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Toward Consensus on a Goal for Education within the Post-2015 Development Agenda: A Tale of Two Regional Consultations

Students are seen at a school founded by the National League for Democracy (NLD) in Yangon (REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun).

Last week, in two separate regional consultations (in Africa and in Asia) on education in the post-2015 agenda, a wide range of representatives focused on the importance of an equitable learning agenda that defined learning as going beyond literacy and numeracy.  This groundswell of support for the inclusion of a robust measure of learning was also reflected at the global Learning Metrics Task Force Meeting in Dubai.

African Regional Consultation

On February 28, 2013, 35 delegates representing civil society organizations, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), research institutes and think tanks consulted with the African Union on the post-Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) education agenda and recommended priority areas for the post-2015 framework.  The meeting, held in Addis Ababa, was organized by the African Union in collaboration with Save the Children, UNICEF and the Organization for Social Science Research in Eastern and Southern Africa (OSSREA).  In his opening address, Ned Olney, Save the Children’s Ethiopia country director, spoke on the current state of education in Ethiopia to emphasize that inequity and learning gaps remain key challenges to children’s education across the globe and must be addressed in the post-2015 development framework. 

The delegates at the Addis Ababa meeting developed guiding principles, priorities and strategies to inform the global and continental post-2015 framework based on a variety of position papers and views put forward by the Africa Network Campaign on Education For All, UNICEF, UNESCO, the Global Campaign for Education, the Association for the Development of Education in Africa, the Commonwealth Education Working Group and the Outcome Document of the Regional Consultations on the Post-2015 Development Agenda. In the guiding principles developed at the meeting, equity is highlighted as a major priority, including the need to focus on marginalized populations such as girls, ethnic minorities, communities in hard to reach areas, and children with disabilities.  The principles also call for equitable distribution of provisions and schools targeting these marginalized groups.  Another principle highlighted was ownership of and broad-based participation in policy processes at all levels, involving communities and civil society organizations.

The meeting identified three priority areas for education the post-2015 framework:

  • Quality education, which translates into learning outcomes at all levels (early childhood development, technical and vocational training, and primary, secondary and tertiary education).
  • Equitable and inclusive access to education at basic, secondary and tertiary levels.
  • Literacy and skills development.

Among the strategies identified to meet these priorities were a focus on life skills training, the promotion of skills for youth employability, and strategies for measuring learning outcomes for 21st century skills (commonly defined as including critical-thinking skills, collaborative working skills, and skills for utilizing information and communications technology).  Dr. Bernice Njenga, the head of the Education Division of the African Union, will bring the recommendations from the meeting in Ethiopia to the Africa Wide Consultation on the Post-2015 Development Agenda in Tunis (March 11–12), which will inform the development of the African position on the post-2015 development agenda, which will then be presented to the African Union Summit in May for adoption by member states.

Asian Regional Consultation

At the same time as delegates were meeting in Addis Ababa, 4,193 miles away in Bangkok, Thailand, over 120 stakeholders from the Asia-Pacific region were meeting at the Regional Thematic Consultation on Education in the Post-2015 Development Agenda, co-organized by UNICEF’s regional offices for East Asia and the Pacific and for South Asia and UNESCO Bangkok.  Delegates included representatives from governments, international, regional, national and local NGOs, universities and academia, teachers’ unions, and organizations for youth and for persons with disabilities .

Throughout the consultation, there was a definite shift in the discourse from access to education to learning, which goes beyond literacy and numeracy to include cognitive and non-cognitive skills, psychosocial skills and critical thinking.  There was also a clear focus on equity and the need to ensure equitable learning across gender, ethnicity, caste, socio-economic class, disabilities, geographic region and age.  Delegates highlighted the importance of skills like resilience and the ability to adapt to and manage crises and disasters, given that the world is rapidly changing, politically, socially and climatically.  Young people in particular emphasized that education should be relevant to their context and linked to employment.  There was a welcomed focus on governance, moving beyond discussions of financing and budgets to the need for education systems that are more accountable to communities and less corrupt.  While delegates agreed that that education is the responsibility of the government, the delegates also deemed partnerships with civil society, the donor community (including the corporate sector) and local communities increasingly important for realizing the goal of quality education for all.

The outcome document of the Bangkok meeting articulates recommendations for a) equitable and inclusive access to and participation in learning, b) quality of learning, c) global citizenship, skills and competencies for life and work, d) governance, financing and partnership/cooperation, and e) possible scenarios and options for how to best articulate and position education in a post-2015 development agenda.  Within the recommendations for how to articulate an education goal, the outcome document asserts, “quality learning for all should be an overarching, universally relevant goal, with possibility of flexible adaptation in terms of target setting at national and local levels. In order to ensure that education goals contribute to narrowing disparities within a country, it is crucial to set targets for—and systematically monitor—disparity reduction.”  The draft outcome document also states that the goal for education in the post-2015 development agenda could embrace the following key aspects: “To guarantee equitable opportunities for all to participate in transformative quality learning at all levels aiming to provide the knowledge, skills, competencies and values vital to achieve inclusive and sustainable development.”

What Comes Next

These two regional consultions have revealed a collective vision regarding education priorities for a post-2015 development agenda: equitable learning that goes beyond literacy and numeracy to foster broader cognitive and personal development and ensure full participation in modern economies and societies. This vision is in line with the vision that has emerged from the global Learning Metrics Task Force and position papers released by Save the Children, the Basic Education Coalition and The Global Campaign for Education U.S. Chapter, among others.

The outcomes of these two consultations will contribute to the debate at the Global Leadership Meeting on Education on the post-2015 agenda in Dakar, Senegal, on March 18-19.  At that meeting, high-level participants will develop recommendations around an education goal, including how progress will be measured.  The outcome document will eventually influence the High-Level Panel’s report and the debate on the post-2015 development agenda at U.N. General Assembly meeting.  When it meets in Dakar, the education community should speak with voice on a goal that prioritizes the issues that have emerged across the consultation processes: to amend the current MDG emphasis on access to education to include a focus on equitable learning.

The remaining debate about how to balance global- and country-level targets and metrics and to do so in a way that measures learning beyond literacy and numeracy is being tackled by the Brookings Institution’s Center for Universal Educations’ global Learning Metrics Task Force.  When the report from that bodies’ February 20-21 meeting in Dubai is released this month it will help to bring global voices and evidence to the remaining questions of targets and metrics.

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