International Development CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by the management committee of NORRAG (Network for Policy Research, Review and Advice on Education and Training)

1. Executive Summary

Discussion of the position of education and technical/vocational skills in the post-2015 development goals has barely started.

The post-MDG (Millennium Development Goal) process is much more advanced than the post-EFA (Education For All) process, though the latter process is now starting. Harmonisation is important.

The desire to have better monitoring in the post-2015 framework has to be weighed against the weak information systems and analytical capacity in many countries.

It is important clearly to define post-2015 education and skill goals and targets both for MDGs and EFA, so that there is not confusion and inaction as happened with, for example, EFA goal 3 (life skills).

The education MDGS (and EFA) have been too Ministry of Education-centric and too focused on education rather than on education and skills.

The education MDG of universal primary education (UPE) remains an unfinished agenda item both in quantity and quality; a more holistic vision of education as a human right and a global public good is necessary. Meanwhile there appears little hope of meeting the external financing gap by relying on traditional overseas development assistance (ODA). Innovative financing for education needs more exploration, as does tapping into additional flows.

The post-2015 planning process seems currently to be dominated by the North, but the Global South is still—separately—planning its own development.

Ultimately, it will be up to UN-member states to determine what the post-2015 framework looks like. In this regard, it will be important for the more voices to be heard in the key contexts and at the appropriate time.

2. Introduction

This submission comes from NORRAG and focuses on education and skills in the post-2015 development agenda. NORRAG is a focus and a forum for the analysis of international cooperation in the education and training field. The main instruments of NORRAG are its publications (NORRAG News, Policy Briefs), its website ( and blog ( and the organization of/and participation in meetings. For 25 years, since NORRAG started in 1986, the Editor has been British. NORRAG NEWS has been directly supported by DFID, while NORRAG coordination, the website and the running of meetings have been supported by Swiss Development Cooperation. NORRAG’s most recent meeting on education and skills post-2015, that took place in Geneva on 12 September 2012, highlighted several key issues. One strong strand of discussions was “the challenge of not just thinking about what the role of education should be in any post-2015 global development goals, but in thinking what should become of the EFA goals, which also run to 2015”.2 As a result, the following note makes reference to both the education MDGs and the EFA goals. There was also a concern about the way that both the MDGs and the EFA goals became intertwined with the aid agenda.

3. Written Evidence

4. At the post-2015 related meetings in New York in late September 2012, there appeared to be emerging consensus (including from the UN Secretary General’s Post-2015 High Level Panel (HLP) members who spoke publicly)3 that the international community needs to “finish the job” of achieving the MDGs, as well as designing a post-2015 framework that could address new challenges. There was also clear acknowledgement that we need to build on what has worked in the MDGs to inform the post-2015 agenda. Furthermore, President Yudhoyono of Indonesia, one of the co-chairs of the UN Secretary General’s Post-2015 HLP announced that the “ultimate goal of the post-2015 development agenda [should be] to end world poverty”. Translating this messaging to the education and skills MDGs and EFA goals gives us a sense of possible content of future goals.

5. Lessons Learned from the Adoption of the International Development Goals and the Millennium Development Goals

6. The education MDGs (Goal 2, Target 2.A (UPE) and Goal 3, Target 3.A (gender equality in primary and secondary education)) failed to focus on the end goal of learning, and—as noted below—even though the EFA goals made specific mention of “quality” and “learning outcomes” these were largely ignored aspects; issues of access to schools dominated. The importance of “Learning for All” is not something discovered in the 2010s; it goes back over 20 years to the World Conference on EFA in Jomtien, Thailand (1990). Jomtien highlighted the importance of the “basic learning needs of all”; learning was not only a specific EFA dimension, but was also mentioned in the very first article of the World Conference on EFA Declaration. At the Dakar World Forum on EFA in 2000, the importance of quality and learning outcomes continued to be emphasised. The emphasis on quality and learning was neither taken up by the International Development Goals of the mid-1990s, nor by the subsequent Millennium Declaration and MDGs. Hence the focus on learning outcomes now.

7. Because UPE and gender parity are both EFA goals and education MDGs, priority has (wrongly) tended to be given to these over the other six EFA Dakar Goals; Quality and learning, skills, adult literacy, and early childhood development (ECD) all remain relatively neglected areas despite being part of the EFA Agenda. If the EFA goals have carried much less weight than the MDGs, which appears to be the case, getting the right education goal into the post-MDG framework is critical. Equally, however, the international education community needs to make any new set of post-EFA goals gain more traction.

