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09 Feb 2015

Global and Asian Perspectives on the Post-2015 Discussion By Shoko Yamada

By Shoko Yamada, Nagoya University, Japan.

AsiaOn January 26th 2015 there was an international symposium entitled “Critical Perspectives on Education and Skills in the Emerging Post-2015 Development Agenda” which was hosted by the Graduate School of International Development, Nagoya University, and the Central Japan Branch of the Japan Society for International Development. It was an opportunity to bring in perspectives from different backgrounds to look critically at the issues about the emerging post-2015 development agenda in general, and, in particular, its education and skills’ dimensions. An effort was made to organize the panel with scholars from aid-providing countries in northeast Asia, namely, Japan, Korea, and China, along with Dr. Nicholas Burnett, former director of the UNESCO Global Monitoring Report and Managing Director of Results for Development, who raised key issues for the current discourse in a comparative perspective both spatially and historically. Prof. Kenneth King, Editor of NORRAG News, moderated the discussion, while I served as discussant.

Prof. Kazuhiro Yoshida, vice chair of the UNESCO Education for All (EFA) steering committee and professor of Hiroshima University, compared the Muscat targets with the Intergovernmental Open Working Group (OWG) education targets. He then reviewed Japanese ODA to education since the 2000s, noting that with the shrinking ODA and the change of the administration, the current government has initiated the revision of the ODA Charter, which has redefined the meaning of “international cooperation” to include the private sector in its scope.

Dr. Bong Gun Chung, Professor of Seoul National University overviewed the trend of Korean ODA and noted the lack of consistency in its commitment to the education sector. Overall, priority is placed more on technical and vocational education and training than on basic education. Regardless of the fact that the Korean government will host the World Education Forum in May 2015, since Korean ODA is more controlled by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs than the Ministry of Education, he cautions that the UN Sustainable Development Goals (the post-Millennium Development Goal – MDG – agenda) are likely to gain more attention than the post-EFA agenda.

According to Dr. Meibo Huang, Professor of Xiamen University, although China has achieved a remarkable improvement in Human Development Indicators in the last 20 years, this success was attributed more to the national development strategy and domestic economic growth than to global agenda like the MDGs. In China, the post-2015 process is mostly driven by UN organizations and western think-tanks, and does not attract much interest from domestic agencies or academics.

Dr. Nicholas Burnett pointed out that the widespread advocacy around the post-2015 process has made it ambiguous who actually owns the process. He noted that to achieve the goals, it is important to focus on poor people as much as on poor countries. While the discussion has tended to focus on goals to be included in the agenda, he emphasized the importance of monitoring and accountability to ensure the agenda will be acted on and get the results.

For those of us who are involved in the field of international development cooperation, we rarely spend a day without hearing or reading the words “post-2015”. Ideas and opinions are expressed from all corners by means of publications, blogs, conferences, etc. and they exceed the capacity to absorb even for those concerned about it. Targets are more dispersed than when the former World Education Forum was held in Dakar in 2000, while the number and the types of stakeholders taking part in the process have increased. In this somewhat chaotic situation, it is important to examine the process from both a global comparative perspective and a regional one.

For sure, northeast Asia is not a monolithic unit. Even among the governments of Japan, Korea, and China, the situations are very different. Korea is going to host the next World Education Forum in May 2015, despite its rather recent membership of the DAC donor community. Japan can be categorized as a traditional donor, whose total amount of ODA has been decreasing consecutively in the last few years. China is, as many observers point out, increasing its presence in the field of international development without submitting itself to the DAC codes of conduct and principles of aid. Regardless of these different stances in development cooperation, they share some commonality and distinctiveness. On the one hand, “Korean”, “Chinese”, and “Japanese” models are sold on the basis that these countries were once aid recipients and can support developing countries as peers. On the other hand, there is a desire to provide a kind of counter-proposal to Western-oriented philosophies and frameworks of international development, which can be claimed to be “Asian”. That is often expressed in the terms like “support for self-reliance”, “reciprocity”, or “non-interference”. This latter desire is often muted, particularly in Korea and Japan, but is a significant undercurrent which, regardless of the sensitive relationships among these countries diplomatically and politically, is shared in northeast Asian donor countries. The lenses of Asian stakeholders, which have some distinct characteristics, would provide some opportunities to grasp the global post-2015 process more deeply and in a truly comparative manner.

In the discussion at the symposium, there was a question about who actually owns this process and what is going on in the black box of drafting agendas. In relation to that, there was a question about how much the voices from the South are reflected in this process. While there was a response from the panelists that a handful of people exercise significant influence, it was also noted that, regardless of the process, once the agenda is set, it will determine the flows of resources and priorities of the policies for the next 15 years. As the key issues to be focused in the remaining few months before September 2015, outcome-based approaches and measurement were highlighted. Also, in terms of Asian characteristics, a panelist suggested that two key North-East Asian priorities were Confucius philosophy and the emphasis on technical vocational education. As discussant, I also pointed out that a holistic and philosophical framework of education which is provided in Global Citizenship Education or Education for Sustainable Development could be understood in relation to the Asian orientation of educational thinking.

Further Reading:

Shoko Yamada is an Associate Professor at the Graduate School of International Development, Nagoya University, Nagoya, Japan. Email:

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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