2017: Reshaping the Landscape for International Policies and Cooperation in Education and Training

Kenneth King, NORRAG News editor, and University of Edinburgh

ghanaIn our first blog of January 2016, we celebrated the end of post-2015 and the beginning of Agenda 2030. A huge amount has happened on this new Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) agenda since then, and some of the diversity of that is captured critically in a forthcoming special issue of NORRAG News (NN) 54: Education, Training and Agenda 2030: What Progress One year On?

Another almost unprecedented event of 2015/2016 was the massive movement of peoples both across and within national borders. This was by no means only a phenomenon affecting countries in Europe; in most cases the refugee and displaced people movements were very much larger in other countries, in the global South. Again, we captured something of the sheer variety, impact and consequences of this external and internal migration in NN53: Refugees, Displaced Persons and Education: New Challenges for Development and Policy.

What, if anything, was the connection between ‘the world we want’ – a slogan closely associated with the SDG process – and ‘the world on the move’- of mass external and internal migration?  We will note in NN54 that the terms ‘refugee’ and ‘displaced’ don’t even occur in the main text of the SDGs and that ‘migration’ only appears once, in a sentence that it is hard to believe was crafted and agreed by the member states of the UN when disorderly, unsafe, irregular and irresponsible migration was massively already underway:

10.7 Facilitate orderly, safe, regular and responsible migration and mobility of people, including through the implementation of planned and well-managed migration policies (UN)

There does, however, appear to have been some connection between ‘migration’ and two of the other dramatic events of the past year, both completely unanticipated by polling professionals: the BREXIT vote in the UK (by just 52% of the 72% who voted) was in part influenced by an anti-migrant rhetoric, and the same could be said of the US vote in November 2016.

Whatever the weaknesses in the phrasing of some of the SDGs, they draw upon a long and historic process of establishing universal aspirations and ambitions for the world. For instance, the word ‘international’ appears no less than 20 times in the text of the 19 goals, in such phrases as international ‘cooperation’, ‘agreements’, ‘frameworks’ and ‘law’. The spirit of internationalism runs throughout the SDG agreement, even if the whole process is based on an assumption of national implementation.

These four events of 2016 will have a continuing impact in 2017, altering the landscape in ways that are still hard to anticipate. The new populism and nationalism, captured in the mantra of ‘Get our country back’, may be evident in other referenda and elections taking place during 2017.

Our interest in NORRAG is of course to analyse how these new forces will influence international policies and cooperation in education and training. It can be anticipated that the pressures around these new nationalisms will discourage the spending of state budgets on development aid – on far-off ‘foreigners’. In response, it may be argued that if development finance can help improve the living standards in the countries and regions from which migrants are pouring out, it will prove to be politically attractive. But such impact will be hugely difficult to demonstrate rapidly. We may anticipate, therefore, that 2017 will see the demand for cuts in development aid, regardless of the SDG commitment in Goal 17.2 for:

Developed countries to implement fully their official development assistance commitments, including the commitment by many developed countries to achieve the target of 0.7 per cent of gross national income for official development assistance (ODA/GNI) to developing countries (UN)

Already the reduction in the value of sterling by at least 10% has wiped £1 billion off the value of UK’s annual aid budget. In addition, there will be eventually a removal of the €2 billion euros channelled annually through the European Union’s Development Fund (EDF). 2017, with the new US presidency, will be a critical year for United States’ development funding, including for USAID. In the next issue of NORRAG News (55) we shall examine how the impact of these new national and global movements are influencing the landscape of traditional development aid.

We are particularly interested in what may happen to international cooperation in education, and to educational mobility and educational partnerships. The BREXIT vote has of course already begun to impact student mobility to the UK and from the UK to other member states within the 28 countries of the EU. This will become much more marked once the UK formally exits the EU. The current vice-chancellor of the University of Cambridge, 17% of whose university research income comes through competitive grants from the EU, has stressed that ‘More worrying than the loss of revenue is the damage to the networks of collaboration on which world-class science depends today’ (Borysiewicz, 2016:13).

In NORRAG’s current membership of some 5000 individuals, no fewer than 1 in 10 members are based in the UK, the majority of them with significant international and comparative educational linkages and partnerships. We shall begin monitoring in 2017 how the new forces of nationalism are impacting on international educational partnerships and mobility.