8. Better monitoring, improved information systems. If the EFA goals, or some variation of them, continue post-2015, the annual influential EFA Global Monitoring Report should also continue. However, the paucity of data in many developing countries—and of local capacity to analyse data—will limit monitoring possibilities. Strengthening national/regional capacities in developing information systems and in data analysis are critical for the kind of disaggregated monitoring that so many are calling for (eg to better monitor equity or quality issues).

9. Better disaggregated data to track inequalities. In both the EFA goals and education MDGs issues of educational inequality became disguised in reporting because of the focus on aggregating national data and providing the average situation. Any next round of education goals could more explicitly track progress towards goals among different population groups. However, this will continue to depend on the availability of data (noted above).

10. Several of the EFA goals were never clearly defined, which further contributed to their being neglected. For example, EFA Goal 3 has been notoriously hard to monitor because of the way it was defined as well as the availability of data. As Nick Burnett, a former Director of the EFA GMR, noted in 2008: “we do not really know how we are doing on skills, because we have not figured out properly how to define them and measure them”. The GMR will, finally, try to address skills and their definition in the October 2012 report. What is clear with regard to any post-2015 skills goal is that it needs to be much better defined than EFA Goal 3, and take account of data availability.

11. The role of education in achieving other MDGs has been under-emphasised. There has not been sufficient recognition of the role that education plays in support of all the other MDGs.

12. The education MDGS (and EFA) have been too Ministry of Education (MOE)-centric and too focused on education rather than on education and skills—EFA has been primarily related to pre-tertiary education; none of the lead EFA agencies (UNESCO, UNDP, UNFPA, UNICEF and the World Bank), except the World Bank, has any real expertise in cross-ministerial (or private sector) technical and vocational skills development or in higher education.4 Discussion on EFA at country level has been largely with ministries of education (MOE), and not ministries of labour (that tend to have oversight of vocational training) or ministries of higher education. EFA and the education MDGs, therefore, have been very MOE-centric. A post-EFA framework should be more holistic and the process of determining future education and skills priorities should not only involve ministries of education in developing countries, but must also engage with ministries of higher education and of labour, as well as national social partners and the private sector. However, so far the country-level UNESCO consultations on post-EFA are largely linked into MOEs.

13. The annual EFA financing gap persists. The Dakar Framework for Action noted that: “No countries seriously committed to Education for All will be thwarted in their achievement of this goal by lack of resources”. However, this pledge was not fulfilled. Latest estimates are that the annual external EFA financing gap is $16 billion per annum, and there are no real prospects for this being filled with traditional financing approaches (and this financing gap, of course, relates to only three more quantifiable EFA areas; ECD, primary education and adult literacy). In addition to traditional ODA, there is a need for the post-EFA framework to consider emerging donors, innovative financing, the role of the private sector, and of course domestic revenues.

14. The education MDGs were seen as less relevant to middle income countries (including emerging economies) as their education priorities typically went far beyond primary education and gender equality.

15. The education MDGs and particular EFA goals became closely intertwined with the (traditional) aid agenda of many countries. The possibility of this happening again should be borne in mind in the process of setting any new development goals.

16. The Post-2015 Process: Are the Appropriate Voices being heard?

17. The post-2015 planning process seems currently to be dominated by the North, but the Global South is still—more or less separately—planning its own development. Most current “post-2015” activity is either based in the North, or initiated in the South by northern-based organisations. It is not yet clear what the “post-2015” views of the South are; and of course they are not waiting for 2015 before they set new development strategies for their own countries, including for education. Many developing and emerging economies focus on their own five- or ten-year plans for the country in general or their strategic plans for education in particular. As noted below, in the case of Latin America, specific education goals have already been elaborated. The debate about post-2015 may appear irrelevant to these national and regional priorities, depending on the extent of their aid dependency. Indeed, there is some suggestion that while several northern-led lobby groups are currently focussing on learning and early childhood (ECD), many southern country governments are more concerned about secondary education or about skills training programmes for their unemployed young people.

18. Ultimately, it will largely be up to UN-member states to determine what the post-2015 frameworks look like. In this regard, it will be important for more voices to be heard in the key contexts and at the appropriate time; not just in the UN-facilitated consultations, but also in the High Level Panel, and, critically, in the soon-to-be-formed intergovernmental working group on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The timing of all this is equally important since the timelines of these different processes are not necessarily aligned as yet.

19. The Content of Future Goals

20. The education MDG of UPE remains an unfinished business; for the last three years the number of primary-age out of school children has stagnated at about 60 million, and massive quality issues remain for in-school children. The international community needs to redouble efforts to 2015 and then go beyond. The increased attention that education in emergencies is getting (eg as signalled in New York on 24th September when global leaders made new commitments to support education in crisis zones)5 is important and should be encouraged. But any last minute focus on achieving the education MDGs or EFA goals before 2015 (ie via the recently launched Education First Initiative) should take on board what has been learnt about access not being sufficient without a major focus on learning outcomes.

