The Post-2015 Agenda: What Room for Education and Skills?

By Kenneth King.

This was the title of the joint NORRAG-UNDP 1st June 2012 workshop in Geneva hosted by the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies. It was very well-attended by participants, including from WEF, UNRISD, WHO, IIEP, UNECA, ETF, INEE, AKF, ICRC, IFRC, Plan, SDC, UNESCO, and NORRAG.

Getting into the queue for the next international development agenda is a competitive business, and the preparations for this particular race were started early. For example, in 2009, there was an IDS Policy Brief and a book on After 2015, followed by the v. useful 2010 IDS Bulletin on The MDGs and Beyond. In 2011, ODI came out with a Background Note  and a post-2015 blog. The specific interrogation of education goals post-2015 started around the same time; e.g. see Angeline Barrett’s work from 2009.

Arguably, it is still too much a Northern race, just as the International Development Targets of 1996 were a creation of the OECD DAC; and it was these which were largely confirmed as the MDGs after the Millennium Summit of 2000.

Currently, much more attention is being accorded to the post-2015 agenda by the UN, its specialised agencies, development assistance agencies, Northern think tanks, and international (Northern) NGOs than by Southern governments. If there is a post-2015 development agenda, it will have potentially a huge financial impact on those international bodies which are included and on those which are left outside.

How will Education and Training fare in any post-2015 agenda?

The international education community has not organised a Jomtien + 20, twenty years after the World Conference on Education for All (in Jomtien) in the manner of Rio + 20. But it has kept the six EFA goals of Jomtien, reinforced by Dakar in 2000, very visibly on the world’s agenda through the EFA Global Monitoring Reports (GMRs) for the last 10 years. It has also celebrated in Shanghai the re-emerging status of Vocational Education and Training, thanks to UNESCO and the Chinese Ministry of Education. That could be called Seoul + 13 (the site of the 2nd World Congress on TVET).

Arguments for Education in any new development agenda:

Only two of the six EFA goals (universal primary and gender parity) made it into the MDGs last time, very much driven by the rights-based agenda.

Now, the world has changed since 2000.  And the rights-based arguments for the inclusion of education will not be sufficient of themselves.

The EFA goals, but especially Goal 3 on Life Skills, will need to be “rebalanced” towards employability, work skills, and economic growth. The powerful case made for education as a factor in economic development, growth and transformation will need to be refashioned. Education’s key contribution to the development success of China, S. Korea, Singapore, Chile etc etc needs to be recalled.

This argues for skills development to become a core element in the education-and-training case for post-2015 inclusion. Crucial to this case would be the joint sponsorship of skills-for-work-and employment by UNESCO, the ILO, and other key bodies such as the European Training Foundation. Such a case could be attractive to the so-called new donors such as Brazil, China, and India. [see NORRAG NEWS (NN) 44 on new donors and  NN42 aid effectiveness]

Skills-for-Development is also a core factor in those economies which export millions of workers with vocational skills to the Gulf, to the European Union and to North America. Skills and migration are an inseparable part of the remittances which bring billions of dollars back into these labour export economies.

Rebalancing the EFA goals towards employability is not to drop the rights-based dimension of Jomtien and Dakar and the Millennium Goals. It is to widen the rights-based agenda and recognise the crucial role of cognitive and non-cognitive skills for the millions of excluded young people, whether drop-outs, refugee children, or those marginalised by conflict and emergency.

The rebalancing of the EFA goals needs to acknowledge that mere attendance in schools is insufficient. Hence the discovery of learning and of educational outcomes. But the rediscovery of the very obvious importance of learning as opposed to merely attending should not be an argument to narrow education to the new statistics about test scores for maths and reading.

Rather, the new educational outcomes must be about knowledge, skills and attitudes. But it must also be about work skills and entrepreneurship.

So Learning for All (a la World Bank and DFID) will not be sufficient on its own to get into the post-2015 Olympiad.  The connections between Learning for All, Skills for All, and Work for All will need to be made very powerfully.  That will mean revisiting the arguments about education-and-pro-poor-economic growth. The release of the GMR on Skills on 16th October 2012 could substantially help this argument.

Finally, the international education community will need to be aware of when the key processes for securing the new international development agenda are taking place, at what convention and under whose auspices.

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

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