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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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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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. www.uis.unesco.org

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

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[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: sklees@umd.edu

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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What Happened to Education in the Financing for Development Conference, 13-16 July 2015, Addis Ababa?

By Kenneth King, Editor NORRAG News.

ffdWhat was the Education angle in the Financing for Development (FFD) Conference? Did the FFD Conference confirm the Education Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) and Targets? How did the approach of the Outcome document of the FFD differ from the Incheon Declaration?

In the approximately 200 side events attached to the FFD in Addis, education and skills development were not that visible. There were over 6,000 participants in the conference, but very few of these had education as their principal focus. Perhaps because of the sequence of events from the World Education Forum (WEF) in Korea in May, to the Oslo Education Summit in early July, to Addis in mid-July, there was one, high-level side event sponsored by Korea, Norway, Ethiopia and UNESCO, focusing on The Investment Case for Education. A second equally key side event involving education was one jointly supported by the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria, the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) and UNAIDS on Financing Health and Education. This was one of the few events promoting two distinct sectors in one panel. But that was about the extent of education events in Addis.

Apart from the Ethiopian Minister of Education, there were few other Education Ministers. This is entirely understandable. As a financing conference, Finance Ministers were omnipresent. And the issues and debates in the side events, the corridors and the plenary sessions were about ‘tax reform’, ‘domestic resource mobilization’, ‘blended finance’, ‘multi-stakeholder partnerships’, ‘from billions to trillions’, ‘Islamic finance’, and of course ‘ development cooperation’. A whole library of materials could have been collected on these topics at the side events.

By contrast, there were lean pickings on education. Just the EFA GMR’s Policy Paper 18 on Pricing the right to education; a couple of promotional flyers from GPE on ‘Quality education for all children’ and ‘Key results’; the two-pager ‘Oslo Declaration’ from the Education Summit; and the 20 paragraphs of the Incheon Declaration: Education 2030 in UNESCO’s six languages.

The last few lines of the Oslo Declaration, a week before the FFD, had some text that ‘insists’ the FFD ‘commits to a scaling up of investments and international cooperation for education’ (Oslo, 2015: 2). This did not happen, but then there was almost no revision in Addis of the Outcome document text.  However, Oslo did set up a ‘Commission on the financing of global education opportunities’ to report before the UNGA on post-2015 in September 2016.

The final version of the Outcome document of the Third International Conference on Financing for Development (also called the Addis Ababa Action Agenda [AAAA]) did contain quite a range of material relating to education, skills, capacity development, human resource development, and science, technology, engineering and maths.

We shall just note the way that education and skills are in fact handled in the Outcome document even if there is no reference to the seven education targets linked to Incheon’s draft Framework for Action. There is a sense in which the Addis text is less school-based than Incheon.

Early on in the document (para.7), in the Section on ‘A Global Framework’, there is a powerful claim about the investment impact of education on sustainable development, and on the importance of supporting countries facing particular challenges. The ‘rights of all children’ are to be protected and no child is to be left behind.

In the same section (para. 16), in a key paragraph on productive employment and decent work for all, there is the first mention of skills, in connection with supporting credit for small and micro-enterprises. There is to be ‘adequate skills development training for all, especially for youth and entrepreneurs’.

Intriguingly, the first full paragraph (78) on formal education comes in the Section on ‘International Development Cooperation’. This, rather inappropriately, suggests that education is closely connected to official development assistance (ODA). The text’s most general affirmation is the intention to scale up ‘investments and international cooperation’ to ‘allow all children to complete free, equitable, inclusive and quality early childhood, primary and secondary education’. This language is directly reminiscent of Incheon; and there is even, like Incheon, the reference to a strengthened role for the Global Partnership for Education. Clearly, there is a strong perception in the Outcome document that global education provision is linked to ODA.

There is a crucially important acknowledgement of education and skills in the key Section on ‘Science, technology, innovation and capacity building’ (para. 119). This time, the language is rather different from that of Incheon. Now, science, technology, engineering and maths education (STEM), TVET, and tertiary education are seen to be essential elements in science, technology and innovation strategies. The Outcome document goes beyond Incheon in its proposal not just to strengthen tertiary education systems, but to ‘increase access to online education in areas related to sustainable development’.

