Global Governance of the Draft SDG Education Goal and its Targets: Critical Challenges for both North and South By Kenneth King

May 2015

By Kenneth King, Editor NORRAG News.

WEF logoUnder the above title, NORRAG, in association with the Campaign for Popular Education (CAMPE) in Bangladesh, and the BRAC Institute of Educational Development, put on a Side Event on the 20th May at the World Education Forum (WEF) in Incheon.

This Side Event asked its audience to consider WHO the WEF Education Goal and its Targets were aimed at. The 6 Education For All (EFA) Dakar Goals and the Education Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), for example, had been widely considered to be aimed at the South. So, there has been much interest in ensuring that the draft WEF Education Goal and its Targets were seen to be universally relevant, to both North and South.

This is no simple exercise. In the context of the continuing rich world-poor world gap in terms of mean years of schooling of their adult populations, what do common goals and targets actually mean? Does it make sense to make the Education Goal and Targets so ambitious that they cannot be mistaken as a prescription for the poorer countries of the world?

Getting this right is a highly contested terrain. We have just been told in April by the 2015 Global Monitoring Report (GMR) that the last fifteen years have been only a ‘qualified success’ in terms of achievements. It added: ‘Overall, not even the target of universal primary education was reached, let alone the more ambitious EFA goals, and the most disadvantaged continue to be the last to benefit’ (EFA GMR: 2015: xv). In a situation where the world has not managed to deliver on Dakar 2000, especially for the poorest people and countries, should we be principally concerned to ‘raise the bar’, so that the new Goal and Targets are unmistakably seen to be one-world proposals?

Even if the Education Goal and Targets can be somehow made to sound common, at a general level of abstraction, surely the Targets also have to be adapted and contextualized to fit each country? This is of course why the framers of the Muscat Agreement (in May 2014) and the Open Working Group (OWG) in July 2014 had included for several of the Targets that they should be set at ‘x%’, to be decided nationally.

By coincidence, however, WEF is taking place in the very week that the Intergovernmental Negotiations on the Post-2015 Development Agenda in New York are discussing several targets that had been revised from the earlier OWG statements. These revised target proposals include no less than four from the existing Education Targets (4.4; 4.6; 4b; and 4c). For example, the revised 4.4 would change from ‘By 2030, increase by [x] per cent the number of youth and adults who have relevant skills’ to ‘By 2030, ensure that all youth and adults have relevant skills.’ The rationale for such a proposed change was stated to be ‘to ensure the highest possible level of ambition’.

Intriguingly, in Incheon, these revised target statements were discussed by the large NGO Forum on the first day of WEF, and the Forum members decided unanimously to recommend to the WEF the adoption of ALL the Revised Education Targets from the New York process. In the 2015 NGO Forum Declaration, distributed to all participants in WEF, it was affirmed that ‘We support the recommendation of the co-facilitators in the New York Intergovernmental Negotiations that where x% is used in the adult literacy, skills and teacher targets, they should be replaced by “all”.’

This is not the only area of contention and debate in the WEF. Readers of NORRAG News will recall the damage done in Dakar 2000 by the careless framing of Goal 3, with its use of ‘life skills’ rather than some clearer statement about essential skills for work. History seems to be repeating itself in Incheon:

The target statement about ‘equal access for all women and men to affordable quality technical, vocational and tertiary education, including university’ (Target 4.3) is apparently contradicted by the next target statement pledging to ‘increase by x% the number of youth and adults who have relevant skills, including technical and vocational skills, for employment, decent jobs and entrepreneurship’ (Target 4.4).

But ‘relevant skills’ are clearly wider than technical and vocational skills. And to add more obfuscation to the mix, Target 4.5 talks about ‘equal access to all levels of education and vocational training for the vulnerable’ (Target 4.5). Is ‘vocational training’ different from ‘relevant skills’ or from ‘quality technical, vocational and tertiary education’?

Oh, wait a moment, what about the indicators for these skills statement and targets?? There seems only to be one, and it appears only to be concerned with access and not with quality or with affordability. Indicator 14 reads as follows: ‘Participation rate in technical-vocational programmes (15- to 24-year-olds)’.

Now, as of breakfast time on the last day of the WEF, we don’t yet know what the Drafting Committee will decide to do with this powerful proposal from the NGO Forum or with the apparent contradictions in language amongst the skills targets. But by noon today the text will be finalized and will be presented to the last plenary of the Forum for ratification.

Let’s hope there is clarity about the framing of skill. We don’t want to have another vague skills’ target to carry around for the next 15 years.

And we need to clarify the tensions between the universal and the national and local in the wider framing of all the education targets at WEF. The Forum is not drafting an international treaty, with its specialist technical language. But the drafters do need to capture very clearly the moral obligation to deliver on what we have failed fully to deliver these last fifteen years, and to inspire both richer and poorer countries to adopt meaningful, affordable but inspirational ambitions for the next fifteen years.

WEF still has four hours to go! Plenty of time!! But clear heads are needed.

Kenneth King is the Editor of NORRAG News. He is an Emeritus Professor at the School of Social and Political Studies, University of Edinburgh, Scotland, UK. Email:

NORRAG is at the World Education Forum in Incheon.

NORRAG (Network for International Policies and Cooperation in Education and Training) is an internationally recognised, multi-stakeholder network which has been seeking to inform, challenge and influence international education and training policies and cooperation for almost 30 years. NORRAG has more than 4,200 registered members worldwide and is free to join. Not a member? Join free here.

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