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12 Dec 2013

Education Among Goals Ahead of the Post-2015 Game

By Gina Bergh and Jonathan Couturier at the Overseas Development Institute.

It’s been a hectic year for the post-2015 development agenda, with a stream of high and low level panels, consultations, working groups and proposals flooding the policy space. So we set out to assess the proposals up to now likely to carry weight as a new framework takes shape in the coming months. In our recent rough guide we look at the emerging areas of consensus and divergence, and where there is still more to work out.

Among possible future goals education is firmly one of those ahead of the game. For one, in how developed and engaged the community working on ideas in this area is, not least thanks to its long-standing place as central to national and global development agendas (reflected in its central placement in the MDGs). So it avoids the level of politics, and to an extent the level of technical challenge, that some more recently suggested goals like governance or jobs must face. Also – and partly because of these head starts – it already enjoys lots of consensus.

Key proposals so far (from the High Level Panel, the Sustainable Development Solutions Network, the Secretary-General and wide consultations) broadly agree on much of what a future goal on education should look like. There’s no question it will expand hugely in its level of ambition compared with the access and gender parity aims of the MDGs. They agree to continue the focus on access, but beyond it flag targets on quality and learning to be at least as important. Here there’s an emphasis on indicators that would measure literacy and numeracy, though some also want to measure completion and drop-out rates.

All the proposals we looked at seek to strengthen links between education and employment, which reflects a welcome step-change to bring education results in line with aims to solve the most pressing challenge for young people. Suggestions for targets here range from technical and vocational skills, to reducing unemployment rates, to ‘practical’ skills for entrepreneurship. And although gender parity wasn’t explicitly addressed in most of these proposals, it is implied through wording on access that mentions ‘all girls and boys’ or ‘every child’ and ‘all children’. Any of these are useful on access, but without a target clearly addressing gender parity we may see a weaker goal in that respect.

And even in education where there is quite some consensus, there are still plenty of details to work out, and some outlying suggestions that could be important. For instance proposals differ on the level of education that an access target should apply to – ranging from just primary, to lower secondary / secondary, through to higher education or ‘lifelong learning’. And most (but not all) look to bring in early childhood development as fundamental. Some flag the need to improve technology and facilities in schools, or to bring sustainability concepts into curricula – a suggestion that could do much to bring together human development and sustainability objectives (still a core objective for the framework as a whole). Others want a target on education in conflict zones, or to bring participatory governance into the picture. Although all these suggestions haven’t made it into the core emerging agenda yet, some may be important to consider for the final cut.

One thing that’s clear from this look at where key proposals now stand is that whatever the detail of targets and indicators, ambitions in education have ratcheted up several notches from those in the MDGs. And as future development resource discussions continue in earnest, education is undoubtedly one goal area that will require a very substantial slice of the cake.

Gina Bergh is a research officer at the Overseas Development Institute (ODI). Email:

Jonathan Couturier is the content coordinator on ODI’s post-2015 focused website. Email:

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