I write this opinion piece in my personal capacity, though my thinking has been informed by my experiences as an Education Minister, Prime Minister, Chair of the Board of Directors of the Global Partnership for Education (GPE), one of the three initial champions of Education Cannot Wait and a member of its High Level Steering Committee, a member of the Education Commission, a Distinguished Fellow of the Brookings Institution and a regular attendee at meetings of the Global Business Education Coalition.
Adding together my domestic political engagement with education and my work on it globally, I have been involved intensively for more than a decade.
When I look back, I can identify many high points and achievements by the global education community. Personally, I am particularly proud of the way GPE has strengthened and grown while I have had the privilege of being its Chair.
However, we need to do so much more. Bill Gates recently challenged us all with a tweet saying, "education today is where health was in 1990". While my first reaction is to reply, "Bill we are working hard and doing better", my deeper response is "damn it, there is a lot of truth in those words".
And when I hear repeatedly from developing countries, donors, civil society, philanthropists, academics, multilateral agencies and others about their confusion and frustration regarding the architecture for global education and their concern that, despite all the activity, we are way off track to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 4, my response is also "I agree, damn it".
Despite the stereotypes of Australians, I don't conceive of my role as travelling around the world swearing. Though I assure you I am capable of using much more colourful words than "damn".
This piece is my attempt to try to move from frustration to taking some needed steps forward. This is not a Global Plan for Education, which many have been discussing following the adoption of a global plan in health.
Rather, it is about some organizational first steps that in my view are vital if we are to set ourselves up as a global education community that is capable of joined-up strategic thinking, innovation, planning, delivery and accountability.
Inevitably, I will have got some things right and some wrong. I have deliberately been blunt and propositional to encourage others to be the same in response.
The backdrop here is, as we all know, that there are now a large number of multilateral agencies involved in the education sector. Here is the list in alphabetical order: Education Cannot Wait, the Education Outcomes Fund, the Global Partnership for Education, the International Financing Facility for Education, UNESCO, UNHCR, UNICEF, the World Bank, and regional development banks.
Of course, behind this simple list lies a more complex story, given these organizations are at different stages of development and a number have a far broader remit than education. But even just writing out the list inevitability takes us straight to the conclusion that this multiplicity of actors could be either a great strength or a serious weakness.
The risks of fragmentation, duplication, and strategic incoherence are obvious. So too are the risks that advocacy ends up as a squabble about shares of the current resourcing pie rather than unlocking new funds, and that efforts at greater innovation become fractured.
That means it is vital to work out how we get the best out of this architecture, measured by impact on learning at country level. But that is not all we need to do. Even if the current education architecture was firing perfectly, there are many other resourcing, knowledge and accountability challenges present in our quest to have every child learning and we need a collective approach to addressing them.
Given there is so much to accomplish, we need to be crystal clear about who is going to do what by when. Sorting that out requires us to recognize that some of the problems we need to resolve are technical and some are political. Now, I have been around politics too long to be naïve about how these two things are connected and affect each other. But I also know from long experience you end up in a mess if it is unclear who is focusing on which bit, and who is accountable for what.
I therefore propose three steps, which should be taken urgently and together to ensure clarity of purpose and roles as we drive towards working coherently and becoming more visionary, strategic and effective at addressing the learning crisis.