Ending the learning crisis: education and equity after 2015

Education-after-2015-logo9Today Save the Children is publishing its proposals for the post-2015 global development framework. Giving every child a chance to learn – particularly the poorest – is a central part of this framework, as four Save the Children education experts from around the world explain.

By Desmond Bermingham, Gerd-Hanne Fosen, Will Paxton and Dan Stoner

Global education debates are now abuzz with discussions about what will replace the Millennium Development Goals in 2015. You would be forgiven for thinking, however, that at this stage these debates are generating more heat than light. That is why today Save the Children has published its proposals for a post-2015 development framework. In Ending Poverty in Our Generation we have set out proposed goals, targets and indicators across all areas of human development.

Save-coverWe believe passionately that our generation is the first that can realistically talk of ending a series of global injustices. A world without poverty and without preventable child and maternal deaths is within our grasp. Education is no different. It falls to our generation, to ensure that no child is denied their right to education and no child’s life chances are cruelly limited by poor quality schools and limited opportunities to learn new skills.

That is why for education the global goal we are proposing is that “by 2030 we will ensure children everywhere receive quality education and have good learning outcomes”.

To underpin this goal our framework has three targets. The first, and most critical, is to “ensure that girls and boys everywhere are achieving good learning outcomes by the age of 12, with gaps between the poorest and the richest significantly reduced.” The second focuses on the early years and the third on young people. They are to “ensure that the poorest young children will be starting school ready to learn, with good levels of child development” and to “ensure that young people everywhere have basic literacy and numeracy, technical and life skills to become active citizens with decent employment”. We propose indicators for each target.

Running through this proposed framework are two key principles: learning and equity. Around 120 million children either never make it to school or drop out before their 4th year, and another 130 million fail to acquire basic skills while they are there. A good education is richer and broader than being able to read, write and do basic maths, of courseIn a changing world, skills such as critical thinking and creativity are becoming more important. But basic skills provide the platform from which children can access and benefit from a broader education. It is a scandal that millions of children are still learning little or nothing.

The most deprived children continue to be denied access to school, are failed even if they get into school and have the fewest resources (material and human) in the home to support learning. That is why a focus on learning must be combined with one on equity.

Reducing inequalities is a significant part of Save the Children’s overall post-2015 thinking. In part this is because of the growing concern about increased income inequality, including in many middle income countries where a large and growing proportion of the world’s poorest now live. But it is also because of our concern that all children have a decent chance in life. Education is a critical part of responding to this challenge, yet inequalities are large and often growing.

The poorest and most marginalized children often have the least-trained teachers, fewer learning materials and fewer opportunities to learn outside school. They are also less likely to benefit from good early childhood services, despite the strong evidence that support at a very young age helps children learn later in life. That is why our framework focuses on reducing the “learning gap” between poorest and richest. An emphasis on equity requires the last 10% of children still out of primary school to be both in school and learning.

Such a framework cannot fulfil children’s “right to learn” on its own, but it would concentrate global attention on ambitious improvements in the learning of all children, particularly the poorest – just as the MDGs have had notable successes at increasing access to school. It would help target action, including funding, at the poorest, disabled children, girls, ethnic minorities and children who live in conflict- or emergency-affected countries. And it would lead to greater innovation, such as out-of-school policies that improve the home learning environment and provide opportunities to learn in the community. Save the Children’s Literacy Boost programme shows the power of such policies.

Another lesson from the MDG experience is that targets can have perverse effects. Most now accept that the relative neglect of learning – with a focus only on access to primary school – was a mistake. As discussions continue about how best to measure learning in a way that allows for meaningful international comparisons, we need to anticipate the potential perverse effects.

First, it is critical that any “global floors” – minimum levels of learning that should be expected of all children – cannot be seen as ceilings or as leading to an unduly restricted vision of education. Save the Children’s proposal is to measure core foundational skills – literacy and numeracy by the age of 12 – in all countries, but then to also adopt national level targets that reflect local circumstances. These could include ambitious goals in different areas of learning above and beyond core skills. It is encouraging that a group of experts gathered from around the globe called the Learning Metrics Taskforce is also considering a similar system of global floors, with national level targets to reflect a fuller account of what a good education is. We also welcome the forthcoming 2013 Education for All Global Monitoring Report, which will be taking an equity focus to teaching and learning in ways that will help inform post-2015 debates.

Any targets also need to avoid the “low hanging fruit” risk– the temptation for governments and donors to target the children who require least effort. A focus on learning must avoid falling into this trap. That is why in our proposals equity features so strongly. To date some of the wider debates, such as that happening within the Learning Metrics Taskforce, have not adequately addressed equity.

2013 will be a critical year in the development of any post-MDG framework. The High Level Panel on the Post-2015 Development Agenda, chaired by Prime Minister David Cameron of the UK and Presidents Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia and Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono of Indonesia, reports in April. UNESCO and UNICEF are consulting and meeting in Dakar, Senegal, in March; in the second half of the year the UN will take forward the negotiations. There remains a real risk that no agreement can be reached, but if one is hammered out, education must be front and centre.

Save the Children welcomes views on our ideas and hopes that a goal and targets underpinned by the two core principles of learning and equity will command significant support from across the global education and development community.

Desmond Bermingham is director of the Education Global Initiative for Save the Children International. Gerd-Hanne Fosen is director of education for Save the Children Norway. Will Paxton is head of education policy and advocacy for Save the Children UK. Dan Stoner is associate vice president for international programs, education and child development for Save the Children US.



  1. Hi
    I like Your blog which is very informative and i was got much information about Global education, Ending Poverty and get more info,

    Best Regards
    Prashant Kumar

  2. Excellent blog…. yes all countries have to end the learning crisis. The ASER 2012 was released yesterday in New Delhi which underscored the issues you have raised in your blog.

    1. Thanks Vimala – I saw the ASER work, which is very important and interesting. Thanks for letting me know and I am glad you liked the blog.

  3. Teoricamente muito se tem dito sobre a relação entre pobreza e educação, mas infelizmente do discurso a acção há uma longa distancia. Os políticos sabem que a educação é importante e por isso enviam seus filhos para estudarem noutros países, só não sabem ou preferem não pensar que se os pobres não tiverem acesso a educação de qualidade, não haverá paz, segurança e desenvolvimento sustentável , todos estamos em rico.
    Precisamos de erguer a nossa voz, porque a nossa causa é pela dignidade da pessoa humana agora e sempre

  4. It is surprising that your policy statement makes no mention of the excellent report by Helen Pinnock of Save the Children UK on the importance of the mother tongue in literacy development, and that failure to educate children in an appropriate language is a major factor accounting for schools failing children – pushing them out rather than them ‘dropping out’. See Pinnock, Helen 2009. Language and education: the missing link. How the language used in schools threatens the achievement of Education for All. Save the Children’s report for the Centre for British Teachers, http://www.cfbt.com.

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