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16 Jan 2015

Global Education Governance – How Real? by Manzoor Ahmed

By Manzoor Ahmed, BRAC University, Dhaka.

The elephant not in the room

The elephant not in the room

Global education governance – is it something real or figments of the fertile imagination of Kenneth King and Robert Palmer? The duo has drawn attention to it with a two-part blog (NORRAG Blog, 3rd and 5th November, 2014) under the title “The Elephant in the Post-2015 Education Room…” and has affirmed that it exists. They also address its facets in a longer working paper (December 2014). The authors meant to refer in the title to a critical issue that exists but is being ignored. But it also evokes the story of the proverbial elephant and the blind people; i.e., what is seen lies in the beholder’s sensory capabilities.

King and Palmer granted that the term “global governance” is not commonly used in reference to education; nonetheless, it is there, they assert, and its strong presence will be felt increasingly in the future.

As King and Palmer put it, it is “an organising framework for discussing how state and non-state actors gain political authority and presence in education.”  The global education actors “create formal and informal mechanisms by which they exert power and influence.”  There must be an   acronym for any credible idea, which, as offered by King and Palmer, is GGET (Global Governance of Education and Training). GGET includes: goals and targets, laws, rules, conventions and charters; as well as, agreements, compacts, partnerships, initiatives for policy and financial cooperation; and one may add, measurement criteria and methodology (King and Palmer, 3rd November 2014).

Now that it exists and the power of its influence is likely to increase, the question must be asked – is it, or can it be, benign and useful, especially for developing countries? The answer cannot be an unqualified yes or no. Those who may have a role in influencing decisions in developing countries and all who are interested in agency and empowerment of people must be wary. Those who see learning and flourishing of human capability as the means of establishing dignity and rights of all must watch how GGET – in concept and practice – plays out.

Developments in at least three areas have to be watched. The hype about and influence of OECD-sponsored Programme of International Student Assessment (PISA) is likely to be non-relevant or counter-productive for developing countries. If placed in a grossly uneven playing field in global competition, based on the questionable premise of an international comparative achievement metric, the poor countries are likely to be pushed in the wrong direction about what they need to do for moving towards quality-with-equity in their educations system (Meyer and Benavot, 2013).[1]

In the same vein as the glorification of PISA is the determination of “what every child [in the world] should learn” by the Learning Metrics Taskforce out of Brookings Institution. It is intended to be participatory and sensitive to diversity of the world, but is at serious risk of reflecting a dominating paradigm of epistemology and a particular view of what is worth learning and measuring.

The third cautionary signal is about the more than incipient influence of the educational market place where education is traded like other commodities and are attempted to be brought under the regulatory regime of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and General Agreements on Trade in Services (GATS). A back of the envelop calculation suggests that only school education (excluding non-formal and informal education) is at least a five trillion dollar business, which the marketeers would like to regulate in the name of trade liberalization. The GATS charter looks upon education, if not offered as wholly free public service (which is seldom the case), as fully subject to its jurisdiction (Robertson, 2006).[2]

“Squaring the circle” with global goals and targets in education and development and the diverse national/local circumstances is a continuing challenge (Ahmed, 2014).[3] But I hasten to add that the developing countries, for that matter, all countries, need the countervailing forces of a global view, and the debate and discourse it generates, against within-country parochialism, divergent interests, and power relationships.

Manzoor Ahmed is Professor Emeritus at BRAC University and vice-chair of Campaign for Popular Education (CAMPE). Email:

[1] Meyer, H-D and Benavot, A. (2013) PISA, Power and Policy: the Emergence of Global Educational Governance, Didcot: Symposium Books.

[2] Robertson, S. L. (2006)  Globalisation, GATS and Trading in Education Services, in  J. Kallo and R. Rinne (eds), Supranational Regimes and National Education Policies: Encountering Challenge. Helsinki: Finnish Education Research Association

[3] A later version of this article also appeared in the International Journal of Educational Development, vol 39, November, 2014.


>> NORRAG NEWS 51 now online! Education and Skills Post-2015 and the Global Governance of Education: Agendas and Architecture

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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