Calling All Partners: How to Diagnose and Treat Data Gaps that Threaten the Achievement of the Global Education Goals

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


The gaps in education data have become a recurring theme in this blog. Indeed, most observers would agree that if data on education were a human body, it would be a sick patient at the moment. We see the gaps in the data each day, and the struggles of statisticians as they try valiantly to plug those gaps. And this is the reality: we lack the basic data of sufficient quality to track global – or in many cases, national – progress towards the educational goals.

As a recent post reported, countries around the world are only able to gather about half the data needed to monitor progress towards Sustainable Development Goal 4 on education. The first edition of the Sustainable Development Data Digest, produced by the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) cited the UIS assessment of data availability, which found that most countries have education data that can be disaggregated by sex, age and location. Few, however, have any data disaggregated by wealth or disability status.

We think we can all agree on the urgent need to come up with better data and better coverage to track and monitor education goals – a need that has been intensified by the SDG 4 agenda. This agenda does not demand indicators that are necessarily more ‘difficult’ in some fundamental way. For every indicator or measurement issue, there is a model instrument or measurement tool that has been tried in the past and that could be adapted or scaled up. But the new agenda means that the task ahead is much bigger, given the demand for more nuanced data to track progress on the SDGs.

There is, however, some disagreement on possible solutions. One idea that is being hotly debated is the creation of a new data body of some kind. But before we try to set up a brand new institution (just 14 years from the 2030 deadline for the SDGs), we need to be clear about the ultimate goal here. It is not, we maintain, to plug every hole in the data, or to come up with new indicators that would be “good to know” but are not truly necessary for the SDGs. Statistics are important tools that must be as accurate as possible. But they are just tools to achieve the new global education agenda.

We must take care that we do not duplicate initiatives to address these issues or increase the transactional costs (the costs of producing data) for countries that are already struggling to keep up with the demand for statistics. While there is clearly a pressing need for global methodologies and metrics, their absence is only a symptom of the over-arching data problem. It is not the root cause. The cause in many, many countries is the lack of well-developed statistical systems to track and monitor their own educational progress. Some countries lack the political leadership and commitment to sustain such efforts; some lack the funding for statistical activities, resulting in limited technical skills and human capital and data that are too sparse. Some countries lack both leadership and funding.

In our view, the top priority is to tackle the root causes of poor data. Three responses need to be in place: funding; strengthening the institutional setting; and defining the core statistics that need to be delivered. On this last response, we need to clarify the basic data that are urgent and relatively easily available, those that are urgent but that need more innovative data gathering approaches, and those that are simply less urgent.

The immediate task is to significantly improve the quality of the basic data – i.e. the 11 global monitoring indicators that cover the main issues such as school enrolment and completion – without ignoring the larger set of thematic indicators.

The task is already underway. Three complementary initiatives, the Global Alliance to Monitor Learning (GAML); the Assessment for Learning (A4L) initiative; and the Commission on Financing of Global Education (chaired by Gordon Brown, the UN Special Envoy for Global Education) are calling for work to establish the standards and methodologies needed to produce good data and the raise the financial resources that are needed for the task ahead. With enough resources, the UIS and its partners can also train national statisticians to use these tools to produce and use basic data while creating demand for data within their countries.

The GAML brings together national education authorities, assessment agencies, citizen-led initiatives, the education community and donors. Its first job is to develop an internationally-comparable measure of reading and mathematics to monitor learning outcomes. A4L will be a vital source of support. This international platform supports national learning assessment systems that improve assessment at national and global levels and will channel assistance to developing countries through sustainable capacity-building at the system level. Together, these three initiatives are articulating the different functions and interactions that are needed across the global education community to help countries produce data that have real impact.

The UIS has the greatest depth of experience in working with countries to produce internationally comparable data and is well-equipped to support the global approach that is already in motion. As shown by its work on learning outcomes, it works with countries to build global consensus while addressing their specific needs and contexts.

There are, indeed, many questions about how to help countries strengthen their own statistical system; how to coordinate the work of the many institutions that gather and analyse data; how to provide better guidelines and adapt existing guidelines to current needs; and how to initiate a discussion about national plans to improve educational statistics.  These are the very questions that we are trying to answer right now, informed by our close work with countries, as we work in partnership to pursue the education goals for 2030.

The key initiatives mentioned above are calling for some things that are similar, and some that are different. For these initiatives to create maximum synergy and avoid confusion amongst partner development agencies and governments, it may be wise to analyse the specific content of the initiatives and to compare and contrast the various ideas being put forth. In a forthcoming blog, we will present a brief analysis, in matrix form, of where there are synergies, and where there might be duplications (or different ways of doing similar things). Enhanced dialogue will be needed to bring together the best of the initiatives and thus generate a clear agenda for action.

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

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

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NORRAG (Network for International Policies and Cooperation in Education and Training) is an internationally recognised, multi-stakeholder network which has been seeking to inform, challenge and influence international education and training policies and cooperation for almost 30 years. NORRAG has more than 4,500 registered members worldwide and is free to join. Not a member? Join free here.

