Vocational Education and Training, Human Rights, Human Development and Equality in the Occupied Palestinian Territory

By Randa Hilal, OPTIMUM for Consultancy and Training, Ramallah, Palestine.

oPtHow can Vocational Education and Training (VET) reduce the inequalities related to gender, youth, and refugee status and contribute to human development? This is the key research question I am exploring using the case of Palestine, looking through a human rights and a human development lens.

The context of occupation

The context of the Occupied Palestinian Territory (oPt) adds additional layers of marginalization and inequality that need to be considered. Various reports of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs Occupied Palestinian Territory (UN OCHA) have explained the Palestinian context, including their February 2015 report:

The overall situation is a protection based crisis, with negative humanitarian ramifications. This crisis in oPt stems from the prolonged occupation and recurrent hostilities, alongside a system of policies that undermine the ability of Palestinians to live normal, self-sustaining lives and realize the full spectrum of their rights, including the right to self-determination. Were these factors removed, Palestinians would be able to develop their government institutions and economy without the need for humanitarian assistance.

The World Bank has also published various reports and studies, including the Economic Monitoring Report to the ad hoc liaison committee (September 2015), highlighting the effect of the occupation on the Palestinian economy and development; such reports indicate that the competitiveness of the Palestinian economy has been progressively eroding since the signing of the Oslo accords, and that Palestinians are getting poorer on average; for the third year in a row the GDP and real GDP per capita are declining. The report insists that until there is a permanent peace agreement, the Palestinian economy will continue to perform below its potential; it has pointed out that if existing agreements are implemented and restrictions lifted, the economy will improve. For example, the World Bank estimates show that granting Palestinian businesses access to economic activity in Area C[1] would boost the Palestinian economy by about a third and lower the Palestinian Authority’s deficit by half.

VET’s role in reducing inequalities in the context of occupation

In analysing marginalisation, my own research considered – in addition to the categories of women, youth and refugees – those who are living within the political marginalised localities due to occupation measures and policies. UN OCHA identified those living in marginalised localities as those living in Area C and the Seam Zone[2] as well as those living in Gaza and East Jerusalem. According to the humanitarian needs overview, UN OCHA has estimated the number of Palestinians in need at 1.9 million (of the 4.5 million Palestinians living in oPt), out of whom 298,000 are East Jerusalem residents, with a similar number living in Area C of the remaining West Bank, and over a million living in Gaza.

In the course of my research over 850 people were consulted, including 746 graduates who filled the survey during the period January-July 2015. Various groups of policy makers, TVET institutes heads and teachers, employers, communities as well as academic teachers and school staff also participated in the research. 31 VET Institutes were interviewed, representing the different providers in the oPt, including: the Ministry of Education, Ministry of Labour, Ministry of Social Affairs, other ministries, Non-Governmental and Church related and UNRWA, within the whole of the oPt areas (the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and Gaza).

Some of the findings of the study include:

  1. VET graduates are themselves part of the marginalised youth; more than half of the VET graduates’ families were under the poverty line when they enrolled. In addition, VET graduates were coming from marginalised localities within their governorates and were affected by the context of occupation.
  2. The labour force participation and employment effects of VET on graduates were high, as they had higher employment and participation rates in the labour force compared to the national figures of youth employment.
  3. Over half of the VET graduates were contributing to their family income. Results also indicated that one fifth of the graduates had started their own families.
  4. Social empowerment indicators for the VET graduates scored high due to training and work, with male doing better than female VET gradates.
  5. When analysing graduates’ achievement of their expectations it was found that graduates’ aspirations were high upon graduation, but that their actual achievements usually fall far short of such aspirations. These results were even worse compared to a similar group surveyed four years ago.[3] This is an alarming signal, and indicates that external and internal challenges were more adversely affecting VET graduates than just a few years ago.
  6. Challenges were two-fold:
    • On the one hand, the context of occupation hinders the development of the whole TVET sector, hinders economic development and restricts the mobility of people; this adversely affects young graduates’ realisation of their dreams with regard to decent employment, setting up their own businesses, participating in their communities, accomplishing and progressing in life and attaining their freedoms.
    • On the other hand, there still persist numerous internal institutional and structural challenges that stymy the development TVET in Palestine. These include, for example, the lower pay and lower status accorded to VET graduates, and the difficultly to continue further education in some universities. The inability to set the required laws and policies needed for TVET in Palestine, is related both to the occupation, but also to Palestinians own will to enhance the TVET system.

