Telling the truth and shaping a vision for education

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 Kevin Watkins

Was it really three years? When I think back to my time as Director of the Education for All Global Monitoring Report, the period fades into a blur of deadlines and launch events, liberally interspersed with the missives from irate governments unhappy at our failure to pay due respect to their country’s record. After each report, as I recall, there was a moment of quiet team reflection. We would firmly resolve to plan for a less pressurized report cycle, before proceeding to repeat the pattern of previous years.

There is much to celebrate on the 10th  anniversary of the EFA Global Monitoring Report. One of them is the fact that the reports have appeared! Looking back over the nine volumes, it is extraordinary that such small teams have produced such high quality reports over what are exceptionally short research cycles. More than any other report (OK, I admit to personal bias), the Global Monitoring Report plays a pivotal role in holding governments to account and setting the agenda on education.

That role can be traced back to the very early years. The report was created with the express purpose of monitoring progress towards the EFA goals adopted in Dakar and, by extension, the Millennium Development Goals. And it was created independent. Unlike the institutional reports that have to pass through an official censor and avoid all criticism of governments, individual donors and international institutions, the Global Monitoring Report has the privilege of editorial independence – and the associated privilege to tell it like it is.

When it comes to monitoring, independence matters. In education, as in other areas, governments around the world have an unhealthy habit of signing up to bold declarations, adopting ambitious targets, and then carrying on business as usual. From the outset, the Global Monitoring Report has challenged this tradition by providing the data against which to measure performance, and an authoritative voice to report on what has – and has not – been achieved.

Part of the Report’s remit is to act as an advocate for the Education for All agenda. It is easy to overlook how effective it has been in this area. Some of the earliest reports – on gender and the quality of education – helped to put widely ignored issues at the centre of policy dialogue. As more recent evidence has underlined, the report on the importance of early childhood education was in many respects ahead of its time. The 2010 report on marginalization turned the spotlight on the failure of governments to tackle the inequalities in education. In 2011 we turned our attention to the conflict-affected states that now account for over 40 per cent (and rising) of the world’s out-of-school population.

The forthcoming 2012 Report will continue the agenda-setting tradition. It tackles what is surely one of the great challenges of our day – youth unemployment. That challenge will not be met unless governments put education at the centre of a wider strategy for aligning skills with jobs.

Anniversaries are not just a cause for celebration. They are also an opportunity to reflect on some of the big challenges ahead. With 61 million children still out of school and progress towards the Education for All goals slowing, there is now a real danger that the targets set in 2000 will be missed by a far wider margin than seemed likely a few years ago. The low levels of learning that take place in the schools of many countries represent another cause for concern. When learning assessments show that over one-third of pupils in sitting in Grade 5 classes in countries like Kenya can only read at Grade 2 levels or less – and Kenya is not an outlier – something is structurally wrong with national education systems.

Looking ahead, it strikes me that the Global Monitoring Report has a critical role to play in at least four areas.

The first is in communicating some uncomfortable truths. Education has slipped steadily down the international development agenda, in part because of failures of leadership across the Education for All agencies; and in part because of a parallel failure on the part of civil society campaigners and advocates to mobilize a wider public. With the UN Secretary General preparing a global initiative on education, there is a real opportunity to reverse this picture by setting out a compelling vision backed by practical strategies for change. The Global Monitoring Report team should be helping to shape that vision, set out the strategies and galvanize international action.

The second area is inequality. Disadvantages linked to wealth disparities, gender, ethnicity, disability and other factors are a major road-block to progress towards the Education for All Goals. I would like to see the Global Monitoring Report leading efforts to track what governments are doing to remove that road-block. How about developing some equity-based targets that could be integrated into the design of the post-2015 international development goals?

The third area for consideration is monitoring. Today, the Global Monitoring Report is the go-to source for administrative data on education. The problem is that administrative data come with a time-lag of two to three years. We need more real-time evidence on what is happening with access to school and learning in school, preferably disaggregated for gender and other equity indicators. Is this an area that the Global Monitoring Report and the Unesco Institute for Statistics could jointly lead on?

Last but not least, the Global Monitoring Report could build on its already impressive track record in holding governments to account. Perhaps the Report could make publicly available – and easily accessible – national report cards that capture national inequalities in education. Of course, many governments would complain that this is not part of the remit. Luckily, though, the Global Monitoring Report is there not to represent governments, but to hold them to account and to act as an advocate for their citizens’ right to education.



  1. The reports have been invaluable but would have been even better if they had included a serious consideration of children with disabilities. UNESCO has estimated that of the 77 million children who were out of school in 2010, 23 million were children with disabilities.

    Once again, in the run up to Rio + 20, they are not even mentioned in the otherwise excellent UNESCO Statistical report, although it is self-evident that they will be over-represented in the 61 million children who are still denied their right to education. Many studies have clearly indicated that fewer than 5 per cent attend school in developing countries.

    Since 2008 we have had a UN Convention on the Rights of Children with Disabilities which contains a clear commitment to their right to education. This has now been ratified by 114 countries, many of whom are still neglecting children with disabilities.

    How are these countries to be held to account if UN reports on EFA and MDG2 continue to ignore them?

    Fortunately, the next UNICEF State of the World’s Children will focus on children with disabilites.

  2. How would learning foreign languages such as English or German improve the quality of living of people in Africa? And is the UNESCO only concentrating in Children or are adults also plan of the strategy?
    Wouldn’t it be easier for organizations to deliver help and for children to be more aware of what is out there… if they spoke a common language such as English?

  3. Dear Kevin,

    Thank you for bringing this detailed insights on these educational reports.
    Yes, Global Monitoring Report was quite beneficial.

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