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Making the “Learning Generation” a Reality: Let’s Act on the Education Commission Report

By Baela Raza Jamil, Commissioner for the International Commission on Financing Global Education Opportunity (The Education Commission)


Gulalai Ahmadzai, just short of her 10th birthday and travelling a long distance in a convoy from South Waziristan near the Afghan border to Gadap near the Arabian Sea in the city of Karachi, looks bewildered. Her family migrated in haste travelling from north to south Pakistan, fleeing protracted violence borne out of the ‘war against terror’. In Gadap, the language is different as are the customs. Filled with worries and anxieties, Gulalai is wondering what the future holds. Will she be able to resume her studies? Will she be relegated as a refugee and, in turn, excluded from school and join the ranks of some 61 million out-of-school children worldwide? Or will child marriage await her?

In fact, Gulalai is one of the lucky ones as a new government school is under construction nearby her new home. Here she can enroll at a school that will provide 12 years of education. But will there be a teacher who can speak to her in her mother tongue? She wonders about her communication challenges not knowing Urdu or Sindhi; her forehead breaks into anxious lines only to be quickly replaced by a smile as she realizes her learning will go uninterrupted.

About 400 kilometers away, in Northern Sindh, lives Shama. She is 12 years old and a 6th grade drop-out. Due to the lack of an all-girls school in her area, she was forced stay at home performing household chores and spending her rare spare time making intricate embroideries and ‘rilli’ (patchwork) spreads. However, thanks to local community activists, she, along with her mother has been attending a course organized through a partnership between INTEL, USAID, and Education and Literacy Department of Sindh that offers 30 hours of free ICTs training to in-school children and out-of-school adolescents and adults, especially girls and women. This program will reach 9,000 beneficiaries. Unbelievably, the mother-daughter duo can access the internet, create an email, search designs for their embroideries and Shama has also completed a PowerPoint presentation!

Innovations like these turn despair into hope and exclusion into inclusion for girls like Gulalai and Shama. In a province that has some of the most challenging enrollment indicators with the out-of-school gender gap stagnant at 52% among 6-16 year old girls compared to 48% for boys (ASER 2015), Sindh is making strides in mainstream innovations of high quality infrastructure ICT training. However, learning challenges persist as 45% of grade 5 children know only grade 2 level reading in Sindhi/Urdu, 24% know English with some comprehension and 35% can cope with two digit division. For Shama in rural Sindh, she is 6-7% behind her male counterparts in learning scores. Gender exclusions and wealth inequality further exacerbate these gaps.

As a Commissioner on the International Commission on Financing Global Education Opportunity, I have been deeply engaged in developing an agenda for action to identify credible pathways for ways to achieve the fourth Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) agreed by UN Member States. Indeed, this goal powerfully states that by 2030 the world must “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”.

Seeing as the way young people today learn and communicate has changed drastically over the last 15 years, the education systems must adapt and use technological advancements to its advantage. Government, civil society and the private sector need to invest in research and development to foster innovation across education systems, identify the opportunities offered by technology and understand how children learn, so that we can help them develop relevant skills required for succeeding in the world of 2050 and beyond. The Education Commission believes solutions for learning and access with equity can be achieved within a generation through innovations combining technology, workforce and partnerships as well as through inclusive approaches and robust financing.

Whilst Gulalai is helping close the gender/enrolment gap of merely 6% out of school children in urban Karachi (Malir), Shama is demonstrating that the right to education for 5-16 year olds can be managed by leapfrogging learning assisted by technologies. Since both are public sector initiatives, these can be scaled up province-wide if there is political will. By investing to bring educational opportunity in line with the top 25% of fastest improving countries, the Commission makes clear that this capital will yield considerable long-term dividends as every school – at least middle and high school/colleges – can be the source of a “Learning Generation.”

It is reassuring to see that the annual development budget for education for 2016-17 in Sindh is focused on SDG4 placing Early Childhood Education (ECE), Primary, Middle/ Secondary, Colleges, Higher Education, Special Education and TVET (Technical and Vocational Education and Training) together. It augurs hope for collaborative planning across sub-sectors and departments. In Sindh, as elsewhere, the department of school/education covers ECE up to grade XII with separate departments for Higher Education, Special Education, TVET and sometimes non-formal/literacy too. We need more space for planning jointly and seamlessly for lifelong learning as a core aspiration of SDG4. The chronically underspent recurrent education budgets earmarked for quality, school based, improvement grants, innovations and infrastructure must be reversed, just as the low domestic financing for education in Pakistan must end.

Why can’t millions of children, such as Gulalai, Shama and her mother, also take advantage of schools offering seamless transitions from ECE to secondary and beyond; or use the schools as community learning centers for 21st century skills? The answer is not a mystery. In Vietnam priority for quality education with outcomes demanded that educational spending increased from 7% of the national budget in 1986 to 20% in 2008 – or 5.3 % of GDP! Perhaps, the tipping point in Vietnam was when both parents and the state stood on the same platform, firm believers in the mantra of education and learning from early childhood to the tertiary level. In Pakistan, where provinces are completely devolved, lessons from Vietnam could be emulated.  We can achieve a ‘Learning Generation’ by boldly embracing innovative financing to meet high learning and system outcomes.