Education Milestones in 2017

Though the political and partnership forecasts for 2017 seem currently very uncertain, there are still some significant education events which hold promise for refocusing attention on international education as well as on education cooperation.

The World Bank’s 2018 World Development Report (WDR): This will be the first WDR ever to focus exclusively on education. The initial concept note on this WDR uses the title: Realising the Promise of Education for Development. In addition to the promise as a key theme, there is mention of The Learning Crisis and Learning Metrics to Guide Reform as key themes, as well as Effective Interventions to Build Learning and Learning at Scale. There will be consultation processes taking place globally during January-March 2017, and the final volume should be available in the late autumn of 2017.

The Global Education Monitoring Report (GEMR), which will be thematically focused on Accountability, will become available also in the autumn.

Two of the world’s great conferences on comparative and international education take place also in 2017: the CIES will be in Atlanta, USA from 5-9 March, and the UKFIET’s biennial conference will be in New College, Oxford from 5-7 September. These are both events which attract NORRAG members from around the world. Doubtless, they will provide ample opportunities thoughtfully to review the changing landscape for international policies and cooperation in education and training.


Borysiewicz, L. 2016. Brexit means Brexit. This is how the university will meet the challenges, Cambridge Alumni Magazine (CAM) no 79.

Kenneth King is a Professor Emeritus in the School of Social and Political Studies and in the School of Education in Edinburgh University. He is also the Editor of NORRAG News.

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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 4,700 registered members worldwide and is free to join. Not a member? Join free here.

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SDG? What is That?

By Claudio de Moura Castro, Positivo, Belo Horizonte, Brazil.


Sagittarius Dwarf Galaxy: Another SDG

The purpose of this note is to comment on how the SDG framework resonates in Brazil. I could state that it does not resonate at all and stop there. But in order to make my opinion more credible let me expand on my answer.

Some impressions were gathered along the way, in my comings and goings around the world, under the auspices of the ILO, the World Bank and the Interamerican Development Bank.

Small and vulnerable countries pay attention to much of what comes out of the UN family. Big countries do not.

The United States got out of Unesco, to return later. Americans hardly took notice of either movement. In this case, the country is too big and powerful to care. Brazil is big but not powerful. However, it suffers from an acute case of isolationism.

Ask any middle ranking bureaucrat in Brasilia about the UN agencies. Chances are that they see them as organizations that fund projects that Brazilian authorities want to execute. Given the impossible bureaucratic rules, they resort to them, in order to bypass the baroque rituals and restrictions. From all we know, Brazilian consultants seriously execute these projects. Most of the times, their names are indicated by the interested Ministries. This bypass trick is a most useful role for the government, given the absurd intricacies of the local bureaucracy.

As to the messages of the different UN agencies, yes, we listen to them, when its representatives are asked to speak in public occasions. But since these lofty ideas come without a budget, they are soon forgotten.

SDG is another of those messages. Who pays attention to it? From all I know, very few people.

Everyday I read an electronic clipping of news about education. It may be instructive to note that I never read a single entry on the topic.

Next test is to ask Mr. Google what he thinks. When typing “Objetivos de Desenvolvimento Sustentável” (the official translation into Portuguese) a grand total of 356 thousand entries were indicated. To have some kind of comparison I typed my own name. Surprise, I have about the same number of entries. Am I famous or is SDG an idea that never took root in Brazil? Since the first alternative is clearly false, we have to accept the other.

Veja is the leading Brazilian weekly news magazine, with a circulation of over one million copies. Being a center-right publication, it reflects what interests the average Brazilians. A search for the Portuguese translation of SDG identified four entries in 2016 and five in 2015. By contrast, Google found 362 million entries under the name of the magazine. This is a vague estimate as it includes a cleaning product with the same name as well as references to the magazine in other media. However, it gives some idea of the popularity of SDG in the country.

I am not sure whether this is evidence of my ignorance on major issues or evidence of how marginal SDG is in my milieu, but I had to search Google to find out what these three letters stood for.

Claudio de Moura Castro, Positivo, Belo Horizonte, Brazil. Email:


This blog is based on a forthcoming article in the next issue of NORRAG NEWS, NN54, on “Education, Training and Agenda 2030: What Progress One Year On?”, expected to be released in January 2017.

