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31 Jan 2013

Weaving a Stronger Approach to Development: How Education Links our Global Goals

By Anda M. Adams.

learningAs the planned end-date of the UN’s Millennium Development Goals in 2015 approaches, the world is a very different place than it was at the start of the millennium. While dramatic progress has been made in some development areas, new challenges have arisen and the global community has fallen short of its lofty ambitions to meet the needs of the world’s poorest citizens. The eight individual goals that addressed health, education, and poverty were each focused on vital aspects of improved well-being; in hindsight, however, it is clear that the sector-specific manner in which these goals were developed hindered overall progress by ignoring the interconnectedness of development work and failing to unite under a comprehensive theory of change.

As the UN and its partners lead a global discussion about the world we want, the education community must form a cohesive movement that advances a broad and inclusive “access plus learning” agenda that also integrates with the larger development efforts toward building a just and sustainable world free from poverty. This ultimate end goal cannot be reached through education alone, nor can it be achieved without a significant focus on the role of quality education for all.  Thus, while education issues will be addressed in the UN Development Group’s thematic consultation on education, it is equally vital to ensure that education is being considered throughout the (up to) 100 national and other 10 thematic consultations being conducted through 2013.

Toward this end, I have considered how education, and specifically a focus on learning, can be embedded within seven potential global development frameworks. This post will briefly describe education’s place in these frameworks; a more detailed description of each framework and the analysis is available in my paper The Education Link: Why Learning is Central to the Post-2015 Global Development Agenda.

1.      Ending Absolute Poverty through Increased Educational Opportunities and Outcomes.  Poverty is both a cause and an effect of poor educational opporunities and outcomes. Quality education, and particularly learning achievement, can break the cycle of intergenerational poverty by providing individuals with the ability to earn higher wages, sustain economic shocks, and better take care of their family’s health, nutrition, education, and social welfare.

2.      Ensuring Equity and Inclusion by Leveling the Playing Field. Inequalities based upon ethnicity, gender, language, location and weath hinder equal opporunity. Children from the poorest households are less likely to enroll and complete school, thereby further decreasing their opportunities.  Investing in early learning, especially for disadvanted children, can help close these opportunity and achievement gaps that persist through education and life.

3.      Educating for Economic Growth and Jobs. Globally, lower levels of education are assoicated with higher levels of unemployment. With each additional average year of schooling increasing national GDP, countries that prioritize broad educational achievement for its populaiton are more likely to experience steadier and more sustainable economic growth.

4.      Getting to Zero Means Fulfilling Our Global Human Right to Education. Setting global goals that ensure that no one is left behind means striving toward a world without illiteracy and school dropouts and focused on ensuring every chld enter adulthood with the knowlede and skills they need to lead a safe, healthy, happy and produtive life.

5.      Global Minimum Entitlements Ensure a Floor for Human Well-Being. Education is fundamentally about equipping citizens with the knowledge and skills they need to contribute to the political, social, and economic aspects of their society. Opportunities to learn throughout one’s life is a core part of the minimum set of entitlements each citizen needs to fulfill his or her role as a productive member of society.

6.      Sustainable Development Requires the Development of an Educated Populace. Education plays a role in creating a better world by impacting some of the issues that threaten our sustainability, including poverty, reproductive health and population growth. Moreover, a changing global climate requires more resilient education systems, disaster risk reduction activities, and responsible production and consumption in all countries, broadening the focus of this development agenda beyond the lowest-income nations.

7.      Education Improves Individual, Familial, and Societial Well-being.  The benefits of education for inidivudals and families include improved living conditions, better health status, greater civic awareness and political participation, and better integration into soceity. In turn, societies experience higher producitivty and economic growth and income equality, more political stability, lower criminality, and stronger social cohesion.

Thinking about education within the context of each of these frameworks can help us maintain a broader view of the importance of education in the many facets of life and resist the temptation to focus too narrowly on a single issue. This perspective will be essential to ensuring that education occupies a central relevant place within these global development consultations and debates over the next two years.

Anda M. Adams is a Doctor of Education Leadership candidate and David Kuechle fellow at Harvard. University. Email:

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