The upcoming fiscal year is a promising one for the Sindh Government. With RS. 2 billion (approx. US$200 million) allocated to public-private partnerships and innovative initiatives, and an unprecedented RS. 200 million (approx. US$20 million) for ECE, Sindh for the first time, is showing its commitment to improvements in education. But will this get spent; will there be cross-sectoral initiatives – for example health-related, to bring down the chronic malnutrition and stunting of almost 50% for the little ones? The time to start this conversation is now. As the Education Commission reports just ahead of the opening of the UN General Assembly on 18th September 2016, and the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon receives our agenda for action, we will need individual countries to act on our blueprint for a world at school and to become pioneers for making the “Learning Generation” a reality.

Baela Raza Jamil (adviser trustee Idara-e-Taleem-o-Aagahi /ITA, Pakistan) serves as a Commissioner for the International Commission on Financing Global Education Opportunity (The Education Commission). The Education Commission is engaging world leaders, policymakers, and researchers to develop a renewed and compelling investment case and financing pathway for achieving equal educational opportunity for children and young people. Baela Raza Jamil can be reached at email:


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NORRAG (Network for International Policies and Cooperation in Education and Training) is an internationally recognised, multi-stakeholder network which has been seeking to inform, challenge and influence international education and training policies and cooperation for almost 30 years. NORRAG has more than 4,500 registered members worldwide and is free to join. Not a member? Join free here.

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Digitisation and the School

By Mike Douse, Freelance International Educational Consultant.

tabletsOver four decades ago, as Foundation Director of Australia’s Disadvantaged Schools Program, along with my colleagues I pondered on how the leading (‘Great Public’ i.e. private) schools could assist those serving the nation’s most underprivileged communities. Some years later, assessing the UK’s Assisted Schools Programme (now archived), we wondered how well-funded private colleges could sustain and mentor the most poorly-maintained state schools. And over many more recent years, working with development partners supporting education in some of the world’s poorest and most fragile communities, we considered how successful schools in developed countries could somehow link up with those serving the poorest of the poor, inter-continentally and beyond all borders.

Such well-intentioned conjectures are no longer relevant. Linkages and partnerships are as outdated as spirit duplicators and fax machines. Contemporary technology makes feasible – nay essential – an entirely fresh and utterly integrated approach. With digitisation, it is no longer a matter of this well-endowed school assisting this struggling school: unification has overtaken bestowment, all schools everywhere have become The School.

For digitisation is not just central to the debate on effective and equitable education worldwide: it is the debate. Considerations of Sustainable Development Goals, universalisation, student assessment, vocational skills development, education and training governance along with personal fulfilment and enjoyment make sense only in the context of digitisation. And this crucial recognition depends upon an appreciation of The School.

The School is the rural school for hungry children in disadvantaged areas of Haiti, Burundi and Nepal. It is the fee-paying college serving the sons and daughters of prosperous parents in a leafy suburb of any European capital or resort. It is the academy for teenage would-be computer engineers and specialist doctors in Johannesburg, Beijing and New York. It is the mixed-age class run in tents by volunteers for up-to-sixth-generation juveniles in refugee camps from Aqabat Jaber on the West Bank through Nauru by way of Lesbos on to Dadaab and Darfur. It is Moriah College in Sydney and Dawakin Tofa Science Secondary School in Kano State and Kings School in Cardiff and the reformatory for young offenders in Abu Dhabi and the second-chance street school for dropouts in Dhaka or for rascals in Port Moresby.

It is the school around the corner, continually reappearing in unprecedented configurations – it is all forms of educational institutions, everywhere. It is not the ‘school of the future’. It is the ‘whole school approach’ made manifest for the digital age – for the present continuous ‘now’. Its essential components include:

  • Learners: active, engaged, for life, committed to personal development, information and digitally literate, mobile, collaborating, sharing their learning globally;
  • Connectivity: rapid, reliable, uninterrupted and affordable (free) access;
  • Teachers: well-prepared (academically and digitally) and well-led professional educators, delivering, facilitating and assessing digitally-supported learning, and guiding, supporting and counselling the learners, sharing their teaching materials globally;
  • Devices: appropriate mobile appliances for every learner [unspecifiable this morning, as there will be rapid changes in handling, versatility, on-line support methodologies and cost minimisation];
  • Software: attractive, contemporary and proven learning modules (with teachers’ guides) at all levels in all subjects in every relevant language plus background materials, further reading, self- and teacher-administered-tests [but similarly unspecifiable here, as there will be a massive surge in the availability and ineffable variety in the nature of such materials];
  • Inclusion: all learners, full- and part-time, on-campus and distant, irrespective of age, gender, beliefs, abilities or disabilities, are welcomed and individually catered for; and
  • System: geared to optimising learning through, for example, exemplary school leadership, continuous professional development of teachers, participation of family and community, accreditation of curricula and qualifications, extra-curricular activities (sport, drama, debating, service organisations…), careers guidance and progress to higher, further and lifelong education.