Findings suggested high economic effects and social empowerment of VET upon youth graduates and those marginalised. Nevertheless, fulfilment of aspiration and functioning of these capabilities were low and reflected the increasing external challenges faced by youth, and were lower than a similar group analysis four years ago.[4] This is an alarming signal, and indicates that all developmental effects and achievements of VET and its contribution to human development could be jeopardised by the low national commitment to skills formation policies and systems and most importantly by the overall context of occupation and its socio-economic effects.

This blog is based on a presentation made at the 13th UKFIET International Conference on Education and Development, “Learning for Sustainable Futures – Making the Connections” 15th to 17th of September 2015. It draws on the author’s PhD Research on “The Value of VET in promoting human rights, advancing human development and reducing inequality: The case of Palestine”.

Randa Hilal is  the General Manager and Founder of OPTIMUM for Consultancy and Training, Ramallah, Palestine. She is also a PhD candidate at the University of Nottingham, UK. Email: rhilal@optimum.ps

[1] Under the 1993 Oslo Peace Agreement, the West Bank was divided into three areas: A, B and C. Area A is Under Palestinian control and includes the main cities and populated areas, Area B is under joint Palestinian-Israeli control, and Area C is under Israeli Control. Area C cuts across the whole of the West Bank and covers 60% of West Bank land. Key humanitarian concerns related to Area C – according to the UN – can be reviewed here.

[2] The Seam Zone is the area between the Barrier/ Wall and the 1949 Armistice Line (Green Line). The Wall is 712km long, more than twice the length of the Green Line. 85% of the Wall runs inside the West Bank, and in 2004 the International Court of Justice found that the Wall was in violation of international humanitarian law.

[3]  Part of the current survey included  similar questions as part of a research presented at the 2011 UKFIET Conference  (see Hilal, 2012 – Vocational Education & Training for Women and Youth in Palestine: Poverty Reduction and Gender Equality under Occupation, International Journal of Education Development, Vol. 32, No. 5, Sept 2012, 686–695, Elsevier

[4] ibid.

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Learning Assessments as Public Goods?

By Michel Carton and Velibor Jakovleski, NORRAG

© Alberto G. Flickr.com Creative Commons licenseThe intentions behind the “data revolution” in terms of policy-making are relatively straightforward. Data are meant to guide policy and help close existing gaps between developed and developing countries, in effect making the development process more efficient. It follows the same reasoning that popular American gym L.A. Fitness uses to entice its clients: “what gets measured gets improved.”

According to the High Level Panel (HLP) appointed by the UN Secretary General to advise on the post-2015 global development agenda:

Better data and statistics will help governments track progress and make sure their decisions are evidence-based; they can also strengthen accountability. This is not just about governments. International agencies, CSOs and the private sector should be involved. A true data revolution would draw on existing and new sources of data to fully integrate statistics into decision making, promote open access to, and use of, data and ensure increased support for statistical systems.

The HLP states that all actors should be involved in the process and that data should be openly accessible to them. Based on those conditions, assessment practitioners and scholars alike consider quantitative international assessments as public goods (e.g. see Wagner, 2012).

Public goods are goods or services that can be used by all actors without restriction (non-excludable), and without diminishing the benefit to other actors when they are used (non-rivalrous). The treatment of assessments as public goods inevitably raises the question of what “public” are we referring to? In other words, who really benefits?

If a state signs up for an international learning assessment regime, it does not necessarily diminish the potential benefits to another state joining and benefiting from the regime. But without their substantive adaptation, assessments have inherent exclusionary mechanisms which, at least for now, prevent them from being considered as public goods in the true sense of the term. The two main reasons are: 1) material – the cost and capability of implementation at the national level; 2) normative – what learning actually entails in a given national context.

In terms of material exclusion, assessments are usually developed and orientated towards use in wealthier countries, which have more readily bought into the principles of new public management and, perhaps more importantly, have the resources and capacity to implement them. Because the lowest income countries have the least capacity to develop, improve, or implement assessment systems, they can be excluded from participating based on material ground alone.