Addis also goes further than Incheon in a powerful paragraph (115) in the same Section about the vital role of ‘capacity development’ being ‘integral to achieving the post-2015 development agenda’.

Addis, finally, goes beyond Incheon in encouraging technology transfer between foreign companies and local enterprises, including the transfer of knowledge and skills (para.117). But it underlines, in addition, the key role of ‘traditional knowledge, innovations and practices of indigenous peoples and local communities’ and the rights of people to maintain, control, protect and develop their traditional knowledge and culture.

Four points may be made about the education commitments in this Outcome document of FFD.

First, despite the key priority of domestic resource mobilization in the document (and in the conference more generally), it is only through scaling up ‘investments and international cooperation’, including through strengthening the GPE, that the main pledge about education at different levels is made.

Second, though the draft covers in its own language, however briefly, most of the target items from the Incheon Framework for Action, it contains no reference to adult literacy, numeracy or adult education, and there is no mention of global citizenship education (GCED), or education for sustainable development (ESD).

Third, the commitment to STEM and TVET comes in a section of the document concerned with science, technology, innovation and capacity building. This is quite separate from the earlier commitment to education, under international development cooperation.

Lastly, and most importantly, the Addis Ababa Outcome document covered all of the 17 SDGs but treated them according to its own priorities, and without feeling the need to reproduce the text of the goals and targets of the SDGs. It thus avoided the situation faced by the World Education Forum where it could not effectively discuss or even agree the Education Targets in case these might be later changed by the UN processes leading up to the UNGA summit in September 2015.

A final, final point. We can’t sensibly contrast the Incheon Declaration with the Outcome document of the FFD. The former is entirely concerned with a single sector, Education, and it deals quite effectively with many of the arguments for an ambitious investment in education. But it does so in just three pages. The Addis Ababa Action Agenda (or Outcome document) covers the whole spectrum of the global governance and financing of development in 38 pages. Its mandate is to review at the highest level all the dimensions of finance, trade and aid, not to mention tax, debt, science, technology and innovation, and capacity building. It does however pay very serious attention to the role of education, skills and knowledge for development as we have shown above.

Kenneth King is the Editor of NORRAG News. He is an Emeritus Professor at the School of Social and Political Studies, University of Edinburgh, Scotland, UK. Email:Kenneth.king@ed.ac.uk

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The Politics of Indicator Development in the Education 2030 Framework for Action

By Tore Bernt Sørensen, University of Bristol.

globeAs the process of defining the Education 2030 Framework for Action becomes nearer to completion, this post takes a critical look at one prominent submission to the post-2015 education debate: the OECD Universal Basic Skills report.

In the report, the OECD effectively proposes that PISA should be extended to the entire globe to monitor and drive that “all youth acquire basic skills” (page 15). The bold OECD proposal is not so surprising, even though it is hard to take seriously given the substantial critiques of the programme. The first aspiration of organisations is to increase their influence and through that the values giving direction to its initiatives. As PISA is the most successful enterprise[1] in comparative education research ever seen, OECD seeks to build on the momentum with initiatives like the PISA based Test for Schools and PISA for Development.

Indicator development is associated with politics and values. So, the Education 2030 agenda along with its construction of assessment markets is bound to involve indicator politics. Indicators are at once enabling and constraining, providing opportunities and sidelining alternative perspectives. Measurement is power, for better and for worse.

This gives us all the more reason to critically evaluate the input from policy actors in the light of the Incheon Declaration, adopted at the recent World Education Forum. Indicator development for the Education 2030 agenda raises hard questions that have to be answered in order to take the agenda forward.

Let us dwell a bit with the recent OECD report. This submission is disappointing for two reasons: the self-promoting proposal to extend PISA globally,[2] and the surprisingly weak research basis. Together, these two combine to construe a simplistic ‘flat world’ and ‘level playing field’ along the lines of Thomas Friedman. In the context of the Sustainable Development Goals, this makes for unsettling reading indeed. The world is neither flat nor a ‘level playing field’. Rather, existing power structures and inequalities affect countries and the individuals inhabiting them. They thus have very different starting points, opportunities and constraints, now and in their future development.