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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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Might the Ambitious Targets for Post-Basic Education Further Delay Achievement of Universal Basic Education Beyond 2030 in Sub-Saharan Africa?

By Birger Fredriksen, Results for Development Institute.

africaI am a strong supporter of the education Sustainable Development Goal (SDG). However, in this blog I want to caution that calling for universal access to upper secondary and higher education by 2030 could contribute to many countries in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) not reaching even universal basic education (UBE) – defined here as universal primary, lower secondary and at least youth literacy – by that year. For most SSA countries, even universal primary education has become a moving target, shifting from 1980 (agreed in 1961 in Addis Ababa), to 2000 (Jomtien 1990) to 2015 (Dakar 2000), and now to 2030.

In fact, while this overly ambitious goal for post-basic education risks driving domestic and aid funding priorities away from UBE and basic skills development programs, the SDG goal for literacy is less ambitious than the corresponding Education for All (EFA) goal. However, despite this ambition and the impressive gains in access to primary education between 2000 and 2015, SSA’s adult literacy rate barely improved. This reflects failure to improve (i) the survival rate to the final grade of primary education (it has remained at around 60% since the 1970s); (ii) learning outcome among those completing the cycle; and (iii) provision of second chance programs for those missing out on primary education. As a result, SSA enters the SDG period with two in five adults being illiterate and one in five children out of school.

In the absence of vigorous action in the above three areas, basic skills development in SSA risks stagnating at a low level. In particular, one-third of SSA’s labour force could still be illiterate in the 2030s, and more than one-third of children could be born to illiterate mothers. The former would seriously hamper progress towards most non-education SDGs. The latter would reinforce the intergenerational vicious cycle of poverty, low health and education status, slow demographic transition and marginalization. The impact of such developments would be felt beyond SSA including through increased economic migration: By 2050, SSA is projected to account for 38% of births worldwide, up from 25% in 2015.

There are at least four major interrelated reasons why the ambitious goal for post-basic education may slow down progress towards UBE in SSA:

First, over the 2015-30 period, SSA will need much higher growth in education funding to reach UBE than other regions. This is because of the massive catch-up growth needed to achieve UBE, accentuated by the projected one-third increase in the school-aged population by 2030 (all other developing regions will see a small decrease). And, even in the absence of the ambitious SDG goal, social demand for post-basic education would increase sharply, given that, in 2014, SSA’s Gross Enrolment Ratio was only 35% in upper secondary and 8% in tertiary education.

Second, funding UBE will likely become more challenging than it was in the year 2000. During most of the 2000-15 period, a combination of resumed economic growth, an increased share of GDP devoted to education and rising education aid led to a much faster annual education budget growth (4-5%) than during the 1980s and 1990s (about 1%). In turn, tighter budgets will make the political economy of prioritizing UBE even more difficult than in the past. Population groups missing out on UBE have much less political clout than those seeking entry to post-basic education, whose voices now are reinforced by the call for universal access.

Third, to meet this funding challenge will require sustained economic growth at a high level.  Growth accounted for about two-third of past decade’s rise in education budgets. It will become an even more important determinant over the next decade: Education’s share of public budgets in SSA (17% in 2014) already exceeds the average for developing countries. Further, aid has stagnated globally in recent years, and SSA’s share of aid for basic education has declined sharply (from 49% in 2002-03 to 28% in 2014). But the medium-term growth prospects are not encouraging. IMF’s October 2016 Economic Outlook estimates that SSA’s GDP per capita grew annually by 4.1% between 2004 and 2008, 2.6% between 2009 and 2014, and 0.9% in 2015. It is projected to decline by 0.9% in 2016 and increase by 0.5% in 2017. If this stagnation were to continue for several years, the fiscal space to meet the massive education funding needs would be severely limited.

