Is the Meister Vocational High School More Cost-Effective in South Korea?

By Kye Woo LEE and Dae Hong KIM, Korea Development Institute (KDI), South Korea, and Hay Kyeong LEE, University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA.

skoreaWhen the 2008 economic crisis occurred, many European governments, which were hit hardest by the crisis, tried to learn from the dual vocational high school programme of Germany, whose graduates had suffered much less from unemployment. The German government touted that its relatively low unemployment rate was due to dual vocational high school programme, in which students take academic courses in school for about two days a week, and training in practical skills and knowledge on the job in cooperating enterprises for the rest of the week.

In 2008, South Korea also adapted Germany’s model, called the Meister Vocational High School (MHS) Programme, which was a new type of vocational high school in South Korea, and announced some 50 (traditional) regular vocational high schools would become Meister vocational high schools. In addition, 350 regular vocational high schools (RVHS) would be modernized in the direction of the MHS Programme, and about 300 RVHS converted to general high schools (GHS).

In 2010, the Korean government launched 21 Meister Vocational High Schools after two years’ preparation, and by September 2013, their employment rate reached 90% (Kim et al. 2013, 2012). In parallel with the MHS, the RVHS improved their graduates’ employment rate from 22% in 2011 to 41% in 2012 and reduced their graduates’ progression rate to higher education from 56% to 46% during the same years (MOEL, 2012).

The Korean government then faced a critical policy choice: To solve the historically high youth unemployment rates and foster skilled workforce, should the government convert the remaining 350 RVHS to MHS, and 300 RVHS to GHS? Therefore, to answer the policy question, we assessed the economic viability and cost-effectiveness of the MHS and compared them with those of other competing educational investment options such as RVHS or GHS.

The MHS vs. RVHS

To compare the MHS and RVHS, we conducted the cost-benefit and cost effectiveness analyses. The results reveal that both Meister and regular vocational high schools are economically viable. Yet, the Meister vocational high schools are found to be less viable than the regular vocational high schools both before (MHS: 19.3% vs. RVHS: 20.4%) and after (MHS: 23.3% vs. RVHS: 23.9%) the launch of the Meister vocational high school programme.

Therefore, we conducted a cost-effectiveness analysis, which suggests that the Meister vocational high schools are less cost-effective than the regular vocational high schools. First, student recurrent cost per wage rate of the Meister vocational high school remains higher than that of the regular vocational high school both before (MHS:1.48 won vs. RVHS: 1.10 won) and after (MHS: 2.74 won vs. RVHS: 1.64 won), and it gets much higher after the launch of the Meister vocational high school programme.

Second, student recurrent cost per employment rate of the Meister vocational high school was lower than that of the regular vocational high school before (MHS: 652.57 thousand won vs. RVHS: 675.46 thousand won), but became higher after the Meister vocational high school programme implementation (MHS: 515 thousands won vs. RVHS: 503 thousands won).

The RVHS vs. GHS (with higher education)

A student graduating from the middle school has another option besides the regular vocational high school. It is the general high school. Thus, similar economic analyses were conducted between the regular vocational high school (RVHS) or regular vocational high school followed by higher education (RVHS plus) and the general high school, followed by higher education (GHS plus).

The results suggest that the RVHS (or RVHS plus) is consistently more economically viable (RVHS 25%, RVHS plus 22%, and GHS Plus 16%), and is more cost-effective than the general high school followed by higher education option: (i) student cost per wage rate (RVHS: 0.88 won, RVHS plus: 0.67 won, and GHS plus: 1.06 won), (ii) student cost per employment rate (RVHS: 553 thousand won, RVHS Plus: 423 thousand won, and GHS Plus: 664 thousand won).

In sum, the regular vocational high school, or regular vocational high school followed by higher education, is, in fact, more economically viable and cost-effective than both alternatives: the MHS and GHS proceeding with higher education. Therefore, in the future, it would be more efficient and advisable to modernize and expand regular vocational high schools than Meister or general high schools.

Kye Woo LEE is a Professor of Korea Development Institute (KDI) School of Public Policy and Management, Republic of Korea. Email:

Dae Hong KIM is a Research Associate of the Centre for International Development at KDI, Republic of Korea. Email:

Hay Kyeong LEE is a Graduate Student of University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA. Email:

This blog is based on: Lee, K.W. et al., 2016, Is the Meister Vocational High School More Cost-Effective? International Journal of Educational Development. 51: 84-95; and the same title book published by Lambert Academic Publishing Co. (ISBN 978-3-330-01475-6).

The views expressed here are of authors only and do not officially represent the organizations with which authors are affiliated.


Kim, J.W., Choi, S.J., Hur, Y.J., 2012. Assessment of the Implementation of the Government‘s Meister High School Policy and Future Agenda. KRIVET (In Korean).

