At the UN Sustainable Development Summit (New York, 25-27 Sep. 2015) a new development agenda was adopted for 2015-2030. From 8 Millennium Development Goals and 21 targets - some of which were not met (see MDG 2015 Report) - we moved towards 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) and 169 targets.Over 25 years educational aspirations reflected in global goals moved from basic education for children, youth and adults - Education for All (EFA) 1990-2000-2015 - to primary education for all children (completing four years of primary school) - Goal 2 of the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) 2000-2015 - to access to quality education at all levels, including higher education, and lifelong learning opportunities for all - Goal 4 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) 2015-2030. It is considered that the SDGs introduce a paradigm shift, described as "Moving from quantity to quality". (See EFA, MDG and SDG education goals in this table).
In fact, in September 2016, one year after the SDGs were approved, UNESCO announced that the new global education goals will not be met in 2030 (Global Education Monitoring Report 2016). It said that if current trends persist, universal primary education will be achieved in 2042, universal lower secondary education in 2059 and universal higher secondary education in 2084.
I analyze here Goal 4 - "Ensure inclusive and quality education for all and promote lifelong learning" - and its 10 targets. The targets include all levels of education, technical and vocational skills, youth and adult literacy, gender equality, education for sustainable development, scholarships, education facilities, and teacher training. They are centered around formal education. The overall aspiration is expanded schooling, 12 years (primary and secondary education) considered the minimum this time. Free and quality are key additions; the word quality is reiterated in every target. Again, as in EFA, references to early childhood and adulthood are particularly weak. Lifelong learning is mentioned as an addition to inclusive and quality education for all, not as the new education paradigm for the 21st century proposed by UNESCO.
Is it realistic to expect that ambitious education goals will be achieved by 2030 when much more modest goals were not achieved in 25 years of Education for All and 15 years of Millennium Development Goals?
After reading Goal 4 and its targets one wonders what are the lessons learned over the past 25 years of global goals and international initiatives for education.
Money is considered the main obstacle; however, as we know, education is one of those fields where how money is spent is more important than how much it is spent, and where money alone does not guarantee good policies or rapid, sustainable, change.
We find also the usual translation problems (English-Spanish).
Goal 4: Ensure inclusive and quality education for all and promote lifelong learning
Just one-third of countries have achieved all the measurable Education for All (EFA) goals. - See more at: http://en.unesco.org/gem-report/report/2015/education-all-2000-2015-achievements-and-challenges#sthash.yYyYBh6R.PLvDOXjA.dpuf
- Just one-third of countries have achieved all the measurable Education for All (EFA) goals.
- In 2012, 121m children and adolescents were still out of school, down from 204m in 1999.
- Half of countries have now achieved Universal Primary Enrolment and 10% more are close.
- Poorest children are five times more likely not to complete primary school than richest.
» Lifelong learning (LLL) has been conceptualized by UNESCO as learning that takes place throughout life, from birth to death, in and out of the school system. It has also been proposed by UNESCO as a new paradigm for education in the 21st century. However, LLL is mentioned here as an addition to inclusive and quality education for all, and as separate from education. In fact, LLL should be considered an embracing concept that includes all targets of Goal 4.
» Inclusive and quality remain strange and confusing terms for the majority of the population worldwide. Their interpretations and uses differ considerably even within the specialized education community. The same occurs with lifelong learning, a concept not fully understood and incorporated by the education community so far. All this must be kept in mind when communicating the Quality Education Goal in the framework of the Sustainable Development Goals.
■ By 2030, ensure that all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education leading to relevant and Goal-4 effective learning outcomes.
» This target is the first one in the list and is the most important one within Goal 4. Most financial efforts will probably be devoted to this target.
» It is important to remember that:
- Education for All (1990-2015) adopted six basic education goals, aimed at "meeting basic learning needs" of children, youth and adults, in and out of school. According to the International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED), basic education comprises primary education and lower secondary education. The six goals were not me in 25 years, and remained as "unfinished business".
- The Millennium Development Goals (2000-2015) proposed Goal 2: Achieve universal primary education ('primary education' understood as 4 years of schooling; no mention of free or quality). In 15 years, this modest goal was not met.
» In the final phase of EFA and of the MDGs a "global learning crisis" was acknowledged: after four years of schooling millions of children worldwide are not learning to read, write and do basic math.
» With this experience in mind, is it realistic to think that "free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education" with "effective learning outcomes" are attainable in the next 15 years? In the push for 'universal secondary education', won't we repeat the same - and worse - problems than those faced in the push for 'universal primary education'?.
» "All girls and boys" may not be a realistic goal for many countries.
» Not all is about money. Latin America's high school drop out should be taken into account: nearly half of young Latin Americans leave high school, mainly because of lack of interest and lack of purpose. In a region with historical high primary education enrollment rates, secondary education is viewed today as a major bottleneck.
» In today's world children are not the only ones attending primary and secondary education; in many countries, completion of primary and secondary education is being offered to young people and adults (second chance education programmes). Targets and indicators related to youth and adults (see below) might also incorporate primary and secondary education.