Four, low basic labour force skills is a growing constraint on the economic transformation SSA needs to generate high, sustained economic growth. The main causes of the current economic slowdown have no easy short-term fixes. In addition to the end of the commodity boom, it is caused by severe structural constraints. Key among these is very poor labour force skills, especially in the rural sector where, in most countries, 50% or more of the labour force is illiterate. Skills upgrading alone will not be sufficient; other constraints such as poor infrastructure, chronic power shortages, bad business climate and, in many cases, increased insecurity, are very serious. But drastically improved basic skills is an absolute necessity to accelerate the transformation from dual economies where 80-90% of the labour force is engaged in low productivity informal sector activities, to economies where growth is driven by rising productivity in such activities as well as growth in the manufacturing and modern service sectors. Over the last three decades, manufacturing’s share of total employment in SSA has stagnated at around 6%, and the informal farm and household enterprise sector remains the employer of last resort for the majority of young people whatever their level of education including post-basic.

Obviously, SSA countries must develop the post-basic education skills needed to support national development. But the labour market for such skills is very narrow and will not for decades warrant publically-financed universal access, especially not to higher education. Rather, education and training budget allocations should be guided by the “progressive universalization” called for by the Education Commission, here taken to mean that UBE must be reached before prioritizing publicly-funded post-basic education beyond what can reasonably be justified by national development needs.

In short, reaching UBE is a development stage that no country can “leapfrog”. It is time to reset education priorities in favour of the large population groups and economic sectors that benefit little from education spending (including aid).

Birger Fredriksen is a leading expert on the development of education in developing countries at the Results for Development Institute.

This blog is an abridged version of a forthcoming article in the next issue of NORRAG NEWS, NN54, on “Education, Training and Agenda 2030: What Progress One Year On?”, expected to be released in January 2017.

Other NORRAG blogs by the same author:

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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 4,700 registered members worldwide and is free to join. Not a member? Join free here.

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A Global Offer for Learning: Rewards for Testing and Educational Progress

By William Savedoff, Centre for Global Development.

learn2Developing countries spend $1 trillion annually on education and receive $13 billion in foreign aid, according to a recent report, The Learning Generation: Investing in Education for a Changing World. While that means more children are in school than ever before, this report from the International Commission on Financing Global Education Opportunity also indicates an alarming fact: children are not learning much.

The Commission just posted a series of background papers for tackling this problem, including “A Global Offer for Learning (GOL): Based on Experiences with Paying for Results,” which my CGD colleagues and I designed as a novel way to draw political attention to this learning gap and encourage much needed reforms. The rationale for collecting data on learning and its critical function is presented in a second CGD policy paper, “Learning Data for Better Policy: A Global Agenda.”

The lack of learning is serious and widespread in low-income countries. Some 250 million children of primary school age are not learning basic skills—even though half of them have spent at least four years in school. In India, one-quarter of children surveyed in grade 5 could not read a simple sentence. And educational progress is slow. At current rates, it would take Ghana 100 years for its primary completers to have the competencies expected for children finishing British schools today. More generally, projections show that only 1 in 10 children in low-income countries will be on track to gain basic secondary-level skills by 2030.The waste of money spent on such poor schooling is enormous, but the real tragedy is the impact on children who spend years in schools that fail them.

An important reason for this learning gap is its invisibility. Governments and aid agencies like to count schools and enrollment, but assessing whether children know basic skills is not common. Without information on learning at early ages, schools get little feedback to improve their performance; governments lack evidence to guide policy; and citizens cannot hold their governments accountable. No international test exists for assessing children’s competencies at an early age (i.e., nine years old). Yet, literacy and numeracy at this age are critical to achieving educational benefits from additional years of schooling, economic benefits from increased productivity, and social benefits from improved citizenship.

To increase learning gap visibility, why not offer countries a prize for conducting tests and adding a bonus for each child who knows how to read and do basic arithmetic? This is the essence of the Global Offer for Learning which is a detailed proposal based on experiences and lessons from a wide range of Pay-for-Results programs.

The Global Offer for Learning would have two parts. An Assessment Award would pay countries US$1.5 million each year that they apply a qualified test (for up to seven years). Countries that apply the test would also be eligible for an Achievement Award: a payment of US$4 for each 9-year-old who has learned basic skills (for up to US$2 million each year over the same period). A novel funding arrangement with a third-party fund administrator would allow donors to budget funds in the year after the awards are disbursed. By pooling countries in one global program, the proposal can be more certain that it will disburse its committed funds each year despite individual variation in performance. The award amounts are set high enough to draw political attention but not so high as to generate perverse incentives and distort decisions.

