Last week saw the announcement of proposed education targets following UNESCO’s Global Education Meeting in Muscat, at the same time as the zero draft of Open Working Group recommendations on sustainable development goals was made public. In certain ways there are similarities between the two proposals as far as education is concerned, but also some important differences:
Convergence in proposals for an overarching education goal
The two recently-announced processes are aligned in one important respect: the overarching goal is almost identical, with a focus on equitable and inclusive quality education and life-long learning opportunities for all. It is good to see the focus on equity, but the goal as it currently stands needs to be simplified, and be expressed with greater clarity. Terms like ‘inclusive education’ and ‘lifelong learning’ mean different things to different people.
Divergences in focus
Despite the similarity in the overarching goal, there are a number of differences in the details of the targets – with the Global Education Meeting providing a more focused set of 7 targets aligned with central aims of poverty reduction and sustainable development. The Open Working Group proposal, by contrast, sets out ‘a plantation of Christmas trees’. With a total of 19 ‘priority’ areas and 212 targets, it would seem that at some point there will need to be a process of narrowing the agenda as it moves from zero to final draft in the coming months. The targets put forward by the Global Education Meeting are also stronger in their attention to equity and measurability.
How to address the ‘means of implementation’: teachers and finance
One of the recognized failures of the current set of Education for All and Millennium Development Goals is insufficient attention to setting targets on the means by which desired outcomes would be achieved. Both the Open Working Group and Global Education Meeting proposals acknowledge the importance of including targets on means of implementation this time around, with some similarities but also wide divergences in how to do so for education.
Both proposals include teachers as a target for this purpose. The absence of a teacher target in the 2000 Dakar Framework for Action, it is argued, has been a reason for the failure to improve the quality of education as the numbers of teachers, their training, and support they receive, has not kept pace with the expansion in access.
However, one important feature is missing from both the proposals on the table: a failure to ensure that the target on teachers is aimed at improving the learning of the most marginalized. In fact, it is the only target in the set of 7 proposed by the Global Education Meeting that does not pay attention to this issue. It is also the one that is likely to be the most difficult to measure – how, for example, will ‘motivation’ and ‘well-supported’, included in the target, be interpreted and measured? Unless this target becomes clearer, with attention to how it will address marginalization, it could end up being the one that gets left behind in monitoring frameworks.
Need for specific targets on education financing
Finally, finance must be at the heart of the ‘means of implementation’ and, indeed, it is a feature of the Global Education Meeting goals (although the euphemistic term ‘financial cooperation’ could be a way to let aid donors off the hook): “by 2030, all countries allocate at least 4-6% of their Gross Domestic Product (GDP) or at least 15-20% of their public expenditure to education, prioritizing groups most in need; and strengthen financial cooperation for education, prioritizing countries most in need.”
However, while some of the 46 Open Working Group targets on means of implementation explicitly include finance for development, this is not the case for education. Rather, for education, its proposal is to expand the number of scholarships for students from developing countries to enroll in higher education programs in developed countries. Such an allocation of resources will be to the detriment of funding reaching the marginalized and will undermine opportunities for achieving proposed targets for primary and lower secondary education.
Currently, $3.2 billion of aid is spent on higher education scholarships, equivalent to one-quarter of education aid spending overall, and considerably more than the amount allocated to lower secondary education.
An overall assessment of the two proposals indicates that those negotiated by member states, civil society organizations, and UN agencies as part of a joint UNESCO-UNICEF process presented at the Global Education Meeting is far more on track. The focused set of targets has a greater chance of being implemented in ways that will ultimately lead to an improvement of the lives of the most marginalized. Let’s hope the Open Working Group, and those involved in the broader post-2015 processes more generally, take note.