What’s Missing from the Education SDG Debate?

By David Levesque.  Independent Education Consultant

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related NORRAG Blogs

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

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

>>Universal Basic Education? 7th February 2014

>>View all Post-2015 Blogs on NORRAG NEWSBite


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NORRAG (Network for International Policies and Cooperation in Education and Training) is an internationally recognised, multi-stakeholder network which has been seeking to inform, challenge and influence international education and training policies and cooperation for almost 30 years. NORRAG is made up of more than 4,200 individuals worldwide and is free to join. Click here to join NORRAG – for free.




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

By Kenneth King, Editor NORRAG News.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The biggest pledge of all?

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

Oh, and what about the cost?

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

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

Why were there no targets in the Incheon Declaration?

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

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

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

Another legacy: a better insight into South Korea

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

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

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

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

Related NORRAG Blogs

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

>>View all Post-2015 Blogs on NORRAG NEWSBite

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

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

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Why the World Needs a Global Fund for Education

By Chandrika Bahadur and Guido Schmidt-Traub, Sustainable Development Solutions Network, Paris and New Dehli.

SDSNA high-quality education is the human right of every child. This right is enshrined in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and forms the center of the Education for All Initiative launched in 2000, the Millennium Development Goals, and the upcoming Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  Indeed, SDG 4 will be the most ambitious global commitment to education in history, focusing on universal completion of schooling from pre-primary to secondary level for all girls and boys. Yet, the world will not achieve these ambitious goals unless international support is scaled up and better organized, including through a Global Fund for Education that builds on today’s Global Partnership for Education (GPE).

Ensuring universal quality schooling will require better policies as well as greatly increased resources, including for well-trained and motivated teachers, improved curricula, education infrastructure, learning materials, and the use of modern information and communication technologies. The 2015 Education for All Global Monitoring Report projects that even with aggressive increases in domestic resource mobilization, countries will need an additional $39 billion per year in international finance to close the financing gap for universal access to upper-secondary education. This gap will need to be closed through official development assistance (ODA), which must therefore increase four-fold for low- and lower-middle-income countries. And these figures probably low-ball the true needs since the EFA-GMR estimates do not cover upper secondary completion and tertiary education.

The upcoming Addis Ababa conference on Financing for Development must tackle the financing challenges for the education sector, but it must do so also with regards to major non-financing challenges that must be addressed in the education sector. In doing so we should learn from the lessons in health – the sector that has experienced the most rapid and sustained progress under the Millennium Development Goals – as described in a recent SDSN Working Paper that underwent an extensive public consultation.

Progress in health was achieved through a global unique partnership comprising national governments, civil society organizations, business, international organizations, and science. The pooling and scaling up of international financing through Gavi and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria supported countries in crafting and implementing long-term strategies for addressing the health challenges. Both institutions promoted unprecedented innovation in delivery, technologies, and organization through their ability to work with the private sector, civil society, and governments.

The education sector lacks the organization and scale of international support that is needed to achieve the education SDG. As the premier pooled financing mechanism in the education sector, the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) has successfully promoted increased domestic funding for education. It has strengthened country-owned planning processes and brought together partners for advocacy, capacity building, and implementation. Today, the GPE reaches around 60 countries with total annual donor funding of nearly $1 billion. Yet, given the financing gap of $39 billion, the scale of the GPE must be increased by more than one order of magnitude to some $15 billion per year by 2020. To reach this scale of financing the GPE must become the Global Fund for Education.

Building on the successes of the GPE, and in line with the experience of Gavi and the Global Fund in health, a scaled-up Global Fund for Education would provide funding at scale to support the implementation of national strategies to achieve the education SDG in all countries that require international financial support, particularly low- and lower-middle income countries, as well as countries in conflict situations.

Some question the need for such a Global Fund, but the experience in health shows clearly that rapid progress requires not only greater domestic and international resources; it also depends on overcoming the high fragmentation of international support for education. At times of empty public coffers in most donor countries, pooling and effective use of scarce ODA resources should be the number one priority in international support for education.