The challenge is not to improve education in and for this Digital Age – the necessity is to reinvent it for our times. While there is some value in applying ICT as a cross-sectoral enabler (e.g. as one of many components in an educational intervention) or as a tool within an organisation for better service delivery and outcomes (e.g. as an EMIS or in efficient textbook production and delivery), the absolute priority is for all learners worldwide to participate in The School.

Mike has been continuously involved in international educational development since 1963.

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NORRAG (Network for International Policies and Cooperation in Education and Training) is an internationally recognised, multi-stakeholder network which has been seeking to inform, challenge and influence international education and training policies and cooperation for almost 30 years. NORRAG has more than 4,500 registered members worldwide and is free to join. Not a member? Join free here.

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The Privatisation of Education: a Global Phenomenon with Multiple Faces

By Antoni Verger, Clara Fontdevila and Adrián Zancajo, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona.

wbEducation privatisation has become an important topic in the global education agenda, particularly in the context of Southern countries, where this phenomenon is increasing rapidly. Among the most emblematic policies promoting the involvement of the private sector are charter schools, voucher schemes, the contracting out of private schools, or the promotion of low fee private schools. These policy solutions advance under different rationales. They are usually presented as a way to expand access to education efficiently, but also as a way to increase the quality of the education system, foster innovation and/or promote education diversification. However a broad range of scholars, civil society groups, teachers’ unions and international organizations are expressing their concern about the possible negative effects on the right to education and inequalities of these kind of policies. In spite of this debate between advocates and critics, the fact is that the enrolment in private schools has experienced a significant and constant growth in the last years, particularly in low and middle-income countries (see figure below).

blog image (Verger)

Although there is a common trend towards more involvement of private actors in education worldwide, education privatisation is not a monolithic process. The analysis of the processes of education privatization worldwide shows how national and sub-national governments are engaging with these policies for very different political, economic and/or social reasons, and in very different circumstances. Specifically, following a systematic literature review on the political economy of education privatisation (involving the review and synthesis of 227 studies), which we have published recently with Teachers College Press, we have identified that there are at least six different paths toward education privatisation. These different patterns (or clusters of frequently associated actors, mechanisms, and economic, political and social circumstances) clearly reflect such diversity of processes, and are illustrated with their most paradigmatic cases:

  • Reshaping the role of the state in education (UK[i] and Chile).Drastic privatization process as part of a structural state reform adopted by neoliberal governments in the 1980s and consolidated by New Labor administrations resulting in a quasi-market system where the role of the state focuses on the regulation and distribution of incentives.
  • Education privatization in socio-democratic welfare states (Sweden, Denmark, Norway). Introduction of a wide range of market reforms (from ambitious voucher systems to mild school choice programs), framed as part of a necessary modernization of the welfare state, and with the proactive collaboration of social-democratic forces usually less inclined to promote competition as an end in itself but willing to respond to middle-class demand for diversification.
  • Scaling-up privatization (US, Colombia).Uneven but progressive alteration of the system through the authorization and encouragement of new forms of provision and management such as charter schools, under the principle of school choice and with the key contribution of non-state actors (think tanks, grassroots movements) forming loose advocacy coalitions.
  • De facto privatization in low-income countries (Ghana, India, Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria, Pakistan and Peru). Expansion of low-fee private schools originally set up by local edu-preneurs responding to a growing education demand, but increasingly promoted by the international development community and supported by national governments as part of public-private-partnership (PPP) schemes.
  • Historical PPPs (The Netherlands, Belgium and Spain). Countries with a longstanding presence of private, faith-based schools have incorporated these schools in the state network during the expansion of the education system in the 20th century as a means to achieve a state-church compromise rather than on ideological (neoliberal) grounds. As a result of this historical process, the presence of private subsidized schools, mainly managed by faith-based institutions, is high in primary and secondary education.
  • Privatization by way of catastrophes (New Orleans, El Salvador, Haiti and Iraq). Rapid advancement of education privatization catalyzed by natural disasters or violent conflicts, skillfully conceived and framed by privatization advocates as an opportunity to reconstruct the system and in a context where the sense of urgency justifies the temporary suspension of the democratic deliberative process and a reduction of veto opportunities.

Overall, education privatization is a global phenomenon affecting countries regardless of their income level, but is far from translating into a homogeneous set of policy outcomes and processes. The different paths described above show how education privatization is adopted for different reasons and crystallizes in very different policy arrangements depending on political, economic and social factors. Existing literature on the topic shows how material factors (such as economic crisis, budgetary restrictions, or humanitarian crisis) but also factors of an ideational nature (such as the legitimacy crisis of the welfare state, the hegemony of the neoliberal paradigm in the political sphere, or the “public education in crisis” frame) have an important role in promoting privatization policies and as a drivers of their political adoption. In addition, privatisation processes appear to be the result of a complex interplay of global and local forces. While changes at a global scale (including economic recessions or the spread of the neoliberal doctrine) have a crucial impact in the advance of education privatisation, factors of a more domestic or situated nature are also importantly at play. Elements such as the welfare-state tradition or the ideology of the government in power inevitably condition the scope and nature of the privatisation processes embraced by different countries.