Kim, J.W., Kim, H.M., Choi, S.J., Hur, Y.J., 2013. Analysis of Meister High School Graduates’ Labour Market Performance. KRIVET (In Korean).

Ministry of Employment and Labour of the Republic of Korea, 2012. Open Employment Market: Progress and Future Agenda (In Korean).

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Education, Training and Agenda 2030: What Progress One Year On?


nn54-forthcomingWhat has actually transpired globally, regionally and nationally since the education and other Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were confirmed in the UN General Assembly just over a year ago in September 2015?  Following the goal and target agreement for 2030, the question immediately became: ‘What next?’ How would these new targets be achieved? How would they be measured, and which indicators would be used? How would they be financed? Since the SDGs are aspirational global goals, a key issue became if, and how, they would be translated into national and international policies around the globe over the coming years.

The formal governance and follow-up mechanisms are now in place, including the SDG 4-Education 2030 Steering Committee, and indicator frameworks are being developed and finalized. The UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) is playing a crucial role. Meanwhile, the Global Education Monitoring Report 2016 has already started its annual reporting role on monitoring education in and across the SDGs.

There are a series of very major issues around implementing and monitoring raised by the world’s new development agenda, and particularly its education and training dimensions. Here are some of them, which the forthcoming issue of NORRAG NEWS (NN), NN54, will address (follow this blog by email, Facebook or twitter to be alerted to the release of NN54 – expected early January 2017):

For the UN family, and especially the bodies concerned with education, training and capacity building: The SDG agenda is absolutely central to the UN’s raison d’être and will be a core concern of many of its specialist agencies, including in education. Is the same true for other multi-lateral agencies and multi-stakeholder bodies?

For more developed, emerging and less developed economies: There is an ongoing discussion about the universality of the world’s SDG agenda. What is the evidence that the world’s largest economies are taking account of the SDG 4 agenda for their own ministries of education which is the intention of the UN’s 2015 document on Transforming our world?

‘These are universal goals and targets which involve the entire world, developed and developing countries alike’ (UN, 2015: 3).

For donor countries themselves as well as their development agencies:  For most of the OECD countries as well as a substantial number of non-DAC donors, there may be two sides to the SDG agenda in education. On the one hand, is the agenda perceived to be applicable to their own development cooperation agencies?  On the other, is it seen to have direct implications for their own national ministries of education?  In some of the earlier consultations about the post-2015 agenda, it was clear that some spokespeople from OECD countries saw the debates as targeted at the South and not at their own countries. (How) has this changed?

For non-state actors, both for profit and non-profit:  Many non-state actors played a crucial role in determining aspects of the SDG agenda. But to what extent has the agenda re-shaped the programmes and policies of this very diverse group?

If SDG 4 Education 2030 covers all of education – are there no more priorities?  Given that SDG 4 on Education covers all levels of education and a great deal more in its ten targets, it may not be too difficult to argue that the education programmes of most agencies, NGOs and education ministries are already engaged with the SDGs in some manner. In the brave new world of the SDG 4 and its targets, is there is no longer a key focus area?

Going for post-basic education before basic education is in place? For 25 years, since Jomtien in 1990, the international education priority of many development agencies has been with an expanded vision of basic education. This was reinforced by the Education for All (EFA) Dakar Goals and by the Millennium Development Goals. Now, quite suddenly, post-basic education and training are back on the world’s development agenda. Arguably, this dramatic shift is being supported long before basic education of quality has been secured in many parts of the world, either through schools or through adult literacy and numeracy.

The return of technical and vocational education and training (TVET) to the world’s agenda? TVET was not really captured at all in the EFA Dakar Goals, but is now very clearly present in several of the SDG 4 targets. How will this affect support for TVET nationally and internationally?

From Education for All to Education for all other SDGs? A case has been made that education is not just about SDG 4, but is relevant to all the other 16 SDGs. This massively raises the aspirations, ambitions and challenges for education monitoring.

Will the SDG indicators determine the character and pattern of implementation?  The broad ambitions of the SDGs and their targets may be sharply narrowed by the scope of the indicators. Will it be the lens of the 11 so-called ‘global indicators’ that will shape the monitoring of the 10 education targets rather than the 30+ ‘thematic indicators’?  Especially as it is the data from the global indicators that will be fed into the UN’s SDG Annual Report. Will the indicator tail wag the SDG dog?

A dramatically expanded financing focus? With the publication of the report of the International Commission on Financing Global Education Opportunity, what will be the new priorities for domestic and international financing of education and skills? The International Commission argues it is possible to get all young people into school and learning by 2030 – but at what cost? $3 trillion per year by 2030!