21. Many stakeholders assert that any new goals must address crosscutting issues related to equity, quality and learning outcomes.6 In addition, stakeholders argue for greater attention to specific education levels such as ECD, lower secondary, skills development, lifelong learning or adult literacy. This approach is very well illustrated by the existing UNESCO and UNICEF post-2015 think pieces and papers, as well as by several pieces from think-tanks, NGOs and foundations (eg Results for Development, Brookings, Save the Children, Hewlett Foundation). One paper (by the Centre for Universal Education, Brookings) makes a very strong case for how education can be powerfully linked to the range of many of the post-2015 “contender” frameworks (eg poverty, equity, economic growth and jobs, sustainable development, global minimum entitlements etc.) currently under discussion.

22. “Lobby groups” (northern-led) have developed around several of these issues, most notably the issue of learning, but more recently also ECD. The Learning lobby is dominated by the Brookings’ Global Compact on Learning and, with the exception of DFID and the Aga Khan Development Network, the supporting organisations are based in the United States. Meanwhile the Consultative Group leads the ECD lobby on Early Childhood Care and Development. It is of course unclear where either of these lobbies will be successful in securing their priorities in any future agenda, or if this process will have the effect of displacing attention from other critical issues that don’t appear to have a lobby group. For example, issues like technical and vocational skills development (TVSD) that are known to be receiving significantly more attention and interest in ministries of education and labour in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Arab States—don’t appear yet to have much of a lobby voice for a position in the post-2015 framework. It may be that TVSD is a special case; since it is located across multiple domains, in many ministries, and in formal and informal settings, it is too fragmented globally to have a strong lobby voice. But there are other key issues like adult literacy that are not globally fragmented and don’t have much of a lobby backing.

23. Even though we are almost exactly three years from the 2015 deadline, and the official UN-led process of determining the post-2015 goals has barely begun, a number of stakeholders have started to lay out specific suggestions for future education goals. At the front of this race is the Learning lobby. Several members of this lobby laid out specific suggestions as early as 2006, while the more recent focus of this lobby—the Brookings Compact on Learning—has specified three particular contexts (early years, early primary and post-primary) in which competences should be actually measured; and it has led in the creation of a task force to better define these competencies and how they could be measured. We should also recall that there are several actors that have started to suggest a range of post-MDG goals that cover multiple sectors, including education. For example, the 12 “Bellagio Goals” that the Canadian Centre for International Governance Innovation has elaborated include a goal related to “Appropriate education and skills for productive participation in society”. Meanwhile the World Economic Forum Global Agenda Council “Getting to Zero” proposal includes a proposed goal of education for all, with four targets including: “a zero target for illiteracy”; a “target for universal secondary education”; an “ambitious target for post-secondary education”; and, a “target for learning outcomes”. Furthermore, the UN Secretary-General’s High-level Panel on Global Sustainability that was set up to lead into Rio+20 suggested a post-2015 “goal of providing universal access to quality post-primary and secondary education no later than 2030, emphasizing the skills and knowledge needed for sustainable growth and jobs”. Lastly, as noted above, it should not be forgotten that the Organization of Ibero-American States has not waited for any global post-2015 education framework, but has already agreed upon, and adopted, a set of regional education goals for Latin America (Metas educativas) that run to the year 2021.

24. NORRAG’s own role in this increasingly intensive post-2015 debate is not to advocate a particular education or skills goal for consideration. Rather, it is to continue to analyse critically the many competing agendas, both in respect of education and skills, as well as of the broader development priorities. A first detailed status report on education and skills post-2015 is already available in draft. This will soon be revised and made available to take account of recently announced meetings, consultations and UN processes, including those related to the High Level Panel. The NORRAG blog will continue to capture the immediacy of these changes in the post-2015 debate. The next issue of NORRAG News (December 2012) will also reflect on this latest situation. NORRAG will also seek to reflect, through a series of case studies in the Global South, the tensions between the legitimate and necessary agenda setting at the national level and the emergence of any next global agenda. It will also capture in case study countries the actual process of consultation around post-2015.

October 2012

1 One of the key themes addressed in the blog is education and skills post-2015.


3 Eg see:

4 UNESCO, of course, has a focus on TVET, and also is concerned with higher education. But TVET under UNESCO is very focused on Ministry of Education technical and vocational education programmes rather than the wider domain of TVET.


6 Education for sustainable development is specifically mentioned only by the Rio+20 outcome document and the report of the high Level Panel on Global Sustainability.

Prepared 21st January 2013