Challenging education privatization as a global project

Nowadays, education privatization represents one of the most important challenges for national education systems, and has major implications for the governance, organisation and access to education worldwide. The expansion of market-oriented policies, together with recent changes in contemporary social structures, favour the expansion of consumerist values in education, and the increasing conception of education as a form of social distinction. Ultimately, the commodification of education contributes to increasing the tension between the individual and the social goals of education (with the latter including the acquisition of a common culture and the promotion of social cohesion), and promotes the segmentation and hierarchization of education systems.

Currently, a broader range of political forces and social groups – that go beyond the traditional conservative parties and the middle and upper classes – accept and promote private sector participation in education. This “private education consent” is actively and effectively manufactured by influential international actors and advocacy coalitions. The hegemonic dimension that education privatization is acquiring explains, to some extent, the expansion of private education globally. Furthermore, despite privatisation reforms rarely going unchallenged, responses against privatization reforms have met with uneven success so far. Understanding how and why education privatization happens is a first and necessary step to organize better-articulated and more meaningful responses to this global trend.

[i] Although we use the denomination United Kingdom, the literature analyzed mainly focuses on the cases of England and Wales.

Antoni Verger is senior researcher at the Department of Sociology of the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona. His main areas of expertise are global governance and education reform. Email:

Clara Fontdevila is a PhD candidate at the Department of Sociology of Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona. Her research focuses on private-sector engagement in education and the global governance of education. Email:

Adrián Zancajo is a PhD candidate in sociology at Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona. His main areas of research are education privatization policies and educational inequalities. Email:

Further Reading:

privedVerger, A., Fontdevila, C. and Zancajo, A. (2016) The Privatization of Education: A Political Economy of Global Education Reform. International Perspectives on Educational Reform. Teachers College Press.




Related blogs on NORRAG NEWSBite:

˃˃ Blogs about low-fee private schools and non-state actors in education

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NORRAG (Network for International Policies and Cooperation in Education and Training) is an internationally recognised, multi-stakeholder network which has been seeking to inform, challenge and influence international education and training policies and cooperation for almost 30 years. NORRAG has more than 4,500 registered members worldwide and is free to join. Not a member? Join free here.

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The Governance of Education and Training: Agenda 2030 and Beyond

By Radu Bârză (NORRAG), Laetitia Houlmann (consultant), Velibor Jakovleski (NORRAG).

governanceblogUnderstanding the shifting nature of governance in education and training (GET) is crucial when considering the implementation of the Education 2030 agenda. A public conference organised by NORRAG, in collaboration with the Education Network of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) examined this topic (see below for details).

As NORRAG’s Managing Director, Joost Monks, emphasized, discussions were centred on:

a vertical dimension of governance of new and emerging actors and trends operating at different levels of governance; and a horizontal dimension looking at education and training from a transversal dimension running across the sustainable development agenda.

The vertical and horizontal dimensions are useful frames to ensure that we don’t just focus on one particular actor or issue when discussing education and training, but rather the complex interactions among different actors and issues. It also helps us clarify the sometimes cumbersome concept of “governance”.

According to UNESCO, education governance can be defined as “the processes, policies and institutional arrangements that connect the many actors in education.” This definition alludes to interactions among diverse and interdependent actors, operating in local and global spaces and working according to some common standards or norms.

Importantly, governance does not imply a unitary system; there can be overlap or conflict among different actors and systems of governance. By considering the diversity of actors across different spaces and levels of governance (vertical), and at the connections across diverse issues (horizontal), this event aimed to highlight some of those interactions.

Many participants would agree to an ideal case scenario, that education is a global public/common good. If we take that as a starting point, particularly in light of Agenda 2030, it would imply a global system of GET. However, the fundamental responsibility of implementation continues to lie with governments and their differentiated responsibilities.

As a result, the importance of the state’s areas and means of intervention cannot be ignored when trying to address pressing education concerns, as Chantal Nicod, SDC’s Head of West Africa Division and Education theme asserted:

“Unlike other global issues, such as climate change, when we talk about education the solutions are seen primarily at the national level.”

In short, we cannot talk about GET without highlighting the importance of states, what might be called national GET. During the event, participants from China also underlined the important role played by relatively centralised decision-making and implementation systems at the national level.

Several international organisations present at the event have also worked on education and training global/regional policies, norms and standards setting, whether directly (like the ILO), or indirectly (like the UNRISD by working on social development). We might call what they do – and have been doing for decades – international GET, because it traditionally entails the governance of education and training among states in international forums.