The next issue of NORRAG NEWS, NN54, on “Education, Training and Agenda 2030: What Progress One Year On?” is expected to be released in early January 2017. Follow this blog by email, or follow NORRAG on Facebook or twitter to be alerted to its release.

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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How to Reach a Consensus on Reporting Learning Globally

By Aaron Benavot, Global Education Monitoring Report, UNESCO, Paris.

learningCarrying out national and cross-national learning assessments involves an enormous commitment of time, effort and resources. As such, they are most cost effective when they serve multiple purposes, which might also include providing an input to global monitoring of learning outcomes.

Moreover, if these assessments are meant to track progress over time, rather than serve as a one-off measure of student learning, they require sustainable financing and political commitment, independent of a particular government or minister in power. In many parts of the world, these conditions are difficult to obtain and solutions on the ground are inevitably imperfect.

Thus the development of global measures of learning is not simply a technical issue, but also a political one. In some countries opposition to learning assessments has become apparent among different groups, including parents, teacher associations and political parties.

To address these concerns the GEM Report recommends that governments embrace open and inclusive approaches that prioritize the needs and capacities of their countries based on the criteria of inclusivity, efficiency and feasibility. And they should make concerted efforts to build consensus around the content, quality and process of assessment activities.

Agreeing what areas to assess is a critical first step

Learning assessments need to set basic parameters to determine a minimum proficiency level in a learning domain such as reading, mathematics or civics. First, what are the boundaries of the domain being assessed? Second, what is an expected progression of learning within these boundaries in primary and secondary education? Third, what questions and responses demonstrate that a learner has reached a particular level of proficiency? Finally, how are different proficiency levels defined and what criteria are used to distinguish between different levels?

Countries need to take multiple points of view into account in order to come to an agreement on each of these issues. Given recent experience, however, achieving such agreement is no easy task. Take, for example, the 2013 Third Regional Comparative and Explanatory Study (TERCE). TERCE was administered in fifteen countries, covering two grades (3rd and 6th) and four learning domains (reading, mathematics, natural sciences and writing). The experience of the TERCE Study is that, even in a region like Latin America, where countries share many features in their education systems, an indicator that worked across them of minimum proficiency in each domain required negotiation.

The questions in the TERCE assessment were based on an analysis of common curricular elements in the participating countries to ensure their appropriateness for measuring learning outcomes in the region. Four different levels of proficiency for each domain and grade level were determined with the help of experts who ranked the items according to levels of difficulty. When the 2013 assessment introduced a different scale to report scores as compared to a previous survey in 2006, a High-Level Consultative Technical Council was established to advise national coordinators. Countries were closely involved in the process of reaching consensus, as they were aware of the communication challenges involved in making such a change.

A global metric of learning in any domain would require a similar process. Representatives from countries and regions would need to identify and agree upon what areas of existing national or regional assessments can be used, how learning progress in each domain is understood in different contexts, and which questions in existing assessments best capture learning progression.

Clear standards should be established to assure the quality of learning assessments

Once a decision to conduct a learning assessment has been made, a supportive enabling environment and clear standards are also needed to help ensure reliability, validity, and transparency. While quality assurance may be a demanding task, it is a critical one. How can the international community be assured that national, regional or international assessments are fit for the purpose of global monitoring?

This raises two important issues.

First, the technical requirements often become quite stringent. The more stringent they become, the more likely that fewer organisations or administrative units will have the capacity to provide support for such assessments. This could result in a limited pool of private service providers who would dominate technical assistance in this area.

Monitoring learning outcomes globally should be seen as an international public good contributing to the achievement of international priorities in education and development. It should not be seen as an opportunity to increase a company’s market share in assessment assistance.

Secondly, existing resources to support capacity building for learning assessments are not allocated efficiently. For example, regional programmes such as SACMEQPASEC and TERCE have not received consistent financial support. Countries wanting to participate in assessment programmes are often not adequately or consistently supported. More critically, the conduct of existing donors aligns poorly with the principles of aid effectiveness, as individual agencies pursue short-term objectives that do not contribute to the building up of sustainable national assessment systems. The lack of predictable funding for learning assessments limits the participation of poorer countries in assessments and weakens the potential impact of global measures of learning.

Achieving agreement for a global indicator of minimum proficiency is not an easy task

The easiest way to develop a global measure of learning would be for all countries to participate in a new international assessment. But this poses significant political challenges, and would likely not provide data fit for national policy purposes. The most effective way to construct a global learning metric is by building on existing assessments. This would involve using test items from existing assessments implemented in a range of educational settings across the world.

In the context of global monitoring, we need to consider two key issues, which are relevant to the way any metric is designed. First, given the emphasis of the new global education agenda on leaving no one behind, the collection of accurate background information on those assessed is essential. Current assessments currently collect inconsistent background data, which hampers the reporting of the global indicator by population characteristics. This is especially the case among children of primary school age, who are not well placed to provide accurate information about their family circumstances.

