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Education for people and planet: creating sustainable futures for all: GCE welcomes launch of new Global Education Monitoring Report

cover imageThe Global Campaign for Education (GCE) welcomes the launch of the comprehensive, yet concerning, 2016 Global Education Monitoring Report, Education for People and Planet: creating sustainable futures for all. Coming less than one year after the agreement of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, based on current trends, it worryingly projects:

Universal primary completion will be achieved in 2042, universal lower-secondary education completion in 2059, and universal upper-secondary completion in 2084 – putting SDG4 54 years off-track.

Gender equality is a long way off: women in many countries do at least double the amount of unpaid work as men, and only 19% of heads of state are women.

By 2020, the world could have 40 million too few workers with tertiary education, relative to demand.

GCE shares the GEM report’s concerns regarding the need for a stronger push for SDG implementation and the need for national systems to be strengthened to ensure that all countries deliver. As the GEM report highlights, 3.5 million child deaths can be avoided if universal lower-secondary education for girls is universalised in sub-Saharan Africa. The world cannot afford to pay such a heavy price for its collective failure to make adequate investment and efforts to strengthen public education systems worldwide.

GCE echoes the report’s calls for stronger commitment to financing of education, strengthened state implementation and statistical/monitoring capacities, and stronger planning mechanisms. GCE welcomes the report’s emphasis on ensuring equity, and its focus on the role of education in overcoming social inequalities. 

The report reiterates SDG 4's lifelong learning remit, covering all stages of life from birth, and highlights the importance of adult education, particularly in the context of achieving environmentally sustainable and inclusive economic growth. It notes that civil society is a key provider of adult learning opportunities - both in terms of increasing adult literacy and in engaging adults in community engagement through civic education - yet GCE shares the report's concern for the extremely low level of government funding allocated to adult education: the reports states that fewer than one in six countries spent more than 0.3% of GDP on adult education.

Throughout the report prominence is given to the vital role of trained teachers to achieving not only SDG 4, but to ensure that all learners can contribute to the broader sustainable development agenda. Trained teachers are fundamental to the successful delivery of a curriculum which cultivates an understanding of sustainability, human rights, gender equality, peace and nonviolence, global citizenship and cultural diversity. GCE wholeheartedly supports this recognition of the criticality of a trained and supported teacher workforce.

The GEM report also raises the concern that the growth of private schooling threatens national commitments to free education – a concern very much shared by GCE, particularly given the growth of low-fee private schools staffed by untrained teachers. The report also draws attention to teacher attrition and poor working conditions in private schools, and highlights quality and equity issues in private schools in urban areas. GCE agrees with the GEM report’s recommendation to “halt segregation stemming from increased opportunities to choose between public and private schools”, and shares similar concerns which have been highlighted in GCE’s upcoming report Private Profit, Public Loss: why the push for low-fee private schools is throwing quality education off track.

While there is much that GCE welcomes in the report, we raise certain concerns.

We agree with the GEM report that good quality education should not be equated with, or reduced to, learning outcomes. As such, we recognise the importance given to quality inputs (availability of textbooks and reading books) and processes (effective teaching practices) in ensuring quality. We share the GEM report’s concern that “focusing on a relatively limited set of skills that are more amenable to measurement risks marginalizing subjects and skills that are prioritized in each country’s curriculum… While large scale assessments are useful in tracking system-level performance, evidence is limited on how useful they are in guiding teacher training and classroom practices and improving learning outcomes over time”. We regret that, having recognised these concerns, the report then proceeds to discuss the need for a global standard of proficiency. This runs counter to the recognition of the need for culturally sensitive curricula and teaching in classrooms. Alternative methodologies of learning assessment- including formative assessment that supports teachers’ work in classrooms – have not been considered in the report. While the report talks about early grade reading assessment (EGRA) as being a ”reliable and valid measure”, this ignores the existing research highlighting methodological concerns with this approach.1 The inclusion of EGRA in the SDG indicator set was opposed by 227 organisations across the world, including early childhood educators, teacher associations, academics, human rights organisations, grassroots groups, and other stakeholders from around the world, constituting a cross section of opinion that cuts across national and thematic boundaries. Furthermore, the outgoing Education For All Steering Committee had reached a consensus that early grade assessment should not be included as part of the global indicators and expressed concerns that assessments directed towards small children can undermine the wellbeing of the child, and could negatively impact the development of her or his personality; her or his right to creativity and to play; and the development of critical thinking. These concerns are well-reflected in General Observation 1 of the Committee on the Rights of the Child. We are disappointed and concerned to see it receive the GEM report’s support.

We appreciate the emphasis placed on the need for system thinking to strengthen education provision. The section on education systems, however, should have been expanded to address issues of their operation, and not restrict the focus to a comparison of the various system analysis tools. There are serious methodological concerns with the World Bank SABER system that the report has not analysed.2,3 Thus, SABER heavily defines quality in terms of learning outcomes and supports decentralisation and liberalisation of education, neglecting the role that strong centralised planning has played in countries like South Korea, Singapore and Cuba, which have improved equity and quality in education.4 SABER has promoted ‘merit pay’ despite the considerable opposition from experts and plenty of evidence of the harm it does.5 Fundamentally, the standardisation of objectives and functions across diverse educational systems runs counter to the need to consider the social and economic context of many developing countries, installing instead an overwhelmingly Western-based model of education.

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1Sørensen, TB (2015) Review of Early Grade Reading Assessment (EGRA), Education International.

2Fontdevila, C and Verger, T (2015) The World Bank’s Doublespeak on Teachers: An Analysis of Ten Years of Lending and Advice. Education International.

3The World Bank and Education: Critiques and Alternatives. Edited by Klees, S, Samoff, J & Stormquist, NP (2012) Sense Publishers, Rotterdam

4Barrett, AM & Sorensen, TB (2015) Indicators for All? Monitoring quality and equity for a broad and bold Post-2015 Global Education Agenda. Open Society Foundations.

5Global Campaign for Education and Education International (2012). Closing the Trained Teacher Gap. Global Campaign for Education.