The event also addressed the growing number of non-state actors – such as civil society organisations, the private sector and foundations – that can influence education and training policies and practices at the local, national, regional, transnational and global levels. For example, there is a growing market for education globally, as illustrated by the rise of “edu-business” and its associated problems: when education – traditionally regarded as a public good provided at the state level – becomes partly a private good globally with actors increasingly influencing the standard setting in the field. We might refer to this as non-state GET.

However, by looking at the governance of education and training across these layers – in terms of national GET, international GET, non-state GET – we can miss out on the complex relationships among them. One example of a “hybrid” governance arrangement is the new type of partnership forged among state-funded foundations in the Gulf, the private sector and UN agencies, giving a sense of legitimacy to governments in the region.

With many actors in the GET field – each with different motivations, interests and power to affect outcomes – we increasingly have a blurring of the GET landscape. The variable and complex interactions across the above-mentioned systems of governance, encompassing all the actors that have a role to play in the shaping of education and training policies and practices, entails the global governance of education and training (GGET).

In theory, GGET transcends geographic boundaries given the diversity of actors and interests operating globally. In practice, anchoring the GGET debates in a particular location could be an opportunity to build a community of interest, and to drive continuous and targeted discussions around it.

Geneva, with a strong global presence in areas of conflict, emergencies, nation building, health, and an increasing role in the CVE/PVE (Countering/Preventing Violent Extremism) discussions, could be the place to start stitching together different issues , and to further promote the transversal nature of education and training emphasised in Agenda 2030.

The Geneva Conference Series on the Global Governance of Education and Training aims precisely at unpacking some of the challenges raised in this blog, while at the same time connecting a broad range of actors. It will especially look at the interactions between the specifics of GET with the overarching nature of GGET. The first sub-theme explored as part of this Conference Series was learning assessments and their impact on quality education.[1] NORRAG will capitalise on its expertise on the subject and its added-value as a convenor and knowledge broker to explore further aspects of GGET over the coming months. Upcoming activities and related knowledge products will be announced soon on NORRAG’s website.

[1] Entitled “Learning from Learning Assessments: The Politics and Policies of Attaining Quality Education”, this one-day event was organised jointly with the Center for Universal Education at Brookings, in association with PASEC, on 23rd June.

Picture blog_22 June_LH, VJ, RBThis blog is based on takeaways and reflections from the public conference on the theme of “The Governance of Education and Training: Agenda 2030 and Beyond”, organised by NORRAG, in collaboration with the Education Network of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) on 22nd June 2016 at Maison de la Paix in Geneva, Switzerland. This event inaugurated NORRAG’s new Geneva Conference Series on the Global Governance of Education and Training.

The meeting brought together over 70 participants from international organisations (such as the ILO, UNICEF, UNRISD, GEM Report – UNESCO, UNDP), international NGOs, the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, academia, think tanks, foundations and education providers, as well as NORRAG’s partners and national government officials from the global South. A report of the meeting will be available towards the end of September; please follow this blog by email, Facebook or via Twitter @NORRAG_NEWS to be alerted when it’s online.

Radu Bârză is a Master Student in International Economics at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva. He also works as a trainee for NORRAG. Email:

Laetitia Houlmann is working as a consultant in international education and training, in particular in the field of development cooperation. She is currently in charge of the backstopping of the SDC Education Network. She worked as a Communication Officer at NORRAG between 2012 and 2015. Email:

Velibor Jakovleski is a Programme Officer for the Programme for the Study of International Governance at the Graduate Institute in Geneva, Switzerland. He is also a Research & Project Officer for NORRAG. Email:

Related NORRAG NEWSBite Blogs:

˃˃ China and the Global Governance of Education and Training – By Xiulan Wan, Zhejiang Normal University, Jinhua, China (8th August, 2016)

˃˃ The Governance of Education and Training Agenda 2030 and Beyond: Perspectives from Sub-Saharan Africa – By Peliwe Lolwana, University of Witwatersrand, South Africa.

Related NORRAG Working Paper:

˃˃ Post-2015 and the Global Governance of Education and Training – By Kenneth King and Robert Palmer (December 2014)

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NORRAG (Network for International Policies and Cooperation in Education and Training) is an internationally recognised, multi-stakeholder network which has been seeking to inform, challenge and influence international education and training policies and cooperation for almost 30 years. NORRAG has more than 4,500 registered members worldwide and is free to join. Not a member? Join free here.


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The Roles and Responsibilities of Non-State Actors: The Case of Education and Training

By Ezgi Yildiz, Graduate Institute, Geneva, and NORRAG Intern.

 privschoolAs the separation between ‘public’ and ‘private’ is increasingly getting blurred, the state-centric international system has been grappling with accommodating the rise of private authority in all aspects of international politics and law. The presence of non-state actors is very much felt at the domestic level as well. It is now common place for non-state actors to deliver public goods and services which we used to receive mainly from governments, such as security, policing, health and education (see Cockayne, 2014; Warner et al., 2012).