The second issue involves the importance of knowing about the cultural and linguistic context in which assessments are carried out so as to improve how we interpret differences within and between countries.

Finding consensus matters

The challenges of deciding upon metrics for measuring learning internationally clearly make this topic a political hot potato. Yet, it’s one we should encourage debates about, such as those taking place at the CIES Fall Symposium this week, because tracking learning over time can serve important purposes. For national policy makers the monitoring of learning gains or losses provides an indication of system performance. It can also serve as a marker of on-going reform efforts to improve teacher preparation, broaden the relevance of instructional materials and assess the effectiveness of interventions targeting underachieving students.

Keeping tabs on student learning at the school level can help principals compare the achievements of their students with those of similar backgrounds in the same district, region or province. Such yardsticks better situate the specific learning challenges that individual schools face.

Achieving agreement about how to report learning comparably is vital if we’re to work out how to address the needs of all learners, and ensure lifelong learning and sustainable futures for all.

Aaron Benavot is Director of the Education For All Global Monitoring Report team, c/o UNESCO, Paris. Email:

This blog, with the exception of the image, was first posted on the World Education Blog on 10th November, 2016.

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Did EFA Leadership and the Global Monitoring Report Contribute to UNESCO’s Legitimacy during 2000-2015?

By D. Brent Edwards Jr., University of Hawaii.

unescoWith regard to its work in education, UNESCO came into the 2000s hoping to address the issues of legitimacy that had beset it in the preceding decades. From the 1970s onward, UNESCO gradually lost stature as the World Bank became more prominent and influential, though UNESCO’s reputation and the sense of its effectiveness were also adversely affected by the perception that it was too bureaucratized in its operation, too philosophical in its knowledge products, and too mired in Cold War politics (through the 1980s). Thus, after a decade of sub-par leadership and coordination by UNESCO following the World Conference on Education for All (EFA) in Jomtien, in 1990, the outcome of the World Education Forum at Dakar, Senegal, in 2000 provided a new opportunity for UNESCO to address its crisis of legitimacy. This opportunity stemmed from the fact that UNESCO was awarded the mandate to lead the charge towards the Education for All (EFA) goals, which were to be met by 2015. One expectation was that UNESCO would take the lead in coordinating key partners in the EFA movement, including other multi-lateral organizations, civil society, and world political leaders, as part of the effort to develop strategies and to mobilize resources for the achievement of EFA. The other expectation was that UNESCO would monitor “progress towards EFA goals and strategies at the national, regional and international levels” (World Education Forum, 2000, p. 44). However, in the years that followed the World Education Forum, UNESCO would achieve — and would be perceived as achieving — very different levels of success when it came to the two sides of its new mandate.

The Two Sides of UNESCO’s Mandate

As recent research has revealed, UNESCO experienced greater success in terms of EFA monitoring (see also Edwards, Okitsu, da Costa & Kitamura, forthcoming). That is, beyond simply engaging in the required monitoring activities, the Global Monitoring Report (GMR) was seen as being a high quality and impactful publication in the field of global education policy. It has been found that the GMR was relied upon within and beyond UNESCO. For example, UNESCO frequently used it in its EFA leadership work (i.e., in the EFA Working Group and the High Level Group, more on this below).

Elsewhere, transnational civil society, other international organizations, academics, and, to a lesser extent, national-level NGOs and policymakers refer to GMRs to inform their advocacy and activity. Moreover, in that each GMR reported on progress towards EFA while also examining a particular theme in an in-depth fashion, the GMR was able to help keep the focus on all six education goals (as opposed to the two specified in the Millennium Development Goals) in addition to drawing attention to timely issues (e.g., education in conflict, marginalized populations, inequality) — and it tackled both of these tasks through systematic and evidence-based reporting that lent credibility to the issues. However, beyond its trusted statistics, its quality production, and its incisive analysis, two other reasons have been given for the success of the GMR. First, its organizational context: While the GMR is housed within UNESCO’s headquarters, it enjoys strategic freedom (e.g., on how it spend its funds) and complete editorial independence. Second, the GMR has latitude in hiring practices: As recalled by John Daniel, former Assistant Director-General for Education: “Director-General Matsuura made no attempt to interfere with the management of [the GMR]. This meant that we could appoint a series of outstanding leaders: Chris Colclough; Nick Burnett; and Kevin Watkins”. According to numerous interviewees, these directors were credible across the global education policy field and respected by UNESCO’s peer institutions. By hiring on merit, the GMR was able to ensure consistently quality analytic outputs.