Perhaps the most important feature of the proposal is its insistence that countries are the primary agents of their own educational progress. By learning from other pay for results programs, we designed this Global Offer for Learning to maximize the autonomy and engagement of participating countries. Participation would be completely voluntary—it is meant to be an “offer,” not a demand. For countries that already recognize the value of applying such a test (which would be comparable over time and across countries), a relatively small monetary prize could provide the political focus and support necessary to make it happen. In the absence of such a nudge, large budget items (like payroll and infrastructure) are likely to monopolize policymakers’ attention to the detriment of small but transformative expenditures on testing, pedagogy, and management. If the initial experiences prove positive, other countries are likely to join, much like the growing participation in international assessments like TIMSS and PIRLS.

Almost all the money spent by governments and aid organizations is channeled through traditional approaches that focus on inputs such as schools built, students enrolled, and teachers employed, rather than what students have learned. By putting money behind a Global Offer for Learning, bilateral and multilateral agencies, philanthropists, and foundations could focus attention on learning; stimulate innovation; generate better evidence to guide policy; and help a generation of the world’s poorest children gain the skills they need for productive, empowered lives.

Bill Savedoff is a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development (CGD) where he works on issues of aid effectiveness and health policy.

This blog was first posted on the CGD website on 29th November 2016.

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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 4,700 registered members worldwide and is free to join. Not a member? Join free here.

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Education SDG Indicator on Learning Outcomes Gets a Major Upgrade

By Luis Benveniste, World Bank, and Silvia Montoya, UNESCO Institute for Statistics.


There has been an important shift in the global measurement of learning. The Inter-Agency Expert Group on Sustainable Development Goal Indicators (IAEG-SDGs) has decided to ‘upgrade’ SDG Indicator 4.1.1 on learning outcomes: the proportion of children and young people who achieve at least a minimum proficiency in reading and mathematics. Once a ‘Tier III’ indicator (an indicator that does not yet have established methodologies or standards), 4.1.1 has been upgraded to a ‘Tier II’ indicator for two points of measurement (end of primary and lower secondary), which means it meets methodological criteria although data are available for less than 50% of countries in each region.

This upgrading shows that, with a mix of innovation, pragmatism and consensus-building, we can really start to see if children are learning the basics at the end of primary and lower secondary education and help countries improve learning outcomes by providing the necessary data. At the same time, countries that are not currently producing the data have the green light to pursue donor funding for capacity building.

While more and more countries have been assessing learning in recent years, the results have been based on different methodological approaches and could not be compared internationally. The agreement of the IAEG-SDGs to upgrade Indicator 4.1.1 up to Tier II was the result of technical analysis and a proposal from the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) and its technical partners. The aim is to put in place a baseline for measurement from 2017 and, if possible, spur greater donor investment in this area.

How do we compare learning outcomes across countries?

We began with a dose of pragmatism. To compare learning outcomes across countries, you have to address three basic questions:

  1. Which skills can be compared?
  2. For each skill, what is the minimum proficiency level defined and agreed upon by countries?
  3. How often should the skills be assessed in order to have an impact on policy making while recognising the financial costs involved in testing?

The good news is that these questions have already been addressed by about one-half of the world’s countries participating in regional and international learning assessments. So instead of starting from scratch, we have found a way to anchor regional assessments and international learning assessments within a single database. The methodology builds on the work of countries and takes their investments in regional assessments to the next level – i.e. global monitoring. It builds on their national political capital, as countries have invested money, time and technical expertise in regional approaches to learning assessments for years. And over the years, they have resolved differences in language, curricula and cultural viewpoints to come up with meaningful measures that can be used across their regions.

Work is underway to build the database that will – at first – cover the share of pupils reaching minimum proficiency levels in reading and mathematics at the end of primary and lower secondary education. It will include the latest available data from major regional assessments, such as Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) and the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), both of which have released new data over the past 10 days.

The data will be validated by countries and will provide us with the first baselines to start measuring learning internationally in 2017. We also intend to gather data on the minimum proficiency levels in the early grades of primary school (Grades 2 and 3) which is still classified as Tier III, but this will require more discussion among countries. They must decide which foundational skills should be measured and how. The ongoing discussion “underscore the need to balance a sound theoretical approach with practical considerations, which will likely delay agreement on cross-nationally valid measures and benchmarks,” as stated in the 2016 edition of the Global Education Monitoring Report.