Over the course of the last century, non-state actors have proliferated and assumed state-like functions (Weiss et al., 2013). A legitimate question to ask is whether they also hold state-like obligations towards right-holders, which are classically defined as duties to respect, protect and fulfil human rights. Although some academics (e.g. James, 2003) have argued that issuing obligations for non-state actors might spur political setbacks and legal uncertainty, which might encourage states to renege on their own responsibilities, the dominant voices in academic and policy circles think it is an idea whose time has come (Clapham, 2006; Sossoli, 2010). Non-state actors’ state-like functions should incur some obligations, which could be instrumental for regulating them better and holding them accountable in cases of misconduct towards right holders. This is precisely the reason why laying down obligations on non-state actors is particularly key for preventing holes in the legal protection system.

The field of education and training is one important area, in which various forms of non-state actors assume important tasks (e.g. see Patrinos et al., 2009). In this regard, one can observe at least three distinct constellations of actors, namely: (i) private companies and organizations offering professional education services for profit; (ii) profit or non-profit private schools offering basic or higher education and training services; and, (iii) armed groups that provide basic education services in territories under their control. This is admittedly a heterogeneous group of actors that have different operational principles and raisons d’être. However, they are all expected to play a crucial role in the facilitation of right to education, as a fundamental human right. This role at maximum requires them to provide education services and ensure the accessibility and quality of the services they provide when replacing traditional state functions (duty to protect and fulfil the right to education) and at minimum–which is mostly in the case of armed groups–to allow the continuation of education services in line with the principle of non-discrimination (duty to respect the right to education). Therefore understanding non-state actors’ (expected) roles and responsibilities is inextricably entangled in the quest for ensuring quality education and training services.

Reflecting upon their role and duties is also particularly important against the backdrop of ever increasing public-private partnerships in the field of education and training. This is one of the areas in which the dividing line between public and private sectors is even more blurred. Although states are recognized as having the primary obligation to ensure the realisation of the right to education, these partnerships often work on the basis of the principle of ‘shared but differentiated’ responsibility towards right holders. The linkage between the functions taken up by state and non-state actors requires us to reflect upon their obligations in tandem. This dimension has been brought up in the context of the debates and programs led by UNESCO and ILO on Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET), which serves as an interesting example to understand how state and non-state actors assume complementary functions as a part of tripartite governance structures. This is an important starting point to ponder the role of non-state actors as duty bearers and their obligations towards right holders.

That is why it would be useful to explore further non-state actors’ functions and obligations with a view to better understanding how stipulating obligations to them would allow scrutiny over their governance and operations (i.e. the curricula, accessibility, the method of delivery of education and the certification) and their misconduct (i.e. their failure to provide quality education, to ensure equal access to education or attempt to obstruct the delivery of education –which applies especially to armed groups). An essential part of this exercise involves bringing the right to education back into the debate, and underlining the existence of shared/overlapping obligations of non-state actors and states, namely “the concept of multiple duty bearers” (Anki Sjöberg, 2007). Questions that call for further attention are as follows: how can we mainstream the idea of shared/overlapping obligations and a right to education focused approach in policy circles? What is our shared responsibility in planting this idea that has a potential to blossom into governance solutions?

Ezgi Yildiz is a Turkish post-doctoral researcher at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva, and was an intern at NORRAG in Spring 2016. Email:

Offline References

Cockayne, J (2014) Private Military and Security Companies. In: Andrew Clapham and Paola Gaeta (eds) The Oxford Handbook of International Law in Armed Conflict. New York: Oxford University Press.

Anki Sjöberg (2007) Volume III: Towards a Holistic Approach to Armed Non-State Actors? Geneva: Geneva Call and PSIO (Program for the Study of International Organizations)

James, S (2003) “Rights as Enforceable Claims,” Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 103.

Warner, E, Somer, J and Bongard, P (2012) “Armed Non-State Actors and Humanitarian Norms” in Benjamin Perrin (ed) Modern Warfare: Armed Groups, Private Militaries, Humanitarian Organizations, and the Law. Vancouver: UBC Press.

Weiss, T.G. et al. (2013) The Rise of Non-State Actors in Global Governance: Opportunities and Limitations. Broomfield, Colorado: One Earth Future.

Clapham, A (2006) “Human Rights Obligations of Non-State Actors in Conflict Situations.” International Review of the Red Cross 88(863).

Marco Sassoli M. (2010) “Involving Organized Armed Groups in the Development of the Law?” in Marco Odello and Gian Luca Beruto (eds) Non-State Actors and International Humanitarian Law- Organized Armed Groups: A Challenge for the 21st Century, 32nd Round Table on Current Issues of International Humanitarian Law Sanremo, 11-13 September 2009. Milano: FrancoAngeli.

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NORRAG (Network for International Policies and Cooperation in Education and Training) is an internationally recognised, multi-stakeholder network which has been seeking to inform, challenge and influence international education and training policies and cooperation for almost 30 years. NORRAG has more than 4,500 registered members worldwide and is free to join. Not a member? Join free here.