Conjuring up a flat world

The OECD report was authored by prominent scholars Eric A. Hanushek and Ludger Woessmann and builds on their extensive research. Their meta-analysis of the causal relationship between national knowledge capital and economic growth is intriguing and provocative. But their extraordinary claims are based on weak data.

Their main argument is that a population’s knowledge capital is by far the most important determinant of a country’s economic growth as measured by GDP (p.26). To support this argument, Hanushek and Woessmann draw on aggregate test scores from 12 international mathematics and science tests conducted by IEA and OECD between 1964 and 2003.

Yet, their analysis appears highly speculative. A closer look at their data material reveals the many ways in which the 12 tests vary:

  • Who were tested? The target population for the tests varied from 9-15 year olds. Moreover, some tests were grade-based, others age-based.
  • Where were the tests conducted? Between 11-45 countries participated in the tests. USA is the only country that participated in all of the included tests.
  • What was tested? The tests focused on either curriculum-based knowledge or real-world application of knowledge
  • What sort of test scale? Percentage-correct format vs. item-response-theory proficiency scale

On the basis of these weak data, Hanushek and Woessmann present excessive claims concerning the future potential for countries in raising their national knowledge capital. This is where the global expansion of the PISA assessment framework enters the stage. The OECD report (page 15) suggests that “a central post-2015 development goal for education should be that all youth achieve at least basic skills as a foundation for work and further learning”. The OECD goes on to suggest that the indicator for basic skills should be set at 420 points on the PISA scale, equivalent to “Level 1 skills” and “functional literacy”. In supporting their proposal, the OECD report then claims that if for instance Ghana increased its PISA score by 170 points – from 250 to 420 points – the country’s GDP would increase 38 times.

Furthermore, the methodological nationalism implied in the analysis undermines the OECD argument. Roger Dale wrote on this blog about the fallacies of this particular worldview which is represented in a contradiction running through the entire OECD report. On the one hand, the report stresses global interdependence and that economic markets are liked internationally. Yet, on the other, the analysis treats each country and their potential economic growth in isolation. So, OECDs otherwise promising ‘one-world’ proposal of universal basic skills is not accompanied by any meaningful analysis of what sort of opportunities and constraints apply for low-income and high-income countries in our current global era.

Finally, looking into the foundation of these claims, we see that a number of political assumptions are implied. So, the otherwise interesting discussion of institutional measures reinforces the picture that the OECDs overarching objective, besides furthering its own influence in global educational governance, is to promote a particular political project.

The statistical models in the OECD report thus imply that economies are open to international trade (p.73). Accordingly, the report suggests that developing countries should correct their “imperfect economic institutions” along these lines (p.70). To say that this argument is controversial within the SDGs context would be an understatement.

Furthermore, the US is astonishingly invoked as the model country for production and labour markets since they are “regarded generally as the least distorted” in identifying most clearly how individual skills affect productivity and potential earnings in the labour market (p.76).

In this light, it does not come as a surprise that Hanushek and Woessmann’s book includes straightforward political proposals calling for effective accountability, choice and competition, and direct rewards for good performance.

This is the flat world conjured up by the OECD: Putting itself in charge of a global assessment framework and making a rather US-centric case that there is one single direction in terms of economic and social development. This reader was left to wonder to what extent the OECD proposal of universal basic skills leaves room for adaptation and contextualisation at country level.

The Incheon Declaration calls for “a humanistic vision of education and development based on human rights and dignity; social justice; inclusion; protection; cultural, linguistic and ethnic diversity; and shared responsibility and accountability”.

How is the OECD submission able to support this vision in any way?

Tore Bernt Sørensen is PhD student at the Graduate School of Education, University of Bristol. His PhD project concerns the reasons for and implications of the increased attention directed towards the teaching profession in global educational governance. Contact: t.b.sorensen@bristol.ac.uk

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[1] As an enterprise, PISA can only be regarded as a success. However, this does not mean that the programme cannot be the subject of critique.

[2] The OECD report does not go into further details on how PISA for Development relates to the report proposal of extending PISA globally. Rather, OECD presents PISA as one single ‘brand’ of measurement which they argue is relevant for the purpose of the SDGs.