Baseline data for 2017

This database and the upgrading of Indicator 4.1.1 reflects more than a technical solution – it has major political implications. For the first time, we will have a baseline in 2017 on the extent to which children and young adolescents are actually acquiring the minimum levels of skills in reading and mathematics based on a set of harmonised criteria established by the mass of countries participating in regional and international assessments.

This breakthrough also paves the way to a possible lead indicator that would go straight to the heart of the SDG 4 agenda: to ensure that all children are in school and learning. Many stakeholders, notably the Education Commission, are urging the development of a lead indicator that would reflect access to and quality of education. It would combine Indicator 4.1.1 (share of children at the end of primary with a minimum proficiency in reading and mathematics) with the completion rate for primary school-age children and/or the out-of-school rate for this age group – data which are already produced by the UIS.

The IAEG is going to consult on a list of additional indicators, including either the out-of-school children rate or the completion rates, in the global monitoring framework for SDG 4 to help ensure that no child is left behind.

In parallel, we continue to work with countries to link their national-level assessments to a set of universal learning scales. Again, this is about helping countries to make the best possible use of their own data and systems, rather than adding another layer of assessment. What countries need and want is a set of tools to fine tune or align some of the technical components of their own assessment systems to the global metrics.

How are we helping countries to measure learning?

A network is already in place to move this forward. The Global Alliance to Monitor Learning (GAML), established by the UIS, provides methodological solutions to develop the new indicators on learning that we need to achieve SDG 4 and to set the standards for good practices on learning assessments. Member States and technical experts from around the world have come together to develop an innovative but pragmatic approach that recognises diversity while yielding internationally-comparable measures of learning.

At the same time, we want to help countries develop their own assessment systems or improve the quality of those existing. So through GAML, the UIS and the Australian Council for Education (ACER) are also developing a series of tools, such as the data quality assessment framework that will help countries strengthen their systems while identifying statistical capacity needs for donors.

Another key partner is the World Bank, with its SABER Student Assessment, which is enhancing the global knowledge base on effective student assessment policies. Its comprehensive framework and related diagnostic tools help identify the key quality drivers that need to be addressed in order to strengthen the quality and utility of the information produced by assessment systems. Education policymakers and practitioners can also use the SABER framework and methodology to help enable cross-country learning and foster informed dialogue and decision-making.

The upgrade of Indicator 4.1.1 reflects a global consensus for our way forward. Countries understand that metrics are not perfect and that there will always be areas that are not 100% comparable. But they also appreciate the promise of having a mechanism to inform, guide and monitor our commitment to improve learning for all children, regardless of their circumstances. The UIS and its many partners in education data collection remain dedicated to maintaining an unwavering focus to refine and improve measures of student learning, while supporting countries to build capacity for their implementation.

Luis Benveniste is a Practice Manager, Global Engagement and Knowledge, at World Bank. Silvia Montoya is 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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Pakistan’s Educational Foresight and Alignment with the Education SDG

By Sajid Ali, Aga Khan University, Pakistan.

sdgsIf SDG-4 does not want to end up with the same fate as EFA or MDGs in Pakistan, it has to privilege local planning and leadership for implementation.

The Sindh province of Pakistan prepared a Sindh Education Sector Plan (SESP) after detailed consultations and involvement of all stakeholders in the province. The process started in 2012 and concluded in 2014 with the final publication of SESP 2014-18. This was the time when the Education for All (EFA) was approaching its end in 2015 and the shaping of new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) was in full swing. It is important to note that the development of SESP was itself triggered by a pre-condition of Global Partnership of Education (GPE), which required Sindh province to have an education sector plan ready in order to avail the $66 million GPE grant. Although the government education department was leading the plan, the process of formation of SESP was delicately orchestrated by several donor agencies – prominently the World Bank, the European Union, UNICEF and UNESCO – through being leading member of what is called the Local Education Group (LEG) which also has representation from local NGOs, academia and private sector. Thus, SESP supposedly represented the aspirations, priorities and observations of all the stakeholders that have been involved in education development in Sindh. The provincial government of Sindh also showed ownership of the sector plan and so did the participating stakeholders.

