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01 Dec 2014

Education Post-2015: What Destination, Whose Journey? By Robert Palmer

By Robert Palmer, NORRAG.

Education post2015Since NORRAG’s first blog on post-2015 back in June 2012 we have had almost 100 blogs around post-2015/beyond-2015; similarly if we count the articles on post-2015 in NORRAG NEWS (NN) 49 and the forthcoming NN51, there are almost 100 more. NORRAG also has four working papers on post-2015. Over the next five days we shall run a series of post-2015 reflection blogs; a synthesis review of NORRAG NEWSBite’s post-2015 education blogs over the last couple of years. This blog is the first of the series.

Twenty two years ago NORRAG attempted (see NN7 and NN8) a policy history of how we got the Education for All Declaration and Framework for Action in the World Conference in Jomtien. King argues that, this time, the inputs into the process of defining goals or suggested targets, even for one sector, education, is hugely more complex.

The last two years have seen a tremendous amount of interest in the education post-2015 development agenda. We have seen consultation after consultation, high and low level panels (some eminent and many others not so eminent), reports, blogs, debates and lobbying pitches, we are finally in the home straight of this journey. Destination: an agreed education post-2015 goal, targets and indicators.

How has this journey been so far? Who has been on this journey? And what still lies ahead, and for whom?

Three journeys to agreement on education post-2015

In 2014, as in 2013, there has continued to be a tripartite formal process of determining the position of education and skills in the post-2015 agenda:

  • The post-MDG journey – represented by the UN High Level Panel Report (May 2013), the UN-facilitated global consultation (2012/13), the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network Report (2013) and the UN Secretary-General’s Reports on MDGs/Post-2015 (2013, with another forthcoming in December 2014).
  • The SDG journey – represented by the intergovernmental OWG on SDGs – which gave their final report in August 2014.
  • The post-EFA journey – represented by UNESCO-UNICEF involvement in the global education thematic consultation (and report), and the EFA assessment process 2013-2015. The timeline of the latter is the national assessment process to June 2014, followed by regional conferences October 2014 to February 2015 and a World Education Forum in Korea in May 2015.

Beyond these, there have been a series of research-based inputs coming from civil society organisations and think tanks.

Convergence of the formal processes is underway, certainly at the level of the overarching education goal proposal and increasingly at the target level (see more below). There is still some way to go with regard to agreement on final target wording, and even further to go when it comes to agreement on indicators. The World Education Forum in May 2015 will be the last key education-specific milestone ahead of the finally agreed SDGs in September 2015.

Almost 100 NORRAG’s blogs have covered most parts of this process to date. What have they said?

The Post-MDG process

King reported on the High Level Panel (HLP) report (May 2013), noting that it covered and confirmed the importance of many of the most crucial aspects of basic education and that it represented a good start for education. He also flagged up several of its weaker points when it came to education; for example, the absence of an adult literacy target, and the trade-offs in the targets with regard to access, completion and learning outcomes. Klees is more critical of the HLP, noting for example that pre-primary education is not targeted as universal, and that although “quality education” is mentioned in the overall goal, ‘in none of the specific education targets is educational quality mentioned’. Further, he notes too that there is no reference to adult illiteracy or to post-secondary education.

Several NORRAG members provided commentary on the post-2015 indicators proposed by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network; and for many they were problematic.

The main the education and skills components of the UN Secretary-General’s report ‘A Life of Dignity for All (July 2013) was also flagged up.

The Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) process

With regard to the Open Working Group (OWG) of the General Assembly on SDGs, Mundy  reported on what she said at one of the meetings, and King and Palmer report on the use of evidence by the SDSN.

The Post-EFA process

The UNESCO-UNICEF led education post-2015 consultations (2012-2013), and associated e-consultations, have featured in several blogs.

Ahmed provides an alternative narrative about the EFA Regional Education UNESCO Conferences, and notes that participants expressed their concerns about several aspects of the Muscat Agreement (May 2014); for example, the lack of a robust financing target including donor commitments, and measurability of targets in country contexts. He notes that the Asia-Pacific Region conference ‘participants clearly baulked at giving a full-throated endorsement to the Muscat text’.

While some question the power of UNESCO itself as an organization capable of having a strong voice in the post-2015 debate (Elfert), UNESCO successfully organized the Muscat Global Education Meeting in May 2014 and is fully engaged with the organization of the meeting next May in Incheon of the World Education Forum.

Some convergence

Convergence at the target level can also be seen with the Muscat Agreement and the Open Working Group (OWG) proposal, at least for targets relating to: early childhood care and education; basic education; youth and adult literacy/numeracy; skills for decent work and life; education for sustainable development and global citizenship; and teachers. Points of divergence include the Muscat agreement inclusion of a target on financing (and its absence in the OWG proposal), and the OWG proposal inclusion of targets specially mentioning equal access to all levels of education, including higher education (something absent in the Muscat agreement).

The view from the South

A number of NORRAG’s blogs have reflected on the extent to which the voices of the Global South have been reflected in the post-2015 process. In May 2013, King and Palmer talked of a northern tsunami of interest in post-2015 compared to just a southern ripple (based on a full NORRAG Working Paper on this topic). Palmer noted how the e-discussion of the Post-2015 Global Thematic Consultation on Education (Dec 2012 – Mar 2013) was not met with much take-up in the Global South; of the approximately 450 substantive comments, only 1 in 5 came from individuals in the South. In September 2013, King noted that it still seemed to be broadly the case that there is very much more activity around post-2015 in some of the Northern industrialised countries than in the Global South. He suggested that one reason why there is much more post-2015 activity in certain industrialised countries is that there are potentially crucial connections between any final post-2015 agenda and the ‘aid industry’ (King).

Chung notes that the Global South ‘tide begins rising in a series of meetings’, including the Global EFA Meeting (GEM) in Muscat, Oman, and the UNESCO-led Regional Education Conferences. These are of course globally-led meetings in the South rather than southern-led meetings. But the reaction of the Global South constituency at the  UNESCO Asia-Pacific Regional Education Conference signals some disquiet about having a lack of voice; as Ahmed noted, the Bangkok participants ‘clearly baulked at giving a full-throated endorsement to the Muscat text’; they wanted to have their say.

Several NORRAG blogs have highlighted that while some in the Global South are not getting their voice heard in the post-2015 education debates – but want to, others in the Global South do not see any relevance in the debates themselves. For example, Hilal notes that while Palestine did not get a voice in the UNDP-led national post-2015 consultations, it is important that the Palestinian voice is heard in the post-2015 debates; not least because of its situation of trying to develop and plan under decades of Israeli occupation. Meanwhile, Lolwana directly states the perceived irrelevance of the education post-2015 agenda to South Africa: ‘South Africa has never actually engaged seriously with MDG 2 on education and the post-2015 agenda can never drive the developmental agenda of the country’.

An evidence-based process?

King and Palmer caution that the process of determining education goals and targets can sometimes be more driven by politics and sound-bites rather than by real evidence. They review the evidence presented to justify the inclusion of education as a main goal, as well as the choice of various education targets (see also their full Working Paper on evidence and education post-2015).

Is it the Destination, Not the Journey?

The journey to the agreement of post-2015 goals is in the home straight, but the more difficult journey is about to start; the fifteen year journey of implementation to 2030.

In the next blog in this series, we highlight the most salient themes that will most likely be reflected in the final 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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