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UNESCO Institute for Statistics Charts a Course to Monitor the Education 2030 Agenda

By Silvia Montoya, Director of the UNESCO Institute for Statistics and Dankert Vedeler, Co-Chair of SDG Education 2030 Steering Committee.

Digest-coverCan the pursuit of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) really change the world for the better in just 15 years? One thing’s for sure: we’ll never know without good data. SDG 4 – Education 2030 – is so ambitious that we will need more and better data to monitor progress, identify bottlenecks and, above all, sharpen policies and ensure that every dollar invested in education makes a tangible difference in people’s lives.

As things stand, the world as a whole gathers only about half of the data needed to monitor progress towards the global education targets. Data availability falls even further in terms of disaggregated data which are needed to monitor and ensure that everyone – no matter what conditions they face – counts in the efforts to achieve each target.

We also need different types of information, especially in the area of learning outcomes. There are a growing number of national assessments globally, as shown in our Learning Assessment Capacity Index. Yet to make the most of these different initiatives, we must work together and lay the foundations to produce reliable and internationally-comparable data through the Global Alliance to Monitor Learning.

Overall, countries need practical skills on how to gather and use new sources of information, methodologies and data to monitor progress towards their education priorities and the global targets. This will require a tremendous effort, but a new UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) Digest, entitled Laying the Foundation to Measure Sustainable Development Goal 4, makes the case that it will be worth it, by showing the way forward for key SDG education targets.

Equity issues, a key priority of the SDGs, will come to the forefront through the use of parity indices. The parity index simply divides the indicator value for one group (e.g. girls) by the value for a comparison group (e.g. boys), with values between 0.97 and 1.03 generally representing parity, and any other value showing a disparity between the two groups. But are countries ready to produce the disaggregated data needed for parity indices?

As reported in the Digest, the UIS recently undertook a regional assessment of data availability in a survey conducted among Member States. According to the results, most countries can report SDG indicators that can be disaggregated by basic individual characteristics, such as sex, age and location.

Only a few countries, however, have available data disaggregated by wealth or disability status. According to the UIS, 85% of the available data for the global indicators can be disaggregated by sex, and 74% and 63% by location and age, respectively. But only 14% can be disaggregated by wealth and only 19% by disability status.

While highlighting these data gaps, the Digest also shows how they can be addressed and used for maximum benefit. For example, by creating parity indices by level of education, we can see how inequities play out across education levels – a major finding that you would never see in a single ‘snapshot’ of a single level of schooling.

 This is the key message of the Digest and the vision underlying every effort of the UIS: it is not enough to just produce data – we need statistical information that countries, donors and civil society groups can use to bring about change. There is no denying the complexity of producing internationally-comparable indicators, especially when trying to measure challenging areas such as learning and equity. This is why the UIS works closely with countries and a wide range of partners to develop the methodologies, standards and tools to produce the indicators. But SDG 4 demands that we go a step further – and use the data to tap into the transformative power of education.

With this goal in mind, the UIS has released a new indicator, for example, on school readiness making use of historical data that goes back to 2000. In our eAtlas for Education 2030, we see that more children are benefiting from exposure to formal learning one year before they are at the intended age to start primary education. But as shown in the map below, there is much more to be done, with vast numbers of children still not benefiting from being prepared for school. This, in turn, is a signal for greater investment in this crucial early stage of a child’s life-long learning.












Source: UNESCO eAtlas for Education 2030, 2016.

 What next?

 It should be no surprise that many countries face serious challenges in improving education data, especially given the vast ambitions enshrined in the new SDG agenda. In the field of learning, we need to tackle data gaps and dilemmas by creating a global framework for reference, which would align and harmonize common content. We need to tackle uneven quality in data processes through quality assessment, such as codes of practice with guidelines for improvement. And we need to tackle the sheer lack of data and its inadequate use by gathering far more data that can be used to improve teaching and learning.

But as highlighted in the Digest, these are technical issues with political significance. This is why the UIS is coordinating global efforts based on a key set of principles to:

  • Support and balance multiple viewpoints while identifying globally-relevant areas of learning;
  • Conceptualize how national and regional data can help inform global education measurement; and
  • Strike a balance between global competences and the role of local influences and goals on education. The new Digest offers a roadmap for better measurement. It is the first in a new publication series that will report each year on progress towards better measurement and the use of data. It will examine areas that are difficult to measure, while sharing good practices, especially in relation to education quality and equity – highlighting national and global efforts to track progress on education to 2030. We believe that success breeds success: by showing how good data enhance progress for children, we strengthen the case for greater investment.


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

Dankert Vedeler is the Co-Chair of SDG Education 2030 Steering Committee.


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

NORRAG (Network for International Policies and Cooperation in Education and Training) is an internationally recognised, multi-stakeholder network which has been seeking to inform, challenge and influence international education and training policies and cooperation for almost 30 years. NORRAG has more than 4,500 registered members worldwide and is free to join. Not a member? Join free here.

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