However, the ability to take part in international learning assessments and the ability to effect learning outcomes positively should not be confused. Once a state has joined an international assessment regime, national actors are incentivized to adapt their strategies and behaviours in order to reflect and reinforce global (and usually neo-liberal) standards. But perhaps the most glaring issue in applying such assessments nationally is what they actually measure. A problem with prioritizing only learning outcomes is that they mostly focus on literacy and numeracy, with little emphasis on social learning and the context in which that occurs. As Andreas Schleicher comments:

The world has become indifferent to tradition and past reputations, unforgiving of frailty and ignorant of custom and practice. Success will go to those individuals, institutions and countries which are swift to adapt, slow to complain and open to change.

It points to the second exclusionary mechanism, which is a normative one. National education ministries focus on tracking inputs such as budgets, student attendance and graduation rates, but not learning outputs and outcomes – which would be the only way to assess the efficiency of schooling. The overreliance on such quantitative indicators contributes to a discrepancy between what is actually learned and what is measured, which is referred to as the “schooling-learning gap”. By not taking into account the local, cultural and historical contexts of learning, quantitative indicators employed by some international assessments miss the mark, with data not representing the nuances of learning on the ground.

So even if the poorest countries are supported materially to take part in international learning assessments, this value-based exclusionary barrier still prevents learning assessments from being a public good. This implies that international assessments are more like club goods, which are similar to public good but they have some barrier which prevents some actors from benefiting from the good or service on offer (e.g. a social club, or even the European Union).

Aware of these problems, one of the core results that the Learning Metrics Task Force (LMTF) 2.0 aimed to achieve by the end of 2015 was to universally treat “assessments as a public good”. To do so, the LMTF made resources available to ensure that “even the poorest countries are able to access the technical and financial capability to develop, reinforce, maintain and use assessment data to improve learning.” Their “Learning Champions” initiative also focused on broadening inclusion, involving national stakeholders like students, teachers, civil servants, civil society, and development agencies. The initiative was applied in fifteen countries, which adapted LMTF recommendations to their national contexts. Participants included: Argentina (Buenos Aires), Botswana, Canada (Ontario), Colombia (Bogotá), Ethiopia, Kenya, Kyrgyz Republic, Nepal, Pakistan, Palestine, Rwanda, Senegal, Sudan, Tunisia, and Zambia.

Such efforts are commendable because they help to remove the two exclusionary mechanisms by providing resources and by being sensitive to local context and needs. They also touch upon the important principle of Common But Differentiated Responsibility (CBDR). It implies asymmetrical obligations, meaning all international actors should have a role to play in the development, financing and implementation of education assessments, but with differentiated responsibilities based on special needs or circumstances, such as the history, culture, and degree of development of a certain country.

With LMTF 2.0 now winding down, it is up to debate to what extent their efforts were successful in treating international learning assessments as public goods. The proliferation of different assessment regimes hints at their potential benefits, but ultimately measurements need to be translated to learning outcomes. For that to happen, perhaps we should change the conversation, and re-focus on learning, rather than the assessments of that learning, as being the public good in question.

Michel Carton is the Executive Director of NORRAG. Email: michel.carton@graduateinstitute.ch

Velibor Jakovleski is a Research and Programme Officer for NORRAG. Email: velibor.jakovleski@graduateinstitute.ch 


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The Need for an SDG Demonstration in Education: Why Wait Till 2030?

By Steven J. Klees, University of Maryland.

Goal4The recently approved United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) for education, like all the SDGs, is set to be attained by 2030. A very important target is to achieve universal primary education (UPE).  But this was the target of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), set by the U.N. in 2000 for attainment by 2015 – and this was not achieved.  UPE was also the primary target of the Education for All (EFA) accord reached in 1990 in Jomtien with the goal of attainment by the year 2000; a goal that was missed and then re-set in 2000 in Dakar to be achieved by 2015 – and missed again. Moreover, many forget that UPE was the object of international agreements and promises since the 1960s.  Why do we keep kicking this can down the road?

There are many possible responses to this question but mine is that, fundamentally, despite good intentions, the international community has not been serious about fulfilling these commitments.  I believe that the most fundamental problem has been the unwillingness to devote the resources necessary to achieve these goals. I believe that, with the will and sufficient resources, at least some of the education SDG targets could be attainable in many countries in a relatively short time, perhaps as few as 4 or 5 years.