■ By 2030, ensure that all girls and boys have access to quality early childhood development, care and pre-primary education so that they are ready for primary education.
» Early childhood development, care and pre-primary education are important not to prepare children for primary education, but to better prepare them for learning (in and out of school) and for life. This debate has been going on for decades. For some reason, the SDGs decided to adopt the instrumental, school-oriented approach to early childhood development and education. We can only hope that the indicators do not reinforce the 'school preparedness' trend.
■ By 2030, ensure equal access for all women and men to affordable and quality technical, vocational and tertiary education, including university.
» "Affordable and quality technical, vocational and tertiary education" is hard to find in most countries around the world. Can you ensure access to something that, in many cases, will take much longer than 15 years to be in place? Again, all will have to be translated into a more realistic quantitative goals depending on each country.
■ By 2030, substantially increase the number of youth and adults who have relevant skills, including technical and vocational skills, for employment, decent jobs and entrepreneurship.
» See comments to previous target.
» It is difficult to agree on the "relevant skills for employment, decent jobs and enterpreneurship" that can be considered universal and useful in any context. Certainly, and given the weaknesses of the school system and of basic education, some of them will have to do not with "technical and professional skills" but with basic learning needs such as oral expression, and reading and writing properly and autonomously.
■ By 2030, eliminate gender disparities in education and ensure equal access to all levels of education and vocational training for the vulnerable, including persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples and children in vulnerable situations.
» Again: women, indigenous peoples, and people with disabilities are put together, in the "vulnerable" category. However, their vulnerabilities - and the ways they are discriminated - are very different and specific.
» It is time to consider equality, not juts parity - access and enrollment. Disparities are expressed in many areas: retention, repetition, roles played, expectations, learning outcomes, study and career options, etc.
» To be considered: in Latin America, education discrimination against indigenous peoples is stronger and more systematic than discrimination against girls/women. In other words: racism is stronger than machismo.
■ By 2030, ensure that all youth and a substantial proportion of adults, both men and women, achieve literacy and numeracy.
» Youth and adult literacy is historically the least successful global education goal and remains a critical challenge worldwide (781 million illiterates, the usual two thirds represented by women). The challenge includes sound policy and goal formulation. "Achieving literacy and numeracy" remains a highly ambiguous notion. When can we say that someone has achieved literacy and numeracy? (It may be useful to describe clear competencies within this target).
» "Substantial proportion of adults" needs to be translated into a percentage that makes the goal not only achievable but successful.
■ By 2030, ensure that all learners acquire the knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development, including, among others, through education for sustainable development and sustainable lifestyles, human rights, gender equality, promotion of a culture of peace and non-violence, global citizenship and appreciation of cultural diversity and of culture’s contribution to sustainable development.
» Clearly, promoting sustainable development is not only about knowledge and skills. The most developed, educated and informed countries in the world are the ones that contaminate the most. On the other hand, indigenous peoples preserve the planet.
» The description of knowledge and skills considered necessary is vague. In any case, acquiring them requires not only education but also information and communication efforts; not only the school system but also indigenous knowledge and practice, non-formal learning and informal learning at home, in the community, through the media and the internet, in the workplace, etc.
■ Build and upgrade education facilities that are child, disability and gender sensitive and provide safe, nonviolent, inclusive and effective learning environments for all.
» It is important to highlight the need to differentiate and respond to specific realities and needs, rather than to homogenize. Need to add mention of facilities that are sensitive to different cultures (there are various cultures within a country - countries that are multiethnic and pluricultural, and as a result of migration processes). This is not covered by child, disability and gender sensitivity.
■ By 2020, substantially expand globally the number of scholarships available to developing countries, in particular least developed countries, small island developing States and African countries, for enrollment in higher education, including vocational training and information and communications technology, technical, engineering and scientific programmes, in developed countries and other developing countries.
» South-South cooperation and exchange are essential. So-called 'developing countries' are highly heterogeneous. Many such countries are in a condition to offer scholarships and exchange programmes that may be more relevant to other 'developing countries' than those offered by 'developed' ones.
■ By 2030, substantially increase the supply of qualified teachers, including through international cooperation for teacher training in developing countries, especially least developed countries and small island developing states.
» It is revealing that the target devoted to teachers appears last in the list (following scholarships, education facilities, etc.).
» It is fundamental to deepen the understanding and the debate - globally and in each national context - on the issue of teachers, teacher education and teacher quality. Qualified teachers and quality teachers may not necessarily be the same thing. Training is only one factor of quality teaching. Poor teacher training is very common and ineffective. Becoming a good teacher depends on character, vocation, school background, appreciation for learning, for reading and for experimenting, quality of teacher education and of teachers' working and learning conditions. There are many old conceptions and misconceptions on what good teacher and good teaching are.
» The teacher is a key factor in the quality of school education, but not the only one. The whole responsibility cannot be placed on teachers. All evaluations of student learning in school reiterate the critical role of poverty and of overall families' socio-economic conditions. Improving the learning conditions of the poor implies improving them both in and out of school (health, nutrition, well-being, lack of fear, affection, care, play, sleep, etc.).
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