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02 Dec 2014

Education Post-2015: Recurring Themes By Robert Palmer

By Robert Palmer, NORRAG.

Education post2015This is the second blog in a series of post-2015 reflection blogs (see first blog here); a synthesis review of NORRAG NEWSBite’s post-2015 education blogs over the last couple of years.

There is an overwhelming view that the next round of education targets needs to be more ambitious than the 2015 targets, even while there is acknowledgment that the 2015 targets remain an unfinished agenda. The world in 2015, and the world in 2030, will be very different from 2000, and education is regarded as being central to the whole post-2015 global development agenda (Adams). There is indeed a lot of interest in examining how global changes will impact education (and of course, vice-versa). Perhaps not surprisingly, one of most read blogs on post-2015 has been about global mega trends and the post-2015 agenda for education.

In about six months’ time at the World Education Forum in South Korea, a large piece of the post-2015 education jigsaw will be moved into position. A few months later, at the UN General Assembly, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are expected to be agreed upon; and it is now almost a given that one of the SDGs will be on education.

There has been a great deal of debate, including in NORRAG Blog, about the key themes that should be reflected in the final targets; below we highlight the most salient of these, including: the right to education; lifelong learning; learning; and, equity. Of these, learning and equity were the two themes that attracted most interest among NORRAG blog writers.

The Right to Education

Abuel-Ealeh of the Global Campaign for Education (GCE) notes the compelling case for ensuring that the right to a quality, public education is realised. GCE believes that the post-2015 education agenda must be grounded in a human rights perspective.

Cardozo and Shah argues that the post-2015 education agenda needs to pay particular attention to the right to education in situations of conflict-affected and fragile states; it needs to be a post-2015 education priority. They further note that each context is different; and that the post-2015 education agenda should not treat education in emergencies in a one-solution-fits-all approach.

Lifelong Learning

Ahmed argues that the post-2015 agenda needs to emphasise lifelong learning in a learning society; where all participate in and contribute to learning throughout life. Ahmed flags up his concern about the Learning Metrics Taskforce’s focus on keeping the scope of the post-2015 education agenda confined to formal school education up to lower secondary level. He also notes that lifelong learning begins at birth (or even before); so lifelong should mean lifelong.


Anderson Simons, Technical Lead, Learning Metrics Task Force (LMTF), outlined the LMTF’s recommendations for what learning is important globally; the LMTF has come up with seven domains of learning, beginning in early childhood and extending through the transition to work and life. Meanwhile, McLean argues that the LMTF is focussed on ‘improving measurement, not learning’, and that the post-2015 education debate needs to stop talking about learning as if it were ‘disconnected from teaching, detached from teachers, different from education and somehow recently discovered’.

Beatty and Pritchett argue that a post-2015 learning target ‘to have utility… needs to be realistic enough to motivate countries, track progress instead of just set thresholds, and be reasonable and fair, based on historical progress’. To show what reasonable goals might look like, they highlight the historical progress on three international standardized tests (TIMSS, PISA, SACMEQ) in math, reading and science.

Levesque argues that the debate about education post-2015 has become over-crowded, and that the post-2015 agenda for education should focus on skills acquired through universal basic education (early childhood, various levels of schooling, out of school learning, non-formal education and lifelong learning); ‘to be understood as the right for everyone to have the opportunity to develop appropriate basic life skills’.


A number of blogs have drawn attention to the imperative to address the marginalized in the post-2015 education agenda. Progress towards Education for All has been held back by structural disparities linked to wealth, age, gender, ethnicity, language, disability, geography and other markers of disadvantage. Saeed and Zia illustrate this by referring to data from Pakistan’s Annual Status of Education Report.

Heninger recalls that conflict and disaster exacerbate individual factors contributing to lack of access. Holmås further argues that the hardest to reach, especially those in conflict and crisis situations, need to be reached in the post-2015 agenda.

Fransen, Vandenbosch, Rooms and Dewaele note the international consensus on putting equity at the heart of a post-2015 education agenda; as an illustration of how development agencies might operationalise this in their own strategies, they note how equity was integrated in different ways and at different levels in VVOB’s education portfolio.

Al-Samarrai uses the case of Indonesia to argue that education inequality needs to be tackled through better governance, and that efforts must focus on strengthening the capacity of local governments to deliver quality education services to all children.

King argues that to address educational inequalities, countries must sign up for collecting disaggregated data to assess the progress of, and differences between, the richer and poorer sections of the population, rural and urban, male and female, majority and minority language speakers etc. This will require political commitment to adopt equity goals that deliberately target the marginalised.

The global education ambition is raised

The main proposals to date (from the High Level Panel, the Sustainable Development Solutions Network, the Secretary-General, and the Open Working Group; and the education-specific ones like the Muscat Agreement, and the education post-2015 consultations) broadly agree on much of what a future goal on education should look like. From these proposals, it is clear that the key buzz words likely to be included in the goal wording are: inclusiveness and equity; quality; and, lifelong learning. Bergh and Couturier argue that ‘whatever the detail of targets and indicators, ambitions in education have ratcheted up several notches from those in the MDGs’; and ‘education is undoubtedly one goal area that will require a very substantial slice of the cake’.

Haven’t we been here before?

Tawil argues that we have actually come full circle since 1990, and notes that learning and equity are not newly discovered or emerging; After all, he notes, ‘what has the EFA movement been about if not about promoting equitable opportunities for effective and relevant basic learning for all?’

In the next blog in this series, we examine the specific issue of technical and vocational skills development in the post-2015 agenda.

Robert Palmer is an independent education and skills consultant. He also supports the Editor of NORRAG News and runs NORRAG NEWSBite. Email: Tweets @SkillsImpact

>>View all NORRAG Blogs on Education 2030


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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