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What’s Missing from the Education SDG Debate?

By David Levesque.  Independent Education Consultant

choicesSo much fine sounding rhetoric, but no sense of prioritisation in an age of limited resources.

The texts so far read like UN rights declarations. So much is needed, all areas are equally important, no section or person left behind. Money should be found to fund it all.

But this is not going to happen; so how do we prioritise? Is investing in one part of the education system more important than another or should the rights’ arguments prevail and limited resources spread thinly over the whole sector?

I once took part in an interesting exercise. X £million was available for three years in a country we were supporting.  We were asked as a team to prioritise where the money would best be spent and list in order from 1-10. This led to heated debate. Is education more important than health, where does water and sanitation rank, is good governance more important than encouraging private sector growth? What about infrastructure? What do we do with requests from the partner country when we don’t agree with their priorities? Advisers made strong cases, but how to decide when the conclusion to fund a bit of everything was not available. In what could be a prescient outcome, when experts can’t agree, a non-specialist made an executive decision based on what they thought was appropriate.

Current strategies usually try to place an economic value on everything and then fund the ones with the best economic returns. This has led to considerable amounts of money being spent on research trying to show which investment/policy offers the highest returns in comparison to other possibilities. Previously in education, these arguments were made to support primary education; they are now shifting in favour of early years’ education, secondary and higher education. This process has, however, resulted in questionable conclusions around the necessity of measuring everything and in assumptions that only things that can be measured are of value.

Human rights’ advocates argue that prioritisation of rights is not possible as they are all equally important. Implementation decisions are therefore delegated to nation states.  This, however, can be seen as avoiding hard choices.  Individual governments have different motivation for implementing policies, ranging from humanitarian concerns, through the desire to obtain votes, to exploiting power structures and control. Different motivations lead to different priorities, with subsequent accountability concerns for funders.

Perhaps the ultimate prioritisation process is the allocation of money. The question then becomes what influences those who make the financial decisions. An observation from the past 25 years is that finance ministers seldom attend education conferences and that education ministers seldom carry much influence in budget allocations.

The MDGs were focused and prioritised on completing a full course of primary education. Demonstrable progress has been made and there are good arguments to suggest that this would not have been accomplished if the money had been spread equally over the whole education sector. In a previous NORRAG blog I argued that one way of prioritising would be for the post-2015 emphasis to remain on basic education.  A realistic global target for the next 15 years would be to provide opportunities for all to acquire sustainable basic skills. Regardless of age, there should be opportunities to learn to read, write, communicate and be an active life participant.  This may best be done at different levels of education from early childhood to life long learning.

Surely there is a significant role for the education community to suggest strategies for prioritisation.

The current declarations are a noble vision but let’s go for demanding but achievable targets over the next 15 years.

David Levesque is an independent education consultant who previously worked for DFID as a senior education adviser. Email:  davidlevesque@tinyworld.co.uk

Related NORRAG Blogs

>>The World Education Forum (WEF) at Incheon: What Reflections, Memories, Legacy? 22nd June 2015

>>World Education Forum: Songdo Takeaways, 20th May 2015

>>Universal Basic Education? 7th February 2014

>>View all Post-2015 Blogs on NORRAG NEWSBite


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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 is made up of more than 4,200 individuals worldwide and is free to join. Click here to join NORRAG – for free.




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The World Education Forum (WEF) at Incheon: What Reflections, Memories, Legacy?

By Kenneth King, Editor NORRAG News.

WEF logoIt’s almost exactly a month since Incheon, and it’s perhaps appropriate to consider what is the enduring legacy from this huge investment of time, thought and resources, especially by South Korea but also UNESCO.

Another way of answering the question is to consider what the international education community still recall from Jomtien, 25 years ago, or from Dakar 15 years back. Arguably, they are likely to recall some of the six dimensions for suggested national target-setting from Jomtien, and they will certainly remember that there were six Education for All (EFA) Goals in Dakar. Why? Because targets appear, in policy circles, to be more memorable, more relevant, and more crucial than text.