In order to roll out SESP, a small implementation group was formed and the overall work resulted in the development of the district level plans, which took another full year until the end of 2015. Just as the government seemed set and focused to implement SESP, a new requisition is being imposed upon it, that is the alignment of SESP with SDG-4. With the formal adoption of SDGs, the prominent UN agencies working in Pakistan are urging for the alignment of SDG-4 with national and provincial plans. In February 2016, a high level two-day provincial consultation took place in Sindh province jointly organised by the UNICEF, UNESCO, Federal Education Ministry and Provincial Education Ministry to understand, assess and align the SESP with the SDG-4 targets. Thereafter, UNESCO-assigned consultants worked with the provincial Education Department to develop a strategy to align targets of SDG-4 with the SESP.

The alignment process of SESP with SDG-4 looked simplistic at the surface and the guidelines from UNESCO were also clear that the targets of SESP be juxtaposed with the targets of SDG-4 and gaps should be identified where the two do not match. The ensuing exercise included various members from Sindh gathered together to fill out detailed tables identifying such gaps and suggesting what needs to be done to align. However, a key question that kept coming back was: which document supersedes in case of misalignment? Is Sindh government at liberty to discard any targets set by SDG-4 which are already signed by the federal government at the global forum? The deliberations clearly demonstrated that the SESP was measured against the targets of SDG-4 and wherever it was short or targets absent, the SDG-4 targets were inserted. The result was a document prepared by UNESCO Pakistan office, which claims to be a ‘living document’, and will be updated regularly in consultation with stakeholders. The document clearly identifies gaps in the SESP and requires it to introduce, enhance or alter its targets where they do not match the SDG-4.

It is painful to see plans after plans prepared at the national level in meticulous details. However, when it comes to implementation the partners get exhausted after long planning and many times the bureaucratic commitments get shifted to somewhere else. Here is a classic case, more than two years spent in developing a plan – SESP; but just when it is being rolled out at the district level, the SDG-4 comes in to identify yet more gaps. Yes, the gaps will continue to exist but, if local priorities and plans are undermined by these global targets, what kind of local ownership of these global targets can we expect? Will it be surprising then, if SDG-4 also fails? The life of the public sector educational planners and implementers in developing countries like Pakistan has been made very challenging by the donor community, who continue to come with their own priority areas and always pull the ministry of education in one direction or another with money attached to these priorities. This allows very little space or energy in these bureaucrats to pursue an independent plan determined by their own policies. Almost always the donor designated consultants work with (or for) the government to plan which is meticulously prepared but the actual bureaucrats who have to ensure delivery are either not involved or remain aloof only participating tokenistically. There is something fundamentally wrong in this approach to planning and implementation.

It is important for global agencies like UNESCO to not only rely on rhetoric of local ownership of these global targets such as SDG-4; but also provide space for local plans to take precedent. What good would be a meticulous document outlining the plan to achieve SDG-4 in Pakistan in next 15 years, if it has no local commitment and ownership? We have seen numerous such documents under EFA and MDG regimes. We should not fall in the same trap again.

Sajid Ali, Associate Professor, Aga Khan University – Institute for Educational Development, Pakistan. Email: sajid.ali@aku.edu

This blog is based on a forthcoming article in the next issue of NORRAG NEWS, NN54, on “Education, Training and Agenda 2030: What Progress One Year On?”, expected to be released in January 2017.

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Is the Meister Vocational High School More Cost-Effective in South Korea?

By Kye Woo LEE and Dae Hong KIM, Korea Development Institute (KDI), South Korea, and Hay Kyeong LEE, University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA.

skoreaWhen the 2008 economic crisis occurred, many European governments, which were hit hardest by the crisis, tried to learn from the dual vocational high school programme of Germany, whose graduates had suffered much less from unemployment. The German government touted that its relatively low unemployment rate was due to dual vocational high school programme, in which students take academic courses in school for about two days a week, and training in practical skills and knowledge on the job in cooperating enterprises for the rest of the week.

In 2008, South Korea also adapted Germany’s model, called the Meister Vocational High School (MHS) Programme, which was a new type of vocational high school in South Korea, and announced some 50 (traditional) regular vocational high schools would become Meister vocational high schools. In addition, 350 regular vocational high schools (RVHS) would be modernized in the direction of the MHS Programme, and about 300 RVHS converted to general high schools (GHS).

