Nicholas Burnett directed the Education for All Global Monitoring Report from 2004 to 2007. He was UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Education from September 2007 until October 2009 and now leads the education group at the Results for Development Institute, Washington.

Beyond 2015: Continuing and complementing the GMR

To celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Education for All Global Monitoring Report, we have invited the Report’s previous directors to share their views on progress and prospects for Education for All.

By Nicholas Burnett

At 10 years, the Education for All Global Monitoring Report is now on the map as an indispensable tool for the international education community. I am proud to have played a small role in this – and one that was so enjoyable, if very demanding. Managing the GMR was one of the best jobs I have had.  A great inheritance from Chris Colclough, a strong analytical team, the theme of Education for All which is so fundamental to development and social justice, global attention, a supportive advisory board, a generally supportive host in UNESCO, a fiercely protected independence, wonderful successors in Kevin Watkins and Pauline Rose – who could ask for more?

Well, I would ask for more.  I would ask, as we head towards the Education for All and Millennium Development Goal target date of 2015, for more impact. This is not necessarily up to the GMR but involves rather the goals themselves, an improvement in how the GMR is used,  and, above all, the need for effective accountability mechanisms.

Let us reflect briefly on progress since 2000, on what has worked and what has not in terms of the international educational goals. Achievements in terms of primary enrolment, gender parity and public spending on basic education are well known, as are disappointments including that the primary education goals will not be met everywhere by 2015, that enrolment has not been matched with learning, that adult literacy remains elusive, that early education is still relatively rare (especially for the poorest who would benefit the most), that the skills of school leavers do not match employers’ expectations, and that aid for basic education has only gone up insofar as overall aid overall has increased and is still not necessarily allocated to the neediest countries.  The GMR has told most of these stories – and told them very well.

If the period since 2000 represents remarkable progress but also a very large number of disappointments, what can we do now to ensure future success and avoid further disappointment as the international community starts to think about the post-2015 world? Four steps are essential:

1. Any new goals must be as universally endorsed and as universally applicable as possible. One of the major difficulties in building a global consensus around the current goals is that they are largely perceived as applying to low-income countries and so also relevant to aid donors.  Middle-income countries, where the bulk of the world’s poor but also the bulk of the new global middle class now live, have not fully engaged with them, while high-income countries have not engaged at all except with regard to aid.

2. New goals must focus on what really matters. Different people naturally have different views on this. My take is that the priorities now should be (a) maintaining the current primary enrolment goal where it is yet to be achieved; (b) learning and relevance at both primary and lower secondary levels; (c) a renewed emphasis on equity (encompassing both enrolment and learning); and (d) a continued attempt to get international resources to where they are most needed and can achieve the most.

3. Monitoring must continue – so the GMR must continue. And possibly, as has been discussed over the years, move to more specific monitoring of individual countries. To facilitate monitoring, however, indicators should this time around be specified at the time of goal-setting rather than afterwards.

4. Above all, however, new, more universal goals and continued monitoring need to be complemented by effective accountability mechanisms. The EFA High Level Group meetings were not effective in producing change, though recent reforms imply some hope that they might have more impact in future. My view, however, is that mechanisms directly involving countries, such as peer review mechanisms, are the most likely to make a difference. Enhanced GMR country-specific monitoring could then be the technical input for a more political review and accountability mechanism that could have more impact.


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