UNESCO’s experience contrasted with that of the GMR. While UNESCO certainly got a confidence boost from Dakar, and while the new mandate led the Director General to refocus the organization’s efforts in the education sector around EFA, it ultimately struggled with the EFA leadership and coordination side of its mandate. UNESCO’s primary EFA coordination mechanisms were the High Level Group (HLG) and a Technical Working Group (TWG).[1] The TWG served its purpose in that it was a site of information exchange for the participants (who were representatives of governmental bodies, bi/multi-lateral organizations, and civil society), but it was seen as less effective in filling its guidance function—that is, in providing inputs to the HLG that could stimulate action around EFA. A primary source of TWG’s ineffectiveness stemmed from the fact that it did not produce specific suggestions for the HLG.

For its part, the HLG was limited for a few reasons in its ability to facilitate political action and resource mobilization to ensure progress towards EFA goals. These reasons include meetings that were not well-structured, changing HLG membership, and the fact that political actors of the highest level did not participate (e.g., rather than heads of state, as intended, lower-level governmental staff attended). These issues made it difficult for substantive dialogue to occur, let alone for global political commitment to materialize as a result of the communiqués put out by HLG.

More broadly, though, UNESCO’s EFA coordination work was hindered by the challenges of the organizational context, including limited resources, personnel turnover, insufficient staff allocation to support EFA coordination, and numerous education sector restructurings, among other issues. Given this predicament, it is not surprising that observers have judged UNESCO’s performance on EFA poorly. According to one interviewee: “With one or two shining exceptions, they have not provided the sort of intellectual leadership that many people would expect UNESCO, as the leading UN agency on education, to provide.  They have not been able … to recruit the best of the thinkers in the world on education. … It’s a challenge for any big organization.  But I think UNESCO is particularly bureaucratic, by all accounts, … particularly dominated … by internal micro-politics.”

The Importance of Relative Performance for Legitimacy

For UNESCO, meeting expectations around EFA leadership would have required it to be seen as having successfully sustained the sense of momentum felt in Dakar, to have successfully coordinated and led its peers in education policy and successfully motivated and supported countries to develop and implement plans to achieve EFA. This is obviously a very tall order, and one which some suggested was too great for any one agency, let alone UNESCO, given the internal and external constraints it faced. But it was these expectations that UNESCO took on, and it is these expectations against which it is judged.

There were also some external challenges to UNESCO’s legitimacy. Most notably, the creation in 2002 of the Fast Track Initiative (FTI) by the World Bank stole UNESCO’s thunder with regard to EFA leadership. The attention of donors—and their money—flowed to the FTI, and its focus on universal primary access. Similarly, other conveners of the World Education Form at Dakar such as UNDP and UNICEF shifted their focus away from EFA collaboration, thus making it even more difficult for UNESCO to maintain momentum and support after 2000.

These obstacles were not experienced by the GMR. In fact, the experience of the GMR was the inverse of UNESCO’s, as the GMR is an independent and well-staffed entity that was funded by outside organizations and which did not have to coordinate with outside entities.

Different Starting Points, Different Expectations, Different Possibilities

In the end, important differences emerge. First, the GMR enjoyed a rather closed organizational arrangement that shielded it from the larger organizational challenges being faced by UNESCO. Second, the GMR employed a robust, high quality staff and secured an adequate budget while UNESCO has suffered from resource shortages and staff cut-backs. Third, the GMR was a new player that had realistic expectations to meet and which, suffered neither from a track record of (perceived) poor performance nor from competition (or non-cooperation) from rival reports. UNESCO, for its part, had the weight of the EFA mandate, the weight of decades of unmet expectations, and the weight of uncooperative peer institutions. Taken together, these factors explain the differential success and perceived legitimacy of the GMR, on the one hand, and UNESCO’s EFA leadership, on the other.

One lesson to learn from this may be that UNESCO should consider partnering with peer institutions to ensure that the new mandate for 2030 is not only fulfilled but that it this done in a way that meets expectations. That is, in the context of the recently adopted Sustainable Development Goals, while the new incarnation of the GMR (now known as the Global Education Monitoring Report) is likely to continue its record of success, UNESCO is at risk of facing the same challenges going forward that it did during 2000-2015 when it comes to leadership and coordination more generally. Thus, if UNESCO is not able to address these weaknesses, one practical—though perhaps politically unviable—option would be to collaborate or to partner with other organizations that possess the necessary resources, stability, and clout to maintain momentum towards the education-related portion of the broader Sustainable Development Goals.


[1] Also known as the Working Group on EFA.

Edwards Jr., D. B., Okitsu, T., da Costa, R., & Kitamura, Y. (forthcoming). UNESCO, Education for All Coordination, and the Global Monitoring Report: Efforts towards and impacts of legitimacy during 2000-2014. International Review of Education.