In 2010, the Korean government launched 21 Meister Vocational High Schools after two years’ preparation, and by September 2013, their employment rate reached 90% (Kim et al. 2013, 2012). In parallel with the MHS, the RVHS improved their graduates’ employment rate from 22% in 2011 to 41% in 2012 and reduced their graduates’ progression rate to higher education from 56% to 46% during the same years (MOEL, 2012).

The Korean government then faced a critical policy choice: To solve the historically high youth unemployment rates and foster skilled workforce, should the government convert the remaining 350 RVHS to MHS, and 300 RVHS to GHS? Therefore, to answer the policy question, we assessed the economic viability and cost-effectiveness of the MHS and compared them with those of other competing educational investment options such as RVHS or GHS.

The MHS vs. RVHS

To compare the MHS and RVHS, we conducted the cost-benefit and cost effectiveness analyses. The results reveal that both Meister and regular vocational high schools are economically viable. Yet, the Meister vocational high schools are found to be less viable than the regular vocational high schools both before (MHS: 19.3% vs. RVHS: 20.4%) and after (MHS: 23.3% vs. RVHS: 23.9%) the launch of the Meister vocational high school programme.

Therefore, we conducted a cost-effectiveness analysis, which suggests that the Meister vocational high schools are less cost-effective than the regular vocational high schools. First, student recurrent cost per wage rate of the Meister vocational high school remains higher than that of the regular vocational high school both before (MHS:1.48 won vs. RVHS: 1.10 won) and after (MHS: 2.74 won vs. RVHS: 1.64 won), and it gets much higher after the launch of the Meister vocational high school programme.

Second, student recurrent cost per employment rate of the Meister vocational high school was lower than that of the regular vocational high school before (MHS: 652.57 thousand won vs. RVHS: 675.46 thousand won), but became higher after the Meister vocational high school programme implementation (MHS: 515 thousands won vs. RVHS: 503 thousands won).

The RVHS vs. GHS (with higher education)

A student graduating from the middle school has another option besides the regular vocational high school. It is the general high school. Thus, similar economic analyses were conducted between the regular vocational high school (RVHS) or regular vocational high school followed by higher education (RVHS plus) and the general high school, followed by higher education (GHS plus).

The results suggest that the RVHS (or RVHS plus) is consistently more economically viable (RVHS 25%, RVHS plus 22%, and GHS Plus 16%), and is more cost-effective than the general high school followed by higher education option: (i) student cost per wage rate (RVHS: 0.88 won, RVHS plus: 0.67 won, and GHS plus: 1.06 won), (ii) student cost per employment rate (RVHS: 553 thousand won, RVHS Plus: 423 thousand won, and GHS Plus: 664 thousand won).

In sum, the regular vocational high school, or regular vocational high school followed by higher education, is, in fact, more economically viable and cost-effective than both alternatives: the MHS and GHS proceeding with higher education. Therefore, in the future, it would be more efficient and advisable to modernize and expand regular vocational high schools than Meister or general high schools.

Kye Woo LEE is a Professor of Korea Development Institute (KDI) School of Public Policy and Management, Republic of Korea. Email: kwlee@kdischool.ac.kr

Dae Hong KIM is a Research Associate of the Centre for International Development at KDI, Republic of Korea. Email: dhkim@kdi.re.kr

Hay Kyeong LEE is a Graduate Student of University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA. Email: hakyeonglee@gmail.com

This blog is based on: Lee, K.W. et al., 2016, Is the Meister Vocational High School More Cost-Effective? International Journal of Educational Development. 51: 84-95; and the same title book published by Lambert Academic Publishing Co. (ISBN 978-3-330-01475-6).

The views expressed here are of authors only and do not officially represent the organizations with which authors are affiliated.


Kim, J.W., Choi, S.J., Hur, Y.J., 2012. Assessment of the Implementation of the Government‘s Meister High School Policy and Future Agenda. KRIVET (In Korean).

Kim, J.W., Kim, H.M., Choi, S.J., Hur, Y.J., 2013. Analysis of Meister High School Graduates’ Labour Market Performance. KRIVET (In Korean).

Ministry of Employment and Labour of the Republic of Korea, 2012. Open Employment Market: Progress and Future Agenda (In Korean).

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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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