UNESCO estimates that an additional $39 billion a year is needed to achieve the education SDG (and this may well be an underestimate.) An important source of additional international financing for education is supposed to be the multilateral, World Bank-initiated, but now semi-independent, Global Partnership for Education (GPE, formerly the Fast Track Initiative (FTI)).  But after over 10 years of operation (as FTI and GPE), the most that GPE can raise and spend from all the international donors is a measly $0.5 billion a year. That is, we need at least 80 times more money each year than we have been raising to achieve our new goals. The international community talks a good game but has not stepped up to the plate. As one example, the former president of the World Bank, James Wolfensohn, promised at the 2000 EFA meetings in Dakar that no country would be prevented from meeting the 2015 goals due to lack of finance. The World Bank reneged on that promise and no one has had the temerity to reiterate it for the SDGs.  Hence, my conclusion is that we have not been and are not serious.

But we can be. It is not a lot of money we are talking about in the global scheme of things.  As Malala Yousafzai has pointed out, only 8 days of annual global military expenditures could finance 12 years of free education for all children. I believe that one important reason that the international community has not committed the resources necessary in education is because there is no convincing evidence that additional resources can accomplish our goals. The health sector gets much more money than education, in part, because they can demonstrate success.  But improving health, while difficult, is a much easier task than improving education – simple interventions like bed nets and vaccinations can make a world of difference.  Even more complex behaviour change to reduce HIV incidence is much easier than the long term task of providing a good education to our children.

However, education is not rocket science. We know how to give a child a good education.  What I am proposing is that the international community, with the support of the Global Partnership for Education, perhaps as part of a partnership with a bilateral or multilateral agency, find a country that is willing to be a partner in an intensive demonstration effort to show that removing financial constraints can make a major difference in their education system in a short amount of time.  This doesn’t mean you “throw” money at education.  Of course, the money needs to be spent wisely, but resources would go to providing every child with a good education – trained teachers with adequate salaries, small classes, good facilities and learning materials (with some access to IT), scholarships and school meals when needed, and more.

Many donors talk about “capacity constraints” to using resources in developing countries but they can be overcome (and partly they are a paternalistic excuse).  For example, literacy campaigns have been successful in a number of countries.  Similarly, a country could implement a crash, short-term, campaign-style training of primary and lower secondary school teachers and principals with intensive follow-up in-service training for certification (in cooperation with teacher unions).  Some crash school-building programs might be necessary.  While the incredible barrier posed by poverty cannot be overcome in the short-run, scholarships, school meals, and health services for children in school can help a lot.

There are, of course, problems with supporting such a demonstration.  One is that this could put off donors from providing resources until after they see if the demonstration works.  This is possible, but I don’t think it will have a big effect.  Donors are not lining up to provide anywhere near the amount of resources that are needed, some are even cutting back, and I believe a good demonstration could show encouraging effects in 2 to 3 years.  Another problem is what happens to the demonstration country after the demonstration.  Somehow, the resources provided would have to continue.  Partly, this can be done by the country agreeing to ramp up domestic financing over the course of the demonstration but my guess is that the amount of resources needed to attain the SDGs will be beyond the capacity of most countries to go it alone and that means ramping up the international finance effort as well.

Long term, the latter is key.  Policy discussions of international financing are only tinkering at the margins of the issue.  They look at “innovative” financing mechanisms which may have little hope of offering a substantial contribution to the shortfall.  Private sector contributions offer less hope still.  What is needed is a global taxing mechanism, a call for which went unheeded at the Addis Financing for Development conference last July.  GPE should become an advocate for global taxation, which is supported by economists like Thomas Piketty and Nobel Laureates James Tobin and Joseph Stiglitz, among others.  However, these are longer term issues.

The point of a demonstration would be to show feasibility in the short-term – that with sufficient funding – and political will and thoughtful choices – at least some of the targets of the education SDG are attainable quickly.  Doing so in one country is easily affordable now and demonstrating success will significantly change the policy discourse, making the case for increased domestic and international resources for education much stronger than it is now.  Why wait until 2030?!  No more excuses!

