By David Levesque, Independent Education Adviser.
Am I the only one who finds the debate on post MDG /EFA education goals over complicated? Suggested ‘own goals’ abound. With the desire to ensure ‘quality’ and measurement for all and include as many sectors as possible it ends up sounding like a cacophony of competing interests.
The primary education MDG was easily understood, more or less universally desired and was a clear way of prioritising over the short term (historically speaking). Whilst ‘primary’ was interpreted differently and access statistics, like survival to grade five, used as proxy quality indicators led to dismay about how much children were learning, this was entirely predictable when working from a low base and does not detract from the desire for all children to have basic knowledge and skills. I have never been in a school or seen an education system that deliberately sets out to provide a low quality education; motivation is seldom the core constraint. Historically, all education systems have taken time to improve the quality of teaching and learning.
The one change I would make for the next 15 years would be to change the goal to universal basic education; to be understood as the right for everyone to have the opportunity to develop appropriate basic life skills. Not in terms of years of schooling but of skills acquired. These have been widely debated and it should not be too hard to agree a globally consensus.
This could be variously interpreted according to country circumstances and need not be limited to age or organisation constraints. It could include early childhood, various levels of schooling, out of school learning, non-formal education and lifelong learning, wherever it is possible to learn. Countries would be free to choose implementation strategies to measure progress, including international league tables and competition, if appropriate. This would not preclude investing in higher education essential for innovation and training more teachers. Other forms of training and higher education could be considered under economic and sustainable development goals.
However, underpinning the current debate is the assumption that the Education MDG replacement requires ‘teeth’ and needs to act as a policy and financing lever. Vested interests are widespread and there are many who want a slice of the action. Perhaps it is this connection that needs to be rethought. Global goals should be inspirational, aspirational and universally accepted. Mechanistic financial and political accountability imperatives together with their associated measurement requirements distort and complicate. There is a case for separating ends from means. Hoop jumping, conditionality, donor accountability to their funders and league tables are all part of the means and perhaps need a separate discussion. They certainly could be decided at a national and local level according to need.
Universal basic education offers the chance of global acceptance, with locally developed appropriate implementation strategies. Within the UN ‘right to education’, it strengthens the continuing UPE agenda while offering hope to those who missed out on primary education and those who may be failed by the formal system, through recognition of the multiple channels through which basic skills and knowledge can be acquired. Wider provision offers renewed hope for current and future generations.
Dr David Levesque is an Independent Education Adviser.