We propose that an effective Global Fund for Education build on the GPE around the following principles:

  1. Support for nationally-owned strategies that have been independently vetted: The Global Fund for Education should support national action plans to achieve SDG 4 that are transparent, quantified, monitorable, supported by broad sections of society, and that mobilize adequate volumes of domestic resources. National action plans will be subject to the scrutiny of an Independent Expert Review Committee comprising experts from UNESCO, UNICEF, the multilateral development banks, and other experts that would make funding recommendations to the board of the Global Fund
  1. Adequate volumes of pooled financing: To close the external financing gap, donor governments, philanthropists, civil society organizations, and businesses need to provide at least $4-5 billion annually during the first three years of the Global Fund for Education rising to some $15 billion by 2020. Innovative financing instruments such as social bonds can also raise funds, but these should all flow through a common fund.
  1. Strategic and independent board: The Global Fund for Education requires a strategic board composed of globally eminent individuals representing all key stakeholders: donor governments, businesses, philanthropic donors, civil society, and recipient governments. The board should be independent of any international agency.
  1. Direct disbursement to in-country recipients:Like the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, the Global Fund for Education will provide funds directly to national governments or other recipients – such as sub-national governments, civil society organizations, international organizations, or businesses – nominated by national stakeholders without needing local intermediaries.
  1. Focus on marginalized children: Countries with large numbers of out-of-school children, including those in conflict or in the midst of humanitarian crises would be funded on a priority basis, subject to each country making the maximum appropriate domestic effort.
  1. Investment in global public goods: The Global Fund for Education would invest in information technologies for education, education accounting systems, metrics and assessment programs, and other public goods that support national education programs.
  1. No new institution: The Global Fund for Education will build on the GPE and therefore does not require a new institution. The governance structures of the new fund would need to reflect its larger mandate and scale of operations.

The Incheon Declaration laid forth some of these principles, but fell short of a whole-hearted call for scaled-up financing with the appropriate global architecture to support its implementation. World leaders will meet again at the July Conference on Financing for Development in Addis Ababa and the September SDG Summit at the United Nations. These two events provide a unique opportunity to ensure that the SDGs will support a goal-based approach to achieving education priorities, just like the MDGs galvanized health.

Norway and Norwegian leaders have played a central role in transforming public health, and the country is poised to do the same with education. The Government will organize a summit on education finance in July, which offers a unique opportunity to work with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, the Global Partnership for Education, major philanthropists, and leaders from civil society and business in order to prepare the ground for announcing the Global Fund for Education later this year.

Clearly, the Global Fund for Education will not resolve all challenges in the education sector, but it is impossible to see how the education SDGs can be achieved without pooling greater volumes of international financing and promoting greater innovation. We hope that world leaders rise to this challenge. Children around the world deserve no less.


Chandrika Bahadur is Director for Education Initiatives at the SDSN, based in New Delhi. Email: Chandrika.bahadur@unsdsn.org

Guido Schmidt-Traub is Executive Director of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network. Email: guido.schmidt-traub@unsdsn.org

This blog is based on a forthcoming article in NORRAG NEWS 52, Financing Education & Skills – available at www.norrag.org in late June 2015.

>>View all Post-2015 Blogs on NORRAG NEWSBite

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


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Building Consensus towards an Indicator Framework to Monitor Education Beyond 2015

By Albert Motivans, UNESCO Institute for Statistics.

WEF logoA proposal for thematic indicators presented at the World Education Forum

At the World Education Forum (WEF) recently held in Incheon, Korea, the global education community came together to discuss goals and targets in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as well as a framework to monitor the education targets beyond 2015. They focused on an initial proposal, which includes a broad set of 42 indicators, developed by the Technical Advisory Group on Post-2015 indicators (TAG), which is chaired by the UNESCO Institute for Statistics and includes experts from international agencies. This proposal, which was based on results from a public consultation involving Member States and a wide range of education stakeholders, was presented in the draft Framework for Action as well as in the more detailed TAG paper.

At the Forum, there was rich discussion on the proposed set of indicators and wider issues, such as:  support for countries to build the technical capacity required to collect and use key measures; greater efforts needed to capture the breadth of the targets, especially in areas such as education quality and equity as well areas which may fall outside of formal education (e.g., early childhood, skills and knowledge of youth and adults, etc.); and the need to minimize the potential unintended consequences of prioritising a small set of global indicators as part of UN processes.

Proposed global education indicators rated highly by national statistical offices

The work to develop thematic indicators also feeds into a broader UN process to define a small set of global indicators for the targets of the 17 SDGs (total of 100-120 indicators). In March, a technical report by the UN Statistical Commission reviewed recommendations submitted by international agencies for global indicators, which included a subset of education indicators which drew on the TAG recommendations. Representatives of national statistical offices then assessed them based on feasibility, suitability, and relevance.