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

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Without a Proper Financing Plan, Let’s Kiss the Education SDG Good Bye

By Charles Aheto-Tsegah, National Council for /Curriculum and Assessment, Ghana.

Goal4Special gratitude to Burnett and Upadhyay for drawing attention to the essential but avoided subject when global targets are being set: the funding arrangement! I have wondered why I am not seeing or hearing about the financing plan that is accompanying the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In hindsight the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were situated in a relatively favourable financial context with the pledge by developing partners to set aside resources to help the realization of the targets in low-income and lower-middle-income countries. For education, development partners promised in 2000 that no country seriously committed to Education for All (EFA) would be left behind due to lack of resources. True to this, the Fast track Initiative (FTI), now called the Global Partnership for Education (GPE), was formed. Ultimately, of course, donors failed to fulfil this pledge and it is seen as ‘one of the biggest failures of the EFA period’.

In July this year, heads of state and development and finance ministers from around the world met in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to discuss financing of all of the new global goals. However, the mood from many civil society organisations was largely pessimistic.

My special concern, however, is the fact that aid to support education, which is a right and an entitlement is dwindling in favour of other issues. The situation suggests that there is a common acceptance that education can always wait because it is not immediately life threatening.

Education Can No Longer Wait!!

Rightly stated innovative financing mechanisms are needed, and in this case especially for education. The time has come to rethink education financing. The World Literacy Foundation recently published an unfortunately unhelpful report on the cost of illiteracy. In my view it did not help make a credible case for the concern. Yet, the fact is that the world will continue to pay heavily for failing to make education a priority. Surprisingly, individually, we accept that education is important and families go to great lengths to ensure that their children are educated, while Governments in developing countries struggle to support low income and poor households to take advantage of new education opportunities and fulfil their part of the global agreement to finance education.

Thinking outside the box concerning the financing of education has become more of a theoretical construct than a realistic effort with sustained effects and outcomes. The process is too dependent on unwilling third parties who are inspired by conditionalities instead of a readiness to assist. They are very quick to make ‘good’ cases for moving funds away from education to some other venture.

Finally, the implementation of a ‘cash on delivery’ funding mechanism will not succeed. As long as we are unable to restructure our results based financing into a system that reduces strain on already struggling economies to show evidence for resources, we shall be heading for a stalemate in education development that portends great disaster for countries and the world. Bluntly put, kiss the SDG4 good bye.

Charles Aheto-Tsegah is the Ag. Executive Director of the National Council for /Curriculum and Assessment in Ghana. Prior to this he held senior positions in the Ghana Education Service, including as Ag. Director-General, Deputy Director-General and Director of the Policy, Budgeting, Monitoring and Evaluation Division. Email: cyatse@gmail.com

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What is New for TVET and TVSD in the SDGs’ Agenda?

By Michel Carton and Sylvia Garcia Delahaye, NORRAG.

TVET_TVSD_SDGThe Sustainable Development Goals pay some level of attention to training and skills development, with goals such as “Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all” (Goal 4) and “Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all” (Goal 8). But are they really new in the international development agenda?

Technical and Vocational Education and Training and Skills Development (TVET/TVSD) have been a part of development strategies since the beginning of international development cooperation. From the 1950s and during the 1960s, TVET has been an important field supported by bilateral and multilateral agencies as part of their “modernization” strategy for developing countries.

Since the end of the 1970s, and especially during the 1980s with the Structural Adjustment Programs, TVET has been increasingly considered as a private field of investment. This vision was reinforced during the 1990s with the ideological and political push for reducing the role of the state, which led to a decline of international development cooperation in TVET. In 1996, NORRAG in collaboration with Swiss Development Cooperation and ILO launched a Working Group for International Cooperation on Skills Development to challenge this trend as well as the development strategies in the area of education and training, and to inform and influence TVET policies and stakeholders.

In parallel, starting from the 1990s, a shift in meaning took place among development cooperation agencies in favour of skills development. Indeed, skills development has gradually become a development strategy based on the universal vision of the Education for All (EFA) (Jomtien World Conference 1990), as discussed in NORRAG News 38:

Given its combining training, apprenticeships, and formal and non formal programmes, it should be clear that its approach to this suggested target (Education for all) covered not just formal skills, and not just non formal skills, but both. In other words, its usage of skills was quite close to the notion of skills development today, even though that term was not yet in 1990 in common agency usage (King, 2007).