Brent Edwards Jr is an Assistant Professor of Theory and Methodology in the Study of Education at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Email

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Aligning Key Initiatives in Monitoring Learning

By Luis Crouch, RTI, and Silvia Montoya, UNESCO Institute for Statistics.

testIn a recent blog on this site, we noted that there is currently a global multiplicity of strong initiatives in generating better data on learning outcomes, oriented at Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG 4). And, that’s only in the area of learning outcomes. If one adds other key aspects of SDG 4 and the global and thematic indicators, the number of initiatives is almost too large to catalogue. Even within the limited area of learning outcomes, some of the elements in the various initiatives create synergies, but others might create duplication or at least different proposed ways of doing things, if there is not a forum to clear lessons-learned and the results of different approaches. In our recent blog, we promised to present a systematic analysis that, using a matrix format, compares elements of the various initiatives. This, we hope, would be of use to the institutions involved and the funders asked to underwrite the various proposals.

In this blog we review and compare four initiatives, the Global Alliance to Monitor Learning (GAML also available in detail here), the Assessment for Learning (A4L) initiative, the learning assessment recommendations of the Commission on Financing of Global Education (chaired by Gordon Brown, the UN Special Envoy for Global Education). There are also interesting discussion documents from the background work done by the Center for Global Development for the Commission.

The following simplified matrix lays out some of the key actions or tasks that can be deemed important for producing robust, comparable indicators on learning, with specific reference to not just tracking, but moving towards actually achieving SDG4. It is important to note that the content of the matrix, for each initiative, is not a set of policy recommendations from the authors of this blog, but simply a listing of the ideas found in key initiatives. The matrix makes it clear where there is agreement but perhaps also some duplication, and where various initiatives have a unique contribution to make.

Our recommendations could be summarized as follows: a) make it clear what the areas of specialization of the various initiatives are; and, b) where the various initiatives coincide on recommending a certain point, make sure there is clarity as to the approach, or at least a mechanism for reaching clarity.

Specifically, it seems to us that the Commission takes a fundraising approach and proposes that it could raise the funding needed to support work towards measuring SDG 4 in general, and learning outcomes specifically. The Commission coincides with many of the policy recommendations of the other initiatives and cross-references GAML. It seems, also, that A4L has some detailed discussion for how one could make grants to countries and/or regional bodies, while also backing key ideas such as common metrics. It, or the approaches recommended, contain a discussion of financing mechanisms and grants that could be used to disburse funds gathered under the aegis of what the Commission recommends. And, finally, it seems to us that GAML has the most complete proposals for coordinating the overall effort and lining up the technical work needed to underpin the measurement the “brokerage,” convening, and commissioning of technical work on assessment, for instance. In that sense, a fairly clear division of labor could emerge. But making sure that the division of labor emerges will take some conscious work.

One way to delineate amongst these various initiatives would be for UIS to commission a one-off team of experts to validate the various approaches and suggest ways to specialize and develop each initiative’s comparative advantage, so as to maximize synergies and avoid duplication and confusion.

As a last point: sometimes global initiatives take a long time to jell, especially if coordination among various initiatives is necessary. But there are some urgent tasks to be done. We would suggest advancing on those urgent tasks under the aegis of UIS, until bigger issues can be resolved. This would require funding so as to put a “down payment” on the various tools that have to emerge.

Key actions for producing robust, comparable indicators on learning

Define comparable learning metrics or scales, foster their usage – Without some form of common scale or metrics, it is difficult to judge progress objectively. However, there are many possible approaches to comparability, requiring different degrees of consensus. On this score, the various initiatives agree on the importance of the issue, but only GAML (and associated documents) makes a case for a particular mechanism to resolve it. The language in some initiatives suggests some possible duplication. 


Set quality standards for assessment data. Standards for assessment systems capacity (like the World Bank’s SABER) – Even if the goal were to simply report on learning to the global community, strong national systems are key. But having strong national systems that can assist in actually fostering learning, rather than just reporting on it, is itself a strong priority. Strong systems for assuring the quality of data, and the quality of data-producing systems. Guidance on these issues is a global public good with large economies of scale.2

Capacity building of national systems – This would be key, even under the minimalist assumption that indicators are only for reporting. But such minimalist assumptions are not the case. Indicators are to be used not just for tracking, but for policymaking to improve national performance and the SDGs.








Actual development of technical tools, most likely contracted out or in partnership with the assessment industry – Linking items or a new actual global assessment, data-analytical packages, etc. 

4Allocate funding to countries for improving systems or to participate in regional/international assessments, indirect support to regional and international assessments – Some poorer countries may require an incentive to participate in regional/international assessments or to participate in linking their national assessments to a global metric or scale.5

Direct support to regional assessment programmes and existing international assessments – Regional assessment programmes receive widespread support from countries and are therefore a logical way to think about globally-linkable assessment. Supporting such regional programmes could be made conditional on their being linkable to a global scale. No initiative discusses direct support to international assessments.