National statisticians gave the proposed education indicators high scores, ranking them third best after indicators for health and energy targets. 67% of education indicators received the top grade in at least one of the three criteria. Nevertheless some of the proposed indicators were considered to be ambitious for global monitoring. It seems reasonable to expect that alternative indicators may be needed as consultations and efforts continue to develop more robust indicators over the next three to five years.

A country-led process – the Inter-Agency and Expert Group on SDG indicators

The UN Statistical Commission assessment and list of global indicators was recently submitted to the Inter-Agency and Expert Group on Sustainable Development Goal Indicators (IAEG-SDGs), which was established by the UN Statistical Commission to develop a proposal for a global indicator framework for the entire post-2015 development agenda. This group is composed of experts from 28 Member States, elected by and representing different regions of the world. International and regional agencies are not members, but rather observers to the group. There is a separate High Level Group (HLG), consisting of 15-20 different Member States from the IAEG which will provide strategic leadership for the SDG implementation process with regard to monitoring and reporting as well as efforts to foster capacity-building, partnership and coordination. The terms of reference for the HLG and  the IAEG are available online.

The first meeting of the IAEG-SDGs took place from 1-2 June 2015 in New York, where the Philippines and Italy were elected as Co-Chairs. Most of the meeting was devoted to procedural matters and the sharing of information on current regional activities related to the selection of post-2015 indicators. After reviewing the UN Statistical Commission’s technical report on priority indicators, the delegates decided that the first step should be to develop a conceptual framework for sustainable development to allow for the systematic mapping of goals and targets and ultimately the selection of global indicators. National statistical offices felt this was a necessary and feasible next step despite the pressure to submit the proposal for global indicators by the end of November 2015. In the meeting, the group proposed to create two work streams open to all members: the first to develop the theoretical statistical framework and the second to explore interlinkages between targets and goals. If this proposal is accepted, the group is expected to work on both streams from June to September and will also draw on the technical expertise of international and regional agencies as well as academic, research and civil society experts, when appropriate. The group will convene a meeting in October in order to finalise its proposal for the global indicator framework.

Where do we go from here?

The track for thematic indicators has been laid out in the draft Framework for Action which will be further developed to produce a final document that will be submitted for adoption at a Ministerial meeting to be held at UNESCO in November 2015. In order to build consensus and further refine the existing indicator framework, the Technical Advisory Group will be extended to include representatives from Member States (two technical experts on education statistics from each of five regions) that are also members of the IAEG-SDG or HLG, described above, and technical experts from civil society organizations in addition to the current members from international agencies. The framework will be further aligned, if needed, as a result of changes to global indicators introduced through UN processes.

The track for global indicators started with the first IAEG-SDGs meeting. The IAEG will develop a proposal by November 2015 for submission to the UN Statistical Commission which meets in March 2016. The UN Statistical Commission will review the proposal and make its recommendation at a political level which is not yet defined, but could be the ECOSOC meeting in July 2016 or the UN General Assembly in September 2016.

The role of the UNESCO Institute for Statistics will be to maintain its observer status in the IAEG-SDGs while convening two meetings of the extended TAG between June and November 2015. The UIS will continue to serve as an essential bridge between the thematic and global streams of work.  In addition to the indicators for education, which cut across a number of SDG targets, the UIS is also leading efforts to define indicators in relation to other areas of the UNESCO mandate, namely science and technology in addition to culture and communication.

Albert Motivans heads the Education Indicators and Data Analysis (EIDA) Division of the UNESCO Institute for Statistics. Email: a.motivans@unesco.org

This blog is based on a forthcoming article in NORRAG NEWS 52, Financing Education & Skills – available at www.norrag.org in late June 2015.

Related blog:

>> Indicators for Universal Versus National Coverage of Goals and Targets, Abbie Raikes, UNESCO, Paris.


>>View all Post-2015 Blogs on NORRAG NEWSBite


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


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TVET and Sustainable Development: Learning from Experience. What are we waiting for and why?

By Enrique Pieck, Iberoamerican University, Mexico.

Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) policies and programs come and go and so their different focuses, approaches and acronyms flood the literature on this theme and make things a bit complicated (SD,[i] GMR,[ii] HRBA[iii], HDCA,[iv] VET,[v] TVET,[vi] TVSD,[vii] EFA,[viii] etc.). The point is that while TVET programs and policies are discussed, while developing countries manage to achieve better rates of economic growth and (sometimes) get the financial resources needed, while high levels of poverty will remain with us for several decades, and while training programs carried out by public organizations, NGOs and international cooperation agencies have (often) poor and isolated impacts on deprived people’s everyday living conditions, in many countries, very large proportions of the population remain strongly in need of programs that can offer them alternative means to have access to the world of work and improve their quality of life.

In this light it is difficult not to be sceptical about the international aims that are repeatedly set for education. Goals set (e.g. EFA goals, Millennium Development Goals) are continually pushed back and many of us wonder if they will ever be achieved if present strategies continue in place. It is a matter not only of aims, but also of socio-economic situations and processes that clearly require different strategic approaches depending on each country’s particular conditions and possibilities, above all in the case of developing economies.

Our argument is that many programs have had a serious impact on sectors of the population that live in poverty areas, and have left many lessons. Clearly the evaluation yardsticks go beyond productivity and efficiency notions (i.e rates of work insertions) that fall within the economic development paradigm. TVET programs can have meaningful effects in vulnerable areas, as long as we conceive of different notions of what can be understood as impact or quality. There are many social –and economic- impacts that are underrated when implementing and evaluating programs in these areas. Our point is that quality of TVET (its relevance) is referred to by the extent people in vulnerable areas can make the best out of it in terms of promoting their productive capacities and improving their socio-economic conditions / quality of life.

In underprivileged sectors, concepts such as work and employability have connotations of their own. While the formal labour market formulates specific demands to the educational system, in the informal sector, work is very much more linked to everyday living conditions of people in this sector.

Seen in this light, TVET is more closely aligned with productive activities –sometimes survival strategies- or with those which are doable and result from the nature of their contexts, than to the need to train in order to satisfy the demand of a formal market or respond to the exigencies of technological development as dictated by modernity (Pieck, 1999).

Examples in many countries abound of programs that have developed successful strategies for enabling low-income populations to gain entry to the world of work; strategies that have reinforced the local economy, and have generated new forms of participation. Such lessons are concerned with the need to have a social focus when addressing TVET programs in developing countries, a focus which is very much at odds with the prevailing tendency.

What and why do we wait for if we already have a considerable amount of evidence showing that when appropriately high-quality skills development programs are implemented in vulnerable areas, they can have a positive impact on people’s educational progress, and also on the socio-economic development of their communities?

In a context marked by globalization and technological development, work takes pre-eminence over employment; in underprivileged sectors it implies the need to master skills which take into account the diversity of work spaces as they occur in everyday living. Therefore there is a need to have an on-the-job focus and respond to the specific training needs that follow from the various problems associated with these modest business undertakings (i.e low-income women looking for organizational and financial assistance). In a large number of cases, these represent survival strategies of vast sectors of the population living in deprived areas and predominantly active in the informal sector. While many small economic ventures are not likely to hold off unemployment, nor they are going to generate big enterprises, they will open spaces of social participation, and offer people genuine avenues to live their civic lives in a different way.

All this requires moving beyond work market demands and giving greater attention to people’s needs in the small communities and local areas. There is an urgent need to have an effective pro-poor TVET policy with a special focus on addressing people’s economic needs and productive activities in vulnerable areas. We already know how to do it. What and why are we waiting for?


Pieck, E. (1999) Work-oriented Education for Youth and Adults. The Major Project of Education. Bulletin 50. Santiago, Chile: OREALC-UNESCO

Dr Enrique Pieck is an academic researcher at the Institute for the Development of Education of the Iberoamerican University in Mexico (INIDE-UIA). His main research interest is on TVET in vulnerable areas in developing countries. Email: enrique.pieck@ibero.mx

[i] Skills development

[ii] Global monitoring report

[iii] Human rights based-approach

[iv] Human development capability approach

[v] Vocational education and training

[vi] Technical and vocational education and training

[vii] Technical and vocational skills development

[viii] Education for all

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

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Clarifying the Obscure: Facing the “Measurement” Challenge of the Education Post-2015 Targets

By Dierdre Williams, Open Society Foundations.