The EFA goals emphasize the notion of skills instead of the one of qualification, with the aim of building a productive and integrated workforce able to maintain national economic growth.[1] Thus, skills development can be defined as:

The acquisition of practical competencies, knowledge and attitudes necessary to perform a trade or occupation in the labour market. Skills can be acquired either through formal public or private schools, institutions or centres, informal, traditional apprenticeships, or non-formal semi-structured training (King and Palmer, 2007).

Thereafter, the notion of skills development was reinforced by the goals proposed by the Dakar World Education Forum in 2000, specifically Goal 3 “Youth and adult skills: Ensuring that the learning needs of all young people and adults are met through equitable access to appropriate learning and life skills programmes” and Goal 6 “Quality of education: Improving all aspects of the quality of education and ensuring excellence of all so that recognized and measurable learning outcomes are achieved by all, especially in literacy, numeracy and essential life skills”.

From the 2000s, TVSD has been seen as a central tool for linking both social and economic agendas and as a way of ensuring that globalization is infused with a social inclusion focus. Consequently, the target groups of skills development policies are often poor populations, marginalized groups, women and, increasingly, young people (see UNESCO, ILO and ADB/OECD). Indeed, skills development for youth integration has become a crucial development strategy reflected in the increase of ODA for TVSD.

Nowadays, in many countries that are characterized by youth underemployment or unemployment and by social, political and religious tensions, a “youth bulge” is perceived as both a potential and a vector of “fragility” or “instability”.[2] The lack of youth integration opportunities in some contexts is a serious cause for concern and provides the premise to implement education and training programmes as a means of mitigating urban violence. This issue is addressed in two of NORRAG’s programmes of work: (1) international perspectives on technical and vocational skills development policies and practice and (2) urban violence, youth and education.

Therefore, the SDGs 4 and 8 are not completely new components of the global development strategies. Instead of being formulated and presented as interconnected issues, they are reflected as separate goals in the SDGs. The current emphasis given to skills development for youth employment raises the question of how these segmented goals (especially Goals 4.4, 8.5 and 8.6) should be articulated and implemented in a coordinated manner. Their impact in terms of TVET/TVSD policy design and implementation at the international, regional and national levels are definitely the key issues to keep a watchful eye on in the near future.

[1] Garcia Delahaye S., 2015, “Skills development, social network and employment of youth in India: Socio-professional integration of former street children supported by local NGOs of Kolkata”, PhD Dissertation, Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva.

[2] Garcia Delahaye S., op. cit.

Michel Carton is the Executive Director of NORRAG. Email: michel.carton@graduateinstitute.ch

Sylvia Garcia Delahaye is a Research and Programme Officer for NORRAG. Email: sylvia.garcia@graduateinstitute.ch

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Whose Learning Should be Prioritized?

By Sehar Saeed, Annual Status of Education Report, Pakistan.

ASERThe 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a set of all-encompassing goals promising to strive for a world that is equitable and inclusive, thereby to benefit ALL children and future generations without the discrimination to age, sex, disability, culture, race, ethnicity, origin, migratory status, religion, economic or other status. The SDGs and framework are indeed ambitious, and for education carry a sector wide approach and underscore the importance of the Right to Education, Equity, Inclusion, Quality and Lifelong education leading to sustainable lives. The terms “lifelong education and sustainable learning” create synergies with other SDGs and indicators linked to education such as poverty, health, nutrition, gender, social justice, climate change, and infrastructure.

Over the past fifteen years, governments have been seen only taking the responsibility of formulating and implementing strategies aimed at ensuring that all children are enrolled in schools. Despite significant progress in getting more girls and boys into school, the most pertinent question is whether children who are able to access schools are also acquiring the skills that will equip them to lead productive and meaningful lives. Although most developing countries have introduced national examinations and/or assessments to measure children’s progress in learning and some also participate in regional or international assessments, these assessments have not generated the same level of accountability for learning as there has been for enrolment.

Keeping this in mind, another model of assessment—which is led by citizens rather than governments in 9 countries, done in households rather than schools, and which measures whether or not children have mastered the fundamental building blocks for learning—is helping to fill existing gaps in accountability for learning outcomes.