Direct (grant) support to development of national learning assessment systems – May be needed in poorer countries to stimulate progress towards assessment systems. Could be made partially results-based.



Coordination of the above and other comments – Clearly some degree of brokering and coordination of the above is needed, as these tasks are all somewhat dependent on each other. 




 Luis Crouch, Chief Technical Officer, International Development Group, RTI.  

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

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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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Innovative Financing for Education: Interesting Ideas or Actionable in Education 2030?

By Saba Saeed, Idara-e-Taleem-o-Aagahi (ITA), Pakistan.

infinDespite the fact that education has been slow to embrace innovations compared to the other sectors, such as health and ICT, innovative financing for education has become a buzz phrase nowadays. In 2008, with the eruption of the global financial crisis and the subsequent stagnating aid to education, the idea that innovative financing mechanisms could be the answer to many of the challenges gained steam. 2010 saw the establishment of a task force on education to explore promising instruments and financing arrangements within the education sector. Following the outcome report presented by the Task Force in the same year, there emerged interest in exploring novel ways to gain a space within the existing architecture.

Despite interest and good commitments, the world has very little to show when it comes to making realistic efforts towards filling the global financing gap. New calculations by UNESCO’s Education for All Global Monitoring Report reveal that at least 35 countries spent less than the recommended 4% of GDP on education and less than 15% of total public expenditure. Equity needs to be at the forefront with poorer countries being supported through financial aid, yet low income countries received 28% of total aid to basic education in 2014 while accounting for 36% of all out-of-school children. The average annual financing gap remaining across all low and lower middle income countries between 2015 and 2030 is estimated at US$39 billion. If the existing conditions prevail, fulfillment of the ambitious Education 2030 Agenda will be thwarted by the lack of financial resources. As rightly pointed out by Burnett and Upadhyay, it has become imperative that innovative mechanisms to finance education are devised and embraced in a manner which ensures inequities in education are not perpetuated in the future.

There are several ways by which resources could be tapped from non-traditional means; a few of them were brought forth by participants of a training session on innovative financing for education that I was recently a part of.[1] Following the example of Unit-Aid in the health sector, a proposal for the design of a micro-levy on hotel stays was put forward to leverage additional funds for refugee and humanitarian education via the nascent Education Cannot Wait Fund (ECWF) through the introduction of a mandatory tax placed on all accommodation bookings made in participating countries. There was a lot of discussion around the proposal as participants raised questions regarding the probability of customers willing to accept a levy on hotel accommodation, why would the governments raise funds for humanitarian education when they have other pressing education issues within the country (out of school children/ school infrastructure), what would happen to the associated structure of the levy once the initial five year mandate of ECWF expires etc. Options such as outcome-based procurement models (e.g. social impact bonds), student loan products through an African Student Financing Initiative, among others, were also explored and debated.

While sounding hugely appealing at roundtables, the implementation of innovative financing for education remains a big hurdle! Despite the several years of interest in it, innovative financing does not appear to have taken off yet. Countries remain concerned with the challenges of equity and blending funds between public and private partners: What is the role of the state in ensuring funds for quality education for all? Are we shifting the burden from the public sector to the private sector? Is it equally workable for low-income countries? How does it respond to the issue to equity?

It is necessary to tackle all these questions before the benefits of innovative financing in invigorating global education funding and ensuring the fulfillment of SDG 4 can be fully realized. It offers a window of opportunity for many low- and lower-middle income countries including Pakistan – where only 2% of its GDP is spent on education – to finance the gap and promote innovation in education programming and financing, but the countries must decide what might and might not work within their existing national architectures.

In line with Ellison’s NORRAG blog, who is also a former participant of the same OSF-supported course, one hopes that education stakeholders (including national and sub-national governments) think and act towards building such social and economic conditions that offer a fertile ground for the development and advancement of innovative financing models. The Learning Generation report, launched this September 18th at the UN Head Quarters, forcefully makes the case for getting ‘all young people into school and learning within a generation’. The report is anchored around four transformations: performance; innovation; inclusion; and, financing. Targeted at acceleration for low and lower-middle income countries, as well as countries engulfed in emergencies and displacements, the case for urgency of learning by ALL is heard loud and clear. The report notes that ‘mobilizing new finance will require innovative approaches to financing and new ways to leverage existing resources’, and calls upon donors, investors and institutions to support such innovative financial mechanisms. The report further notes that:

The Commission evaluated 18 innovative financing mechanisms for education against a number of criteria including impact, potential for additional financing, and feasibility. The five most promising proposals that should be further developed include education bonds, innovative post-secondary student financing mechanisms, disaster insurance for education, impact investing, and solidarity levies. (p.23)

One thing is clear that more financing must mean more accountability and higher performance. It’s the only way we can save the Education 2030 agenda from being thwarted. It’s either now or never!

