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05 Jul 2013

Education Post-2015: Where are we going? How are we getting there?

By Kenneth King and Robert Palmer.


HLP educ logoTwenty 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 (UNESCO, 1990). As now, there were regional meetings and then a global meeting. But one of the differences was that there was already a very early draft of the World Declaration which could go to the regional meetings for comment and reaction, and there was a high level international advisory group and editorial group which were tasked with examining in detail the text of the Declaration and the Framework even in Jomtien itself.


In the case of the original MDG agenda-setting process, we have the very detailed analysis (from Manning, 2009) of how this came about. But that too was relatively simple compared to the process of the last year and more.


This time, the inputs into the process of defining goals or suggested targets, even for one sector, education, is hugely more complex. Apart from a series of regional meetings on Education, there have been almost three months of e-consultations on several sub-themes, with over 500 responses, and attendant summaries. These have involved a consideration of both the post-EFA and the post-MDG agendas. In addition, there have been a whole series of papers posted on the thematic consultation site. It is also possible to derive from the other ten thematic consultations a wide range of cross-cutting implications for education and skills.


Also unlike the 1990 Jomtien and 2000 Dakar EFA and New York Millennium processes, there are, we have shown, a complex array of other highways along which there are discussions of goals and targets, indicators and measurements. These include the High Level Panel motorway, the UN-facilitated national, regional and global consultation road network, the SDG highway (still far from complete), and a whole series of other trunk roads which we have briefly referred to in our NORRAG Working Paper#4.


Beyond these, there have been a series of research-based inputs, just as there were in Jomtien 1990 and in the World Forum in Dakar in April 2000. These evidence-based reports are coming from civil society organisations and think tanks (such as those by Oxfam (2013); Save the Children (2012); ActionAid (2012); and by Brookings (2013). Some are entirely focused on education, while others look across the post-2015 development agenda. These are in turn disseminated and discussed through specialist seminars, blogs (including this blog) and other social media. We shall be reviewing these in some detail in a special issue of NORRAG News 49 due by September 2013 at the UKFIET Oxford Conference. But we are acutely aware that this research-based policy analysis around goals and targets does constitute another major source of ideas and potential influences in the whole road map.


In our most recent paper, we felt that an understanding of the complexity of the route map itself between 2012 and 2015 was worth sketching out, as many of the initiatives we have analysed have used its milestones for timing their reports and proposals.


But as NORRAG with over 45% of our membership based in the South, we have felt a particular concern with analysing the extent of Southern engagement with this very vibrant process of post-2015 debate and discussion. Equally, as a large number of NORRAG members indicate that one of their fields of interest is technical and vocational education and training (TVET) or skills development, we felt it worth reviewing the way this particular domain was perceived and recommended by the various bodies concerned with its visibility.


In respect of the Southern voices, we found, with just a handful of exceptions, that the temperature around post-2015 issues was not at all high in most countries where we were able to check with individuals who are very much concerned with international education and training. This is of course a highly anomalous situation if it is indeed the case on more rigorous analysis. The whole exercise of re-setting the development agenda from 2015 is meant to be of very direct interest and value to countries in South. Paradoxically, however, the post-2015 temperature is very much higher in the Northern countries. We have suggested that this may be directly connected to what is called ‘the aid industry’; in other words, Northern international bodies, whether INGOs, think tanks, consultancy firms, or development agencies themselves do perceive the shape and composition of the next development agenda as directly influencing their own operations in the developing world. Thus, if there is a new education goal or goals, and if, as has happened, these mention ‘pre-primary’, ‘life long learning’, ‘quality’, ‘lower secondary’, ‘learning’, or ‘skills for work’, it will have direct financial consequences for the funding of one or more of these domains, just as the 2000 Goals of UPE and Gender Equity generated considerable funding for these objectives.


If this is the case, why would the same logic not operate in the case of ministries, think tanks and NGOs in the South? The sad truth may be that despite all the partnership rhetoric of Paris, Accra and Busan, aid remains still a Northern preserve. Aid is still about donors and recipients. If this is so, it might help to explain why emerging powers such as India, China, and South Korea are little engaged in the debate about the MDGs; their own outreach to the developing world proceeds on a different basis and rationale, not about aid or charity but ‘win-win’ cooperation (Mawdsley, 2012).


As for the position of ‘skills for work’ in the post-2015 debates, this too seems not completely secure despite its welcome appearance in the HLP Report. Surprisingly, after one of the most severe economic crises affecting both North and South, there is little in the way of a groundswell of interests seeking to put on to the development agenda a goal that links work skills, employability, entrepreneurship, jobs, productivity and growth. This might seem a natural goal for East Asian donors like Japan and South Korea, and for agencies like the ILO. Partly this is to do with the fact that the North continues to regard the MDGs, as in 2000, as being principally relevant to the South and not to itself.


If there is not yet any strong focus around skills in relation to work, employment and productivity apart from the Dakar background paper and the HLP Report, there does seem to be a possibility that a position could still emerge that presented a transformed TVET as a natural extension of EFA. The publication of the UNESCO World TVET Report in September 2013 might help bring this about.


Our review of the current status of skills proposals would suggest that we are still some way from any such consensus. Skills cannot succeed as a goal proposal if it is perceived to be just traditional TVET, however valuable that may have been in supporting economic development in many dynamic economies. But if the conceptualisation of TVET can sufficiently marry skills for work and skills for life (or for human development), then it should have traction.


By the time of the UKFIET Conference on post-2015 in September 2013, the UN Secretary General will have prepared his report on post-2015 to go to the General Assembly later that same month. It should be much clearer what is happening to the OWG on SDGs, and some of the other highways on the road map. The road ahead beckons! But the weather forecast is unclear!


For the longer paper on which this blog is based, see NORRAG Working Paper#4


Kenneth King is the Editor of NORRAG News. He is an Emeritus Professor at the School of Social and Political Studies, University of Edinburgh, Scotland, UK. Email:


Robert Palmer supports the Editor of NORRAG News and runs NORRAG NEWSBite. Email: Tweets @SkillsImpact


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