OSFAs the process of developing indicators for the Post-2015 education targets unfolds, some of the targets are at risk of being dropped on account of being ‘un-measurable.’ However, excluding more holistic but harder to assess educational targets will inevitably remove vital focus from some of the most important aspects of high quality education provision. The Open Society Foundations has identified three of the education targets (OWG[1] targets 4.1; 4.7; 4a & 4c and EFA-SC[2] targets 2, 5, and 6) that are particularly contentious and commissioned four papers proposing formulations of indicators that suggest ways of measuring what we care about rather than what is easiest to measure. The targets selected relate to: 1) determining what Relevant and Effective Learning Outcomes students completing primary and secondary education should achieve; 2) identifying Knowledge, Values, Skills, and Attitudes to Establish Sustainable and Peaceful Societies; and 3) securing Teachers and Safe, Inclusive, and Effective Learning Environments.

The first set of concrete and actionable goals to increase development and improve access to education for all children was laid out in 2000. The Education for All (EFA) goals and the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) for education emphasized literacy, numeracy, and life skills. The new post-2015 education goal and its related targets revisit these themes and also introduce new and controversial terrain, including education for sustainable development, cultivating lifelong learners, and developing global citizens.

The global community formulated the post-2015 targets through a broadly consultative process that has included states and civil society. The UN Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals (OWG) proposed ten targets, while the Education for All Steering Committee (EFA-SC) proposed seven targets. These two sets of targets are largely consistent, though there are some notable differences. Indicators appropriate for monitoring progress toward these targets are currently being developed.

Economist and philosopher, Amartya Sen has critiqued the MDGs, arguing that they narrowed the Millennium Declaration, on which they were based, by dispensing with anything that was not immediately measurable. There is a similar risk of narrowing in the current Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) process. The three proposed education targets that are the focus of works commissioned by The Open Society Foundations (OSF) are particularly contentious and are being deemed ‘not measurable’ either because they lack specificity or because data for proposed measures are ‘currently unavailable.’ This raises an important question: How can we start valuing practices and outcomes of teaching and learning that are difficult to reduce to numbers?

It’s not just that measurable education goals aren’t enough—our concern is that excluding more holistic but harder to assess educational targets from systems of accountability will inevitably remove vital focus from some of the most important aspects of high quality education provision.

The four papers commissioned by the OSF suggest formulations of indicators for the proposed EFA-SC and OWG targets relating to: 1) determining what Relevant and Effective Learning Outcomes students completing primary and secondary education should achieve; 2) identifying Knowledge, Values, Skills, and Attitudes to Establish Sustainable and Peaceful Societies; and 3) securing Teachers and Safe, Inclusive, and Effective Learning Environments.

>>Read the full text of the four commissioned papers as well as a synthesis report.

These three targets (OWG targets 4.1; 4.7; 4a & 4c/EFA-SC targets 2, 5, and 6) are at risk of being excluded from the final formulation of the SDGs in response to practical concerns about the number of targets being excessive as well as concerns that targets such as these “rely too much on vague, qualitative language rather than hard, measurable, time-bound, quantitative targets.”[3]

The indicator frameworks presented in these commissioned works reflect the authors’ diverse thinking, rather than consensus on any of the issues explored. The annex report that synthesizes the commissioned works lays out the full text of the indicators proposed in the commissioned papers. The proposed indicators highlight the crucial need to capture more holistic data that can convey the complexity and diversity of national systems. These proposals are intended as a resource for policymakers and advocacy groups as the process to settle the new SDGs unfolds.

Dierdre Williams is a Senior Program Officer in the Education Support Program, Open Society Foundations. Email: dierdre.williams@opensocietyfoundations.org  


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

[1] UN Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals.

[2] Education for All Steering Committee.

[3] International Council for Science. (2015). Review of targets for the Sustainable Development Goals: The Science Perspective. Retrieved from http://www.icsu.org/publications/reports-and-reviews/review-of-targets-for-the-sustainable-development-goals-the-science-perspective-2015

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Global Governance of the Draft SDG Education Goal and its Targets: Critical Challenges for both North and South

By Kenneth King, Editor NORRAG News.

WEF logoUnder the above title, NORRAG, in association with the Campaign for Popular Education (CAMPE) in Bangladesh, and the BRAC Institute of Educational Development, put on a Side Event on the 20th May at the World Education Forum (WEF) in Incheon.

This Side Event asked its audience to consider WHO the WEF Education Goal and its Targets were aimed at. The 6 Education For All (EFA) Dakar Goals and the Education Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), for example, had been widely considered to be aimed at the South. So, there has been much interest in ensuring that the draft WEF Education Goal and its Targets were seen to be universally relevant, to both North and South.

