Single Blog Title

This is a single blog caption

What’s Missing from the Education SDG Debate? By David Levesque

By David Levesque.  Independent Education Consultant

choicesSo much fine sounding rhetoric, but no sense of prioritisation in an age of limited resources.

The texts so far read like UN rights declarations. So much is needed, all areas are equally important, no section or person left behind. Money should be found to fund it all.

But this is not going to happen; so how do we prioritise? Is investing in one part of the education system more important than another or should the rights’ arguments prevail and limited resources spread thinly over the whole sector?

I once took part in an interesting exercise. X £million was available for three years in a country we were supporting.  We were asked as a team to prioritise where the money would best be spent and list in order from 1-10. This led to heated debate. Is education more important than health, where does water and sanitation rank, is good governance more important than encouraging private sector growth? What about infrastructure? What do we do with requests from the partner country when we don’t agree with their priorities? Advisers made strong cases, but how to decide when the conclusion to fund a bit of everything was not available. In what could be a prescient outcome, when experts can’t agree, a non-specialist made an executive decision based on what they thought was appropriate.

Current strategies usually try to place an economic value on everything and then fund the ones with the best economic returns. This has led to considerable amounts of money being spent on research trying to show which investment/policy offers the highest returns in comparison to other possibilities. Previously in education, these arguments were made to support primary education; they are now shifting in favour of early years’ education, secondary and higher education. This process has, however, resulted in questionable conclusions around the necessity of measuring everything and in assumptions that only things that can be measured are of value.

Human rights’ advocates argue that prioritisation of rights is not possible as they are all equally important. Implementation decisions are therefore delegated to nation states.  This, however, can be seen as avoiding hard choices.  Individual governments have different motivation for implementing policies, ranging from humanitarian concerns, through the desire to obtain votes, to exploiting power structures and control. Different motivations lead to different priorities, with subsequent accountability concerns for funders.

Perhaps the ultimate prioritisation process is the allocation of money. The question then becomes what influences those who make the financial decisions. An observation from the past 25 years is that finance ministers seldom attend education conferences and that education ministers seldom carry much influence in budget allocations.

The MDGs were focused and prioritised on completing a full course of primary education. Demonstrable progress has been made and there are good arguments to suggest that this would not have been accomplished if the money had been spread equally over the whole education sector. In a previous NORRAG blog I argued that one way of prioritising would be for the post-2015 emphasis to remain on basic education.  A realistic global target for the next 15 years would be to provide opportunities for all to acquire sustainable basic skills. Regardless of age, there should be opportunities to learn to read, write, communicate and be an active life participant.  This may best be done at different levels of education from early childhood to life long learning.

Surely there is a significant role for the education community to suggest strategies for prioritisation.

The current declarations are a noble vision but let’s go for demanding but achievable targets over the next 15 years.

David Levesque is an independent education consultant who previously worked for DFID as a senior education adviser. Email:

Related NORRAG Blogs

>>The World Education Forum (WEF) at Incheon: What Reflections, Memories, Legacy? 22nd June 2015

>>World Education Forum: Songdo Takeaways, 20th May 2015

>>Universal Basic Education? 7th February 2014

>>View all NORRAG Blogs on Sustainable Development Goals


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 is made up of more than 4,200 individuals worldwide and is free to join. Click here to join NORRAG – for free.




(Visited 79 times, 1 visits today)

0 Response

  1. “Regardless of age, there should be opportunities to learn to read, write, communicate and be an active life participant. This may best be done at different levels of education from early childhood to life long learning.”

    Arising from the above quote, I wish to submit here that unless this whole debate on SDG includes targets for the publishing industries especially in developing countries; the presence of National Book Policies and establishment of Public, National libraries and school libraries, the desired goals are not likely to e achieved by 2030.

    Libraries and availability of information are so critical in achieving quality education. For me, it is foolhardy to leave out such critical areas that directly impact development. They should be included as indicators of growth and development.

    1. Mike Douse

      Yes, I’m all in favour of lots of stimulating books and lovely libraries – who isn’t (apart that is from Finance Ministers, some International Banks and people who worry about what children should be allowed to read – but let’s not go into that). But contemporary and emerging technologies throw into exciting question what a ‘book’ is and what a ‘library’ might become. For example, how about every child worldwide having a connected digital device containing the entire national primary curriculum including reading options, exercises, self-marking and system-marked feedback, local interests, updated news, opportunities for teacher interventions and much beside, costing far less overall than the annual printing and distribution circus (see for instance my ‘Digital Textbooks: Potential Benefits, Risks and Costs’ in the Bangladesh Journal of Education of November 2010). And libraries may be perceived more as services than as places, again saving costs and enhancing benefits. Now there are some bases for national, nay international, book and library policies!

  2. Mike Douse

    Prioritising primary, though well-intentioned, resulted in half-educated youngsters with nowhere to go, often creating social disorder. There needs to be well-coordinated advances on all fronts, pre-school through postgraduate.

Leave a Reply

Sub Menu
Back to top