NN54, December 2016

Global Goals Versus Local Contexts: A Particular Challenge for Small Island Developing States
Pages 55-56

Keywords: International agendas; sustainable development; SIDS; accountability culture.

Summary: The article demonstrates the significance of local context sensitivity for the successful engagement of Small Island Developing States (SIDS) with global educational agendas and the new SDGs. In doing so, it is argued that there is much that the wider international development community can learn from this distinctive experience.


Small island developing states (SIDS) have distinctive educational challenges, needs and priorities. This has been clearly documented by researchers across many fields and disciplines since an international literature on education in small states emerged in the early 1980s. Much of this work has been stimulated and supported by the Commonwealth, whose constituency currently comprises 30 small states out of the total of 52 members. Of these, many can also be classified as SIDS and share some of the most significant development challenges that underpin the core rationale for the new Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) Education Agenda. Climate change, sea level rise and environmental uncertainty are, for example, identified as the dominant concerns currently faced by SIDS, and those that have some of the most pressing implications for education and training in such contexts (Crossley, Bray and Packer, 2011). Recognising these distinctive needs UNESCO has also focused increased attention on education in SIDS, and in September 2014 the UN generated global attention in the form of the Third International Conference on Small Island Developing States that was held in Samoa.

In the light of this, the nature of the SDG education agenda, and progress with implementation, are of direct importance for SIDS worldwide. Will, for example, a new era of international development support the ongoing efforts of SIDS to prioritise education for sustainable development (ESD) in ways that will meet their own local needs, improve the quality of teaching and learning in all sectors, and strengthen social justice? Will the new international agendas, goals and targets align more closely with the aspirations and priorities held by SIDS than has been the case in the past?  Critical reflections on the EFA movement, and the MDGs, are less than reassuring given their emphasis (in practice) largely focussed upon access to primary schooling – and this failed to resonate with the educational priorities of small states that were some of the first systems to highlight quality and call for increased support for post-basic education and training. Work in SIDS has also long pioneered innovative advances in ESD and the application of indigenous knowledge, as publications by researchers from The University of the South Pacific (USP) demonstrate (Koya, Nabobo-Baba and Teadero, 2010).

This experience calls for greater efforts to be made by international agencies, organisations and agendas to work closely with, and learn from, SIDS, if global goals are to be engaged with in ways that are sensitive to the distinctive needs and priorities articulated in small state contexts. So, how is the new international educational development architecture, and the SDG process, engaging with this form of locally grounded challenge? Has the ‘extensive consultation’ generated by the UN led to the renewal of international agendas that are now more compatible with the contemporary priorities held by SIDS? Are the prior experiences and current needs of SIDS appropriately reflected in the spirit and detail of the SDGs? On the positive side of the coin, SDG 4 and Education 2030 do cover all sectors of education while highlighting the significance of quality, equity and sustainability - and from the SIDS perspective this connects more closely to many local and regional priorities.

From a more critical perspective, if the challenges of climate change and environmental uncertainty are to be engaged with in any depth, this will require serious action and commitment to the SDGs beyond SIDS and throughout the global North. This is the source of the economic and consumption models that are known to be intensifying the sea level rise and related social problems that are now being faced by the most vulnerable SIDS located at the ‘Sharp End’ (see www.smallstates.net). Is implementation to date revealing the emergence of a genuine universal SDG agenda, albeit one that will require local interpretation and flexibility? Or are OECD countries being driven more by competitive economic motives and related educational goals and targets generated by narrower but increasingly powerful international surveys of student achievement such as those characterised by the influential Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) studies and related league tables? Indeed, in times when the rise of international competition, big data and an accountability culture is increasingly prominent in all walks of life (Crossley, 2014), could highly prominent concerns to identify indicators for the measurement of SDG progress generate costly unintended effects - effects that run counter to core aspirations for the forms of quality education that promote diverse human and cultural values, critical awareness, social justice, and skills for peaceful sustainable development? There is certainly much that the international development community can learn from the distinctive experience of SIDS, as collective efforts are made to make the most of the SDGs in all contexts worldwide.



Crossley, M. (2014). Global league tables, big data and the international transfer of research modalities. Comparative Education  50 (1) 15-26.

Crossley, M., Bray, M. and Packer, S. (2011). Education in Small States. Policies and Priorities. London: Commonwealth Secretariat.

Koya, C.F., Nabobo-Baba, U., Teadero, T. (Eds.), (2010). Education for Sustainable Development: Pacific Stories of Sustainable Living. School of Education, University of the South Pacific & Asia/Pacific Cultural Centre for UNESCO, Suva, Fiji.


To cite this article: Crossley, M. (2016) Global Goals Versus Local Contexts: A Particular Challenge for Small Island Developing States, NORRAG News, 54, 55-56. Retrieved from: http://www.norrag.org/fileadmin/Full%20Versions/NN54.pdf