Looking Toward the UN General Assembly Meetings and Taking Stock of How Education Fits into the Discussions on Post-2015

A flurry of high-level post-2015 reports in May and June highlighted the need for the next development agenda to achieve the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of universal primary education but to improve upon it by also ensuring equitable, quality education and learning across the life-cycle. Two additional high-level components of the post-2015 process— the Open Working Group’s discussion on education and the UN secretary-general’s report— have also recently echoed this goal. However, outstanding issues for the global education community remain, as does uncertainty about the post-2015 roadmap moving forward.

The Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals (OWG SDGs) met from in June to discuss the issue of education along with employment and decent work for all, social protection and youth. The Issues Brief on Education and Culture, which was presented to all OWG SDG members, along the subsequent discussion, highlighted the need for the post-2015 development agenda to not only achieve the MDG of primary education for all, but to go even further to address quality, lifelong learning, and the development of vocational and transferable skills. The consensus of the OWG SDGs was that education is central to a sustainable development agenda and that learning outcomes need to be more widely and effectively measured, as reflected in this statement from the G77: “when developing SDGs, more attention needs to be placed on relevant and measurable learning outcomes.” 

The recently released report by the United Nations secretary-general, A Life of Dignity for All: Accelerating Progress toward the Millennium Development Goals and Advancing the United Nations Development Agenda beyond 2015, echoes the secretary-general’s earlier calls to countries to ensure that the post-2015 processes arrive at one single and coherent development agenda centered on poverty eradication and sustainable development. On education, the secretary-general calls for “quality education and learning” from early childhood development (ECD) to post-primary schooling, including life skills and vocational education and training.

Reviewing the post-2015 reports and discussions to date, it is clear that the education community has been successful in catalyzing a shift in global focus from universal primary access to ensuring access plus improving learning opportunities and outcomes from ECD through to post-primary education. 

Therefore, it is now time for the education community to refine the “what” and focus on the “how” of metrics, as well as scaling up national capacity. The recommendations of the Learning Metrics Task Force regarding a broad, holistic vision of learning and associated indicators to track at the global level will be useful in informing the debate. Also useful is the task force’s work to support countries in diagnosing the quality of their assessment systems. 

However, there are several outstanding issues that the education community will have to grapple with in the coming years. These include:

  • Definition of and metrics for vocational education and training, including concrete linkages between the education and livelihood/economic growth communities
  • Definition of and metrics for education for global citizenship, or the values and skills necessary for young people’s success in their communities and the world
  • How to support secondary, tertiary and adult education
  • How to support the training and professional development of teachers in the context of the post-2015 education agenda 
  • How the post-2015 education agenda will take into account and concretely link to and reinforce cross-cutting issues such as disability, gender, conflict, disasters and resilience
  • How the development and education communities will finance the post-2015 agenda, drawing on national financing, bilateral and multilateral financing, and innovative financing modalities

While these issues might not make it into the final post-2015 development agenda, they are critical for the education community to discuss and agree on so to ensure the next development framework will provide access to equitable, quality education and lifelong learning. 

At the moment the road map for the post-2015 agenda is unclear. However, this is expected to change after the MDG special event on September 25 during the UN General Assembly meetings. In his report, the Secretary-General Ban-Ki Moon calls on member states to use the special event to provide clarity on the road map to 2015 and momentum for the important discussions and decisions that will follow. The report sets forth Ban-Ki Moon’s own version of a roadmap, suggesting that member countries use the outcome of the special event to call for a United Nations summit in 2015 to adopt the new development agenda. To that end, the General Assembly could request the secretary-general to prepare a report on modalities, format and organization for submission to the General Assembly by March 2014. Such a report would draw upon the outcomes of the Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals, the Intergovernmental Committee of Experts on Sustainable Development Financing, the High Level Panel and other bodies. Ultimately, this intergovernmental process could lead to an agreement on the vision, principles, goals and targets of the post-2015 development agenda, as well as on the renewed global partnership for development.