoted management guru Peter Drucker as saying, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.”  While I am afraid that, to many, this statement sounds more reasonable than the first, I think it just as extreme and absurd.  Unfortunately, we live in a world of measurement fetishism, much to our detriment.

To begin with, you can manage things you don’t measure.  You have to.  Everyone does.  Patrinos tries to make the opposite sound like both common sense and proven by research.  It is neither.  We all manage our households every day of our lives.  Our time, our children.  With outputs much more unmeasurable than measurable.

Business, especially large ones, have a lot of distance between what their employees do and the final products produced.  As many management gurus will tell you, management is more art than science.  Supervisors have to evaluate the performance of subordinates every day, when the impact of the subordinate’s work on final products is tenuous at best.  All of these examples involve human judgment.

Sometimes measuring some outcomes can improve some assessments, but many times it can misdirect attention to what may be measurable but not most important.  If businesses had to manage solely or even primarily by focusing on measurable outputs, most would have gone out of business long ago.  There is a whole literature in the field of public administration pointing out the many circumstances in which focusing management on measurable output leads to distorted and inefficient decisions.

This is equally true in education.  Neoliberal, market fundamentalists like Patrinos have tried to convince us for 30+ years that testing and measurement is a cheap solution to most of our educational problems.  For 30+ years, we have increased educational testing and measurement around the world and our educational problems remain, or have increased.  No Child Left Behind (NCLB) raised measurement to a fetish in the U.S., but, as with similar attempts elsewhere around the world, all the resources go to building a better thermometer with little attention to the causes of the illness or resources to do something about it.  Moreover, the testing and measurement fetish has distorted education towards simplistic measurements of language and math achievement, neglect of other subjects, rampant teacher dissatisfaction, and damage to our children.

Of course, in some instances, measurements can be useful.  But they are far from necessary, and when useful, what is measured should usually only be a small piece of what is assessed.  Before neoliberal dominance took hold, in the U.S. there was a strong movement towards portfolios of student work as the essential ingredients for assessment, much of which required qualitative judgment to assess, not relying on test scores or even grades necessarily.  Universities did and still do, in some places, accept portfolios in order to make admission decisions.  Colleges like Reed and Antioch in the U.S. do not give grades, yet they manage very well, as do universities that offer admission to their graduates based on qualitative assessments.  In vaunted Finland, classroom teachers control assessment; many use portfolio assessment and do not give grades or tests, yet they turn out some of the best test-takers in the world.  There is nothing cost-effective about testing.  It is another “cheap” reform brought to you by people who are unwilling to put in the resources needed to improve education.  To argue how cost-effective even high-stakes testing is also neglects the significant psychological and material damage it does to so many children.

While testing is a relatively low-cost reform, compared to the investment in teachers, learning materials, principals, and schools that are really needed to improve education, the costs of testing add up to big business for business.  So there is a huge lobbying effort by firms like Pearson to make sure quantitative assessments are an integral part of a renewed EFA and the newly developing Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  Of course, measurement fetishism goes way beyond education.

Currently the SDGs include 17 goals and 169 targets.  Each target may have multiple indicators.  Each indicator must be decomposed into many sub-indicators that show the extent to which the indicator is realized for multiple marginalized groups.  This is less a system for sane management and more likely to be a welfare program for researchers.  So many resources will be spent on trying to develop, measure, and collect data on what may literally be thousands of indicators that there may be few resources and little attention left over to actually do something about the problems indicated.

Diane Ravitch, the noted U.S. education historian and policy analyst asks:  “How did our elected officials become convinced that measurement and data would fix the public schools?”  In a later book she blames the business model that has so dominated education reform in the U.S. and worldwide:  “It means an obsessive devotion to testing, accountability, and data.  Devotees of the business approach like to say, ‘You measure what you treasure.’  Believing this, they have fastened a pitiless regime of testing on the nation’s schools that now reaches as low as kindergarten…[and even] prekindergarten.”  Ravitch goes on to argue that we can’t measure what we treasure most – such as human relationships or love of art and music – and education has been distorted by a narrow focus on measurement and accountability.  While other countries have not gone as far as NCLB, this is the direction in which we are heading.

Don’t get me wrong.  Indicators can be useful.  But our fetishism with measuring everything has gotten in the way of emphasizing what is needed even more than indicators.  The legitimacy of the processes, from the local to the global, in which quantitative indicators and qualitative information and judgments are used is key.  We too often treat policy analysis and policy making as a technical process.  It should not be.  Decision-making should rest on very messy, very participative, democratic processes that engage people from the local to the global.  We need to have more deliberative democratic approaches in which thoughtful human beings are able to combine quantitative and qualitative judgements to make sensible decisions, often in situations of conflicting interests.  Of course, measurement has a place, but to argue ‘if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it” is belied by experience, research, and common sense.

Steven J. Klees is the R. W. Benjamin Professor of International and Comparative Education at the University of Maryland. Email:

This blog first appeared on 16th July 2015 on Education International’s ‘Education in Crisis’ Blog

Disclaimer: The views given in this blog are those of the author alone and should not be attributed to NORRAG or its members. Readers are invited to comment below. 

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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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