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What Room for Education (and Training) in the Sustainable Development Goals?

By Robert Palmer.

We are going to need more than a pencil post-2015

We are going to need more than a pencil post-2015

It’s great news that the early results of MyWorld indicate that ‘a good education’ is the number one priority of the 54,000 global citizens who have responded so far. But what about their governments? And… so what/what next?

Following the Rio+20 Conference in mid-2012, the UN sent Member States a questionnaire related to the development of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs); only 60 responses were received, including a joint statement from the EU and its Member States (in which they abstained from specifying priorities at that time – more below). One of the questions asked UN Member States to specify their priorities for the SDGs:

Please list a limited number, preferably between five and ten, of the important priority areas that must be addressed through the SDGs to contribute to the achievement of sustainable development

The UN’s synthesis report of this questionnaire noted that, overall, ‘education’ came out as the 4th SDG priority among responding countries, after: food security and sustainable agriculture; water and sanitation; and, energy.

So education appears to be high on the priority list of both governments and their citizens.

Job done?

Sadly not. Quite how all this apparent enthusiasm will translate into goals, targets and indicators – as well as in the narrative of the post-2015 framework – remains to be seen. What kind of education is being prioritized? What level – early childhood, primary, (lower) secondary, tertiary? By ‘education’, do we also mean technical and vocational training? And what about informal education and training, which is arguably the largest provider of post-basic skills in the majority of low income countries (as well as in many middle income countries)?

What about the EU?

As an aside, it was noted above that in the submission for the EU and Member States there were no specific SDG priorities given. Instead, their submission was used to underline the EU in listening mode: [we] ‘need to start an inclusive elaboration process on defining key priority areas’…. ‘The EU is committed to listen, consider, interact and assess proposals on priority areas and on the structure of SDGs that may be proposed by other countries, the UN system, the scientific community and other stakeholders’.

[the EU seems to now be emerging from listening mode – see the recently released EU communication on post-2015]

Back to the questionnaire

So, education was the 4th priority in the SDG questionnaire. Looking at the original responses from Member States it is possible to find out if there was specific mention of the kind or type of education being referred to; in other words, can the original responses tell us anything about the priorities within ‘education’?

Of those countries specifying priorities (excluding the abstainers of which the EU block is mainly guilty), two-thirds (27 out of 40) mentioned education in some shape or form (see table below).

Those countries that elaborated more than just ‘education’ as a priority, clearly signaled the desire to go beyond primary school – mentioning, for example, secondary and scientific research (higher education). Quality – of course – got a few mentions, but surprising ‘learning’ did not. Several of the ‘education’ priorities (e.g. Nepal, Algeria, CAR, Zambia, Colombia, Republic of Korea, and Montenegro) made direct or implicit mention of skills and training (including skills that link to work).

Response Country citing this
Abstained from mentioning priorities at the time of the survey Australia, EU and its Member States (23 EU/member state countries), Singapore, Switzerland
No mention of education Argentina, Bhutan, Brunei Darussalam, Croatia, Fiji, Iraq, Japan,  Lebanon, Ghana, Guyana, Norway, Pakistan, Panama
‘Education’ Chad, Greece, Hungary, Jordan, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Peru, UK
‘Universal primary education’ Comoros, UAE
‘Universal primary and vocational education’ Nepal
‘Universal primary and secondary education’ Zimbabwe
‘Universal access to education’ Slovakia
‘Education, training and scientific research’ Algeria
‘Education, training and research’ Central African Republic
‘Education and skills development’ Zambia
‘Education… for better sustainable development, and encouraging scientific research and inventions’ Syria
‘Education for sustainable development’ Moldova
‘Strengthening environmental education at all levels’ Costa Rica
‘Promotion of quality education, including education for sustainable development’ Mongolia
‘Access to quality education services’ Botswana
‘Ensuring equal opportunity in… accessing to services like education… as well as improving the quality of these services’ Turkey
‘Education for all and quality education’ Thailand
‘Education for productive lives’ Colombia
‘Education, productive capacity including human resources development’ Republic of Korea
‘Provide professional education for all’ Haiti
‘Building capacities/skills’ Montenegro

Of those countries that specified priorities that did not include education, several of the country responses were very much environmentally focused, rather than citing priorities for human development which may have covered education; perhaps this is just a reflection of the SDG=environment / MDG=poverty split that still appears to surface now and again, rather than these countries’ disinterest in education.

What next?

Without taking our foot off the pedal to ensure that education remains a global priority in the post-2015 agenda, it is clear that we now need to move from a general and broad acknowledgement of the importance of education in the post-2015 framework to being more specific about what kind or level of education/skills we should highlight… What kind of post-2015 education /skills goal and targets do we want? What don’t we want (one answer: another vague goal like EFA Dakar Goal 3)? There have been several suggestions (e.g. by Save the Children, the Basic Education Coalition, The Global Campaign for Education U.S. Chapter and a few others), but we need more.

And when we are thinking about specific goals, let’s try not to be too edu-centric about it: think education and vocational training, formal and informal, school and outside school.

Let’s also try not to be too aid-centric about all this; what kind of post-2015 framework or goals will get most traction in national government education and skills policy making?

How do we square this post-2015 circle?

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

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1 Response

  1. Mike

    I find it interesting and encouraging that, of the 27 governments whose responses included ‘education’, only 7 mentioned ‘vocational’ or ‘training’ or ‘skills development’. Unlike so many of the NORRAG and other articles on post-MDG and related issues, it seems that those who put together their countries’ responses tend not to confuse these two very distinct entities. Your article is entitled: ‘What Room for Education (and Training) in the Sustainable Development Goals?’ I infer from that that you too are recognising that they are as different as, let us say, chalkboards and cheeseboards.

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