In highlighting the severity of learning crisis in children’s foundational skills, citizen-led assessments such as Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) in Pakistan will help to ensure that the Post-2015 SDGs do not repeat the mistake of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and assume that access and completion of primary and lower secondary would lead to learning (Results for Development, 2015). As the data is collected at the household-level, they have made an important contribution to better measuring and understanding gaps in equitable learning that otherwise would go unnoticed and also have reached out to the most marginalized segments of the society. The empirical study conducted by using ASER data set and presented at the UKFIET Conference in September 2015 demonstrated the impact of wealth status of households on the learning levels of children and thus leading to growing inequalities.

Stark Differences in Enrollment and Learning

The ASER Pakistan (2012, 2013 and 2014) data set highlights the appalling access and gender disparities created in terms of enrollment and learning levels because of differences in wealth status. Talking in terms of access, a large proportion of households were not able to send their children to schools at all because of poverty. The results reveal that the richest quartile has the highest percentage of children enrolled (85%) whereas the poorest quartile has the lowest enrollment rate (59%). A strong correlation between wealth and enrollment is established as we move along the wealth index. Moreover, males and females belonging to the poorest quartile are particularly disadvantaged depicted by the lowest enrollment rates. The highest enrollment of males and females is again in the richest quartile (87% and 83% respectively). The most alarming trend is that of female’s enrollment which not only decreases across all quartiles but also is lower than the enrollment rate of male population.

The data further reveals that the poorest quartile has the highest level of children enrolled in government schools (77%), whereas the remaining 19% of the children are enrolled in private sector schools. On the other hand, the richest quartile has the highest number of children enrolled in private schools (53%) and the lowest percentage of children in government schools (46%). Wealth is thus found to be influencing the type of school chosen by households. Though a number of low fee private schools exist in the country, they are still more expensive than their public counterparts and thus are not affordable for all income quartiles.

Given the bleak picture portrayed by the disparities in enrollment according to types of schools, a similar image comes to light when the “learning levels” according to wealth status are taken into account.  The learning levels of children, belonging to the richest quartile, in all three subjects (Language, English and Arithmetic) are higher than children falling in the poorest quartile. Poorest have the lowest learning levels (19% Urdu/Sindhi/Pashto, 17% English, and 16% Math) as compared to the richest (44% Urdu/Sindhi/Pashto, 43% English, and 39% Math).  The households with better wealth status are able to spend significantly more on their children’s education improving their opportunities for better quality schooling as reflected by the enrollment and learning figures mentioned above.

The current education status of Pakistan as demonstrated by ASER 2014 clearly sheds light on how disparities created by differences in wealth status are jeopardizing the future of millions of children. If our objective is to educate all children, we need to challenge the existing differences and divisions in order to provide equal set of opportunities to all children of the society. Failure to address such structural disparities linked to wealth, gender, ethnicity, language, disability and other markers of disadvantage will hold back our progress towards SDG’s and fuelling wider processes of social exclusion.

The SDGs represent a critical opportunity to move our collective focus toward learning, which is the cornerstone of meaningful education.  It is thereby imperative to measure learning for children early in their schooling career through a meaningful, child-friendly, participatory approach, as depicted by the model of citizen led assessments.  There is a dire need to work on the use of metrics that go beyond standard income measures so that all countries converge not only in living standards but also in their global responsibilities to sustainable development.

Sehar Saeed, Program Head, ASER Pakistan. Email: sahar.sd@gmail.com


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NORRAG (Network for International Policies and Cooperation in Education and Training) is an internationally recognised, multi-stakeholder network which has been seeking to inform, challenge and influence international education and training policies and cooperation for almost 30 years. NORRAG has more than 4,300 registered members worldwide and is free to join. Not a member? Join free here.

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What does it mean in Curriculum Terms for Education to Prepare People for Work?

By Stephanie Allais and Yael Shalem, Centre for Researching Education and Labour, University of the Witwatersrand.

boardIt is widely believed that at all levels education should prepare individuals for work, and this belief seems to grow proportionately with rising levels of youth unemployment. And yet there is no consensus about what knowledge is required at work, or about the best ways of developing such knowledge, and the role of formal education in this regard.