There were in fact also ten Articles in the Jomtien Declaration, compellingly crafted, but few will remember these. There is an occasional very powerful sentence which will be recalled by some early childhood professionals, such as ‘Learning begins at birth’ (part of Article 5), or a phrase such as ‘meeting basic learning needs’ or ‘an expanded vision of basic education’.

From Dakar’s three-page Framework for Action, apart from some of focus of the six EFA Goals, if not their exact phrasing, there are perhaps one or two memorable phrases or sentences that can be recalled such as: ‘We affirm that no countries seriously committed to education for all will be thwarted in their achievement of this goal by a lack of resources.’ (Dakar FFA, paragraph 10)

In connection with this grand pledge, the Education for All Global Monitoring Report comments that ‘The pledge made at Dakar…has been one of the biggest failures of the EFA period. Donors failed to live up to their promises’ (Summary, GMR 2015: 45).

What will be recalled from the three pages of the Incheon Declaration in one month, one year, ten, fifteen or twenty-five years?

The sustainable development goal (SDG) 4 was in the Incheon Declaration, but this was already known from the Open Working Group (OWG) process and from the Muscat Agreement. Here it is: ‘…the proposed SDG 4 “Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote life-long learning opportunities for all” and its corresponding targets’ (paragraph 5).

However, there are none of these corresponding targets actually included in the Incheon Declaration. We shall come back in a moment to explain why. But what else is memorable from Incheon?

Any memorable lines in the 3-page text of the Declaration?

For me, two of the most powerful sentences are the following:

‘No education target should be considered met unless met by all. We therefore commit to making the necessary changes in education policies and focusing our efforts on the most disadvantaged, especially those with disabilities, to ensure that no one is left behind’ (Paragraph 7).

These sentences are in fact two sides of the same coin. Of course they sound familiar precisely because we have heard them before. Many of us may have read Save the Children’s Briefing: Leaving No One Behind (2014). And ‘no one is left behind’ is used no less than six times in the Report of the High Level Panel (HLP, 2013). Indeed both the faces in Incheon’s paragraph 7 are also used very similarly in this paragraph about the Twelve Illustrative Goals and their associated Targets from the HLP Report:

The indicators that track them should be disaggregated to ensure no one is left behind and targets should only be considered ‘achieved’ if they are met for all relevant income and social groups. (HLP, Executive Summary)

One of the reasons that these two Incheon sentences are so important is because of what is said in the Preamble of the Incheon Declaration after affirming the spirit of Dakar and the subsequent important commitment to education:

however, we recognize with great concern that we are far from having reached education for all. (paragraph 2)

There are only two main headings after the Preamble. The first is Toward 2030: A new vision for education.  And the second is Implementing our common agenda.

Can we put our fingers on what is new about the new vision for education at Incheon? Here, for example, is the pledge in the last few lines of the Declaration:

Building on the legacy of Jomtien and Dakar, this Incheon Declaration is an historic commitment by all of us to transform lives through a new vision for education, with bold and innovative actions, to reach our ambitious goal by 2030. (paragraph 20)

Searching in the text for what is new about this vision, we find that this new agenda – this new vision – claims to be ‘transformative’, ‘holistic’, ‘ambitious’, ‘aspirational’, ‘universal’ and ‘humanistic’. In addition to these claims, paragraph five affirms that education is a human right, a basis for other rights; it is ‘essential for peace, tolerance, human fulfilment and sustainable development’. It is also a ‘key to full employment and poverty eradication’. These huge claims about the potential of education are not entirely new; the large literature asserting that ‘’Education for All’ is Development’ and that ‘Education transforms lives’ has been reviewed exhaustively before (See GMR 2002 and GMR 2013/4).

The only sub-themes that are emphasized in bold in the Declaration are access, inclusion and equity, gender equality, quality, and lifelong learning opportunities. Each of these has a paragraph of its own. The ambitions of Incheon are captured there.