[1]The author attended a training course in July 2016 at the Central European University in Budapest on the “Innovative Financing for Education: Arguments, Options and Implications” – organized annually by Open Society Foundations.

Saba Saeed is currently serving as Program Manager for “Learning for Access” program at Idara-e-Taleem-o-Aagahi in Pakistan.

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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 Skills Development? In Asia, a Basic Education is Not Enough Anymore

By Sungsup Ra, Asian Development Bank.

adbskillsIn the past three decades, economic growth in Asia has been the envy of the world. This was driven in part by millions of workers who had completed their basic education and who were willing to work for low wages.

Asia’s education systems provided hard skills, including technical and vocational skills such as machine operation and welding, as well as the soft skills like literacy and numeracy that were needed to capture a share of global production and catch up with the rest of the world.

This is rapidly changing as I explain in a co authored report, Challenges and opportunities for skills development in Asia: Changing supply, demand, and mismatches. The basic education and skill set that powered ‘factory Asia’ to its current success is not enough to move the region to the next level of development. The world is transforming in six ways that have an impact on how to train and educate people in Asia for today’s global economy:

  • Labor force participation has been affected by the so-called Great Doubling in the 1990s, with the entry of the People’s Republic of China, India, and the former Soviet Union into the global economy, which has effectively doubled the size of the global pool of inexpensive labor.
  • Increased access to education has been driven particularly by the universalization of basic education. While this generated a large pool of young workers with at least basic skills, making them better prepared to function in mass production industries and basic service sector jobs, it is no longer capable of fueling continued growth and dynamism, and leaves challenges in quality and relevance of secondary and tertiary education as well as TVET.
  • Economic and industrial transformation has changed the demand for labor around the world, and particularly in Asia. This includes shifts in the allocation of employment across sectors where the rapid rise of manufacturing and service industries led to a dramatic expansion in employment shares in these sectors.
  • Technological advancement has increased demand for non-routine tasks that requires problem-solving skills and creativity—with characteristics of professional, managerial, technical, and other creative occupations—while leading to displacement of manual and routine jobs.
  • Globalization and increasing regional integration has increased labor mobility and offshoring, and removed barriers to free trade and the mobilization of resources across borders.
  • Demographic shifts have exerted increasingly complex influences on the supply of skills, with the expansion of the working age population continuing at a rapid pace in some countries but decelerating or even contracting in others.

In this new global economic context, maintaining Asia’s economic growth will require realigning its labor supply to match new needs. Asia’s education systems must be transformed to ensure that the skills supply can respond to rapidly changing employer demands. Asia’s supply driven and government dominant education systems need to become more demand driven with employer and private sector partnership in support of continuous learning and upgrading with the use of improving technology-enabled learning. Without this transformation, skills mismatch in Asia could continue to widen and potentially drive down economic growth.

Governments in Asia need to urgently prioritize policies and investments to transform education and training. There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution, but there are some common initiatives that will help forge effective national policies.

  1. Skills development must be placed at the center of national economic development plans.Sound strategies and planning can ensure skills supply is effectively aligned with skills demand. Skills supply should be properly sequenced to match the demand according to different stages of economic development.
  1. Scale up investment for TVET sector.The sector is generally fragmented, severely underfunded and undermanaged. It comprises only a small fraction of most education budgets in Asia. Significant investment is required to modernize TVET sector and rebrand it as an integral part of the education systems.
  1. Reorient and rebalance education systems to meet rapidly evolving economic and labor market needs, and recognize TVET as an equal pathway and that a mix of soft and hard skills is required by the labor market.
  1. Prioritize reforms to improve the relevance and the quality of TVET,such as switching the focus from supply-driven to demand-driven education and training, or improving links to industry. Governments also need to strike the right balance between TVET provision by public institutions and private providers. This requires the creation of an enabling framework for innovative public–private partnerships to share the responsibility for developing curricula and in delivery of training while also ensuring quality control. The promotion of internships, apprenticeships, and training for existing workers is critical for the development of a TVET system that is in tune with private sector needs.
  1. Efforts by individual countries to tackle skills mismatch can also benefit from regional cooperation. This can range from collaboration in regional labor market information and analysis; and promoting regional industrial cooperation. Development of mutual recognition mechanisms to remove geographic barriers to mobility of skilled workers can likewise help alleviate the skills gap.

This blog first appeared on the Asian Development Bank blog site on 19th September 2016.

Sungsup Ra is a Director in the South Asia Department of the Asian Development Bank.

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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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