If social justice is important, and where occupational qualifications (vocational or professional) are offered, there must be some basis for thinking that the curricula of such qualifications empower those enrolled for them. It seems self-evident that some curricula—the knowledge selected and sequenced in any programme of learning—seem better able than others at preparing for work—helping people to access work, doing well at work, doing work well, and doing work which does good.

But research within the field of curriculum does not offer simple solutions—there is no agreement about the extent to which it should be based on bodies of disciplinary knowledge or subjects, and, particularly where practical skills are involved, the best ways in which these should be taught. Within educational debates there is a strong position that education institutions can best prepare people for work (or indeed just for the ‘real world’) by mimicking the workplace as far as possible, by ensuring that education is focused on ‘real life’ situations and problems. This is somewhat ironic as it seems to undermine what could have been the value of education in the first place—presumably the reason education is specifically valued, and that there is increasing demand for education from people around the world, is that it offers something different than simply learning from experience.

One approach is to look at professional knowledge, because professions offer forms of decent employment; professionals do good work; they are reliable to a reasonable extent. They improve society (at least some of them). They are not based purely on narrow self-interest. The employment relationship is not a purely commodified one. There is an intrinsic sense of value and worth. But we then become trapped in a circular problem: something is only a profession to the extent that it has a strong knowledge base. It only has a strong knowledge base to the extent that it is a profession.

Further, there are many forms of work today which are knowledge-based in various ways, but which do not enjoy the autonomy, status, and high salaries traditionally enjoyed by the professions, perhaps partly due to lack of control over the knowledge-base of their work but also due to power relations in labour markets and workplaces. There are also many forms of work which are high status and which enjoy high forms of social rewards, and enable high degrees of autonomy, but which are not based on powerful bodies of knowledge.

Part of the reason for the lack of clarity is that we are looking in the wrong place: relationships between curriculum, qualifications, labour markets, and work, are complex, and more contingent than is often assumed. So what has worked well in the past may not work well in the present. Also, when one aspect of a system which has ostensibly good education/labour market relationships is transplanted from one context to another, it may fail because what appeared to be a key ingredient is in fact a secondary one.

The difficulty with this area of investigation is that in the process of thinking about occupational curricula and occupational knowledge, whether vocational or professional, we are likely to, and I think often do, fall into the trap of not knowing enough about the various different factors which influence the relationships between education and work, specifically in relation to the labour market and in relation to economic and social development. It is widely accepted that many occupational qualifications don’t help workers. And there is a general discourse of dissatisfaction about graduates, whether of vocational or professional qualifications, even where they do gain employment. This is at least in part a curriculum problem, but if we are going to design curricula which are able to contribute to solving it, we must be able to separate out the ways in which, and the extent to which, it is a curriculum problem.

A key conceptual question in this regard is: what needs to be theorized in order to examine relationships between education and work? I suggest that at a very broad-brush stroke level there are three key areas of theoretical debate, all of which are complex and contested in their own right:

  1. Knowledge and work (debates about the role of theoretical knowledge, powerful knowledge, professional knowledge, generic skills, learning at work and from experience, skills and competence)
  2. Education and development (debates about the political economy of skill formation systems, the role of skill formation systems in social and economic development and vice versa)
  3. Labour market (debates about divisions of labour within and between occupations, about how people access labour markets and how they are rewarded in labour markets).

None are static, and all affect each other. Attempting to investigate these relationships, and find meta-tools to bring the different areas together within coherent analyses, is the subject of a research project currently underway at the Centre for Researching Education and Labour, and a symposium taking place in February 2016 at the University of the Witwatersrand which will bring together political economists, labour theorists, and educationalists, to share ideas and research findings.


Stephanie Allais is a Senior Researcher at the Centre for Researching Education and Labour (REAL) at the University of the Witwatersrand. The research on which this piece draws was conducted with Carmel Marock and Siphelo Ngcwangu from the REAL Centre. Email: stephanie.matseleng@gmail.com  

Yael Shalem is an Associate Professor of Education at the Division of Curriculum in the Wits School of Education, University of the Witwatersrand. Currently she is co-leading a professional knowledge project, based at the REAL Centre at Wits. Email: yael.shalem@wits.ac.za

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