However, beyond commitments to basic education at Jomtien and the six EFA goals of Dakar of Dakar, Incheon wants to ‘ensure the provision of 12 years of free, publicly funded, equitable quality primary and secondary education’. These six adjectives in front of ‘education’ are quite a mouthful. But the first 9 years are also to be ‘compulsory’. This is a big requirement, when it is recalled from the GMR 2015 that only 27 countries made lower secondary compulsory since 2000. And in Sub-Saharan Africa lower/upper secondary enrolment stands at 50%/32% respectively. The underlining of FREE is important, but readers should recall from the 2015 GMR that ‘despite fee-free public primary schooling being enshrined in law in 135 countries, 110 still continue to charge some sort of fee.’ (p.260)

The biggest pledge of all?

The single biggest offer in Incheon comes in the paragraph about lifelong learning. Here it is:  ‘We commit to promoting quality lifelong learning opportunities for all, in all settings and at all levels of education.’ (paragraph 10). Three alls in one sentence! This is good news for adult educators, as the paragraph covers formal, non-formal and even informal education.

Oh, and what about the cost?

The section on ‘a new vision for education’ has nothing about cost. That comes later in the section called ‘Implementing our common agenda’. One paragraph (14) recognizes that the ambitions of Incheon cannot be realized ‘without a significant and well-targeted increase in financing’. It then urges adherence to the benchmarks of 15-20% of public expenditure and 4-6% of GDP for education.

A second and longer paragraph (15) calls upon a whole slew of countries and modalities –developed countries, traditional and emerging donors, middle income countries and international financing mechanisms — to increase funding to education. It then urges the members of DAC who have not yet reached 0.7% of GNP for ODA ‘to make additional concrete efforts towards the target’ [only five countries had reached this goal by 2013; and Korea, USA and Japan were at 0.13%; 0.19%; and 0.23% respectively].  Interestingly, there are no specific financing suggestions made for emerging donors and middle income countries.  And there are no indications of the large financing gaps which have been discussed by the GMR 2015, and which were reproduced in the Incheon draft Framework for Action.

Why were there no targets in the Incheon Declaration?

Given what we said at the beginning about targets being more attractive than text, how are we to explain the fact that unlike Jomtien and Dakar, the Incheon Declaration has no targets?

The reason is simple: that the SDGs and their corresponding targets are under review by the UN’s Intergovernmental Negotiations in New York. There was available from this process at the time of Incheon a set of revised targets, including four of the Education ones. The NGO Forum in Incheon readily took these proposed revisions on board in its own Incheon Declaration. But it would have been premature for the plenary conference in Incheon either to confirm the existing targets or to accept the revised ones. Within a few weeks, the UN intergovernmental process might have reached a different conclusion. Then UNESCO and the Incheon Declaration would be suddenly out of step with the UN process leading thru from New York in June, to the Financing for Development conference in Addis in July, and on to the final summit in the September in New York.

It is still useful to examine what the Incheon Declaration has actually taken from the targets in the Incheon Draft Framework for Action. This is dealt with in some detail in NORRAG News 52.

Another legacy: a better insight into South Korea

Doubtless, for many participants, and certainly for me, the legacy of Incheon was a better understanding of Korea’s extraordinary transformation from the end of the Korean War to the present. Doubtless, not all the elements in this miracle were discussed. But to be debating a new and transformative vision for global education in a country that attributed a great deal of its economic success to education and TVET investment was a privilege. At any rate in a book made available by the Korean Educational Development Institute (KEDI) for the WEF, Dynamic education for individual and national development: the case of the Republic of Korea, there are three key elements of success. Significantly, the first of these is Government’s Strong Leadership, and the second and third were Competent teachers, and High emphasis on education and zeal for education (KEDI, 2015: 21-26).

Though it is now a month since Incheon, there is still a legacy to be carefully examined, and, unlike the host countries of Jomtien in 1990 and Dakar 2000 in which we learnt little about Thailand and Senegal, we do have a rich insight into South Korea.

Further detailed reactions to the World Education Forum are available in NORRAG News 52, available later in June 2015.

Kenneth King is the Editor of NORRAG News. He is an Emeritus Professor at the School of Social and Political Studies, University of Edinburgh, Scotland, UK. Email:Kenneth.king@ed.ac.uk

Related NORRAG Blogs

>>World Education Forum: Songdo Takeaways, 20th May 2015

>>View all Post-2015 Blogs on NORRAG NEWSBite

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

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

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