This is no simple exercise. In the context of the continuing rich world-poor world gap in terms of mean years of schooling of their adult populations, what do common goals and targets actually mean? Does it make sense to make the Education Goal and Targets so ambitious that they cannot be mistaken as a prescription for the poorer countries of the world?

Getting this right is a highly contested terrain. We have just been told in April by the 2015 Global Monitoring Report (GMR) that the last fifteen years have been only a ‘qualified success’ in terms of achievements. It added: ‘Overall, not even the target of universal primary education was reached, let alone the more ambitious EFA goals, and the most disadvantaged continue to be the last to benefit’ (EFA GMR: 2015: xv). In a situation where the world has not managed to deliver on Dakar 2000, especially for the poorest people and countries, should we be principally concerned to ‘raise the bar’, so that the new Goal and Targets are unmistakably seen to be one-world proposals?

Even if the Education Goal and Targets can be somehow made to sound common, at a general level of abstraction, surely the Targets also have to be adapted and contextualized to fit each country? This is of course why the framers of the Muscat Agreement (in May 2014) and the Open Working Group (OWG) in July 2014 had included for several of the Targets that they should be set at ‘x%’, to be decided nationally.

By coincidence, however, WEF is taking place in the very week that the Intergovernmental Negotiations on the Post-2015 Development Agenda in New York are discussing several targets that had been revised from the earlier OWG statements. These revised target proposals include no less than four from the existing Education Targets (4.4; 4.6; 4b; and 4c). For example, the revised 4.4 would change from ‘By 2030, increase by [x] per cent the number of youth and adults who have relevant skills’ to ‘By 2030, ensure that all youth and adults have relevant skills.’ The rationale for such a proposed change was stated to be ‘to ensure the highest possible level of ambition’.

Intriguingly, in Incheon, these revised target statements were discussed by the large NGO Forum on the first day of WEF, and the Forum members decided unanimously to recommend to the WEF the adoption of ALL the Revised Education Targets from the New York process. In the 2015 NGO Forum Declaration, distributed to all participants in WEF, it was affirmed that ‘We support the recommendation of the co-facilitators in the New York Intergovernmental Negotiations that where x% is used in the adult literacy, skills and teacher targets, they should be replaced by “all”.’

This is not the only area of contention and debate in the WEF. Readers of NORRAG News and the NORRAG NEWSBite will recall the damage done in Dakar 2000 by the careless framing of Goal 3, with its use of ‘life skills’ rather than some clearer statement about essential skills for work. History seems to be repeating itself in Incheon:

The target statement about ‘equal access for all women and men to affordable quality technical, vocational and tertiary education, including university’ (Target 4.3) is apparently contradicted by the next target statement pledging to ‘increase by x% the number of youth and adults who have relevant skills, including technical and vocational skills, for employment, decent jobs and entrepreneurship’ (Target 4.4).

But ‘relevant skills’ are clearly wider than technical and vocational skills. And to add more obfuscation to the mix, Target 4.5 talks about ‘equal access to all levels of education and vocational training for the vulnerable’ (Target 4.5). Is ‘vocational training’ different from ‘relevant skills’ or from ‘quality technical, vocational and tertiary education’?

Oh, wait a moment, what about the indicators for these skills statement and targets?? There seems only to be one, and it appears only to be concerned with access and not with quality or with affordability. Indicator 14 reads as follows: ‘Participation rate in technical-vocational programmes (15- to 24-year-olds)’.

Now, as of breakfast time on the last day of the WEF, we don’t yet know what the Drafting Committee will decide to do with this powerful proposal from the NGO Forum or with the apparent contradictions in language amongst the skills targets. But by noon today the text will be finalized and will be presented to the last plenary of the Forum for ratification.

Let’s hope there is clarity about the framing of skill. We don’t want to have another vague skills’ target to carry around for the next 15 years.

And we need to clarify the tensions between the universal and the national and local in the wider framing of all the education targets at WEF. The Forum is not drafting an international treaty, with its specialist technical language. But the drafters do need to capture very clearly the moral obligation to deliver on what we have failed fully to deliver these last fifteen years, and to inspire both richer and poorer countries to adopt meaningful, affordable but inspirational ambitions for the next fifteen years.

WEF still has four hours to go! Plenty of time!! But clear heads are needed.

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

NORRAG is at the World Education Forum in Incheon. Follow @NORRAG_NEWS for up to date info.
Follow this blog by email, Facebook or via Twitter @NORRAG_NEWS

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

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