By Anton De Grauwe, IIEP-UNESCO


For several decades, the international community has attempted to create a common vision and global action through the definition of broad agendas and agreements. The most popular of these are the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), agreed to in 2000, and, more recently, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which is expected to guide countries on their path to social and economic development until 2030. In education, the equivalent of these are the Education for All framework, formulated in 2000 in Dakar, and the Education 2030 agenda, which reflects the fourth SDG. The Education 2030 agenda, with its seven objectives, not only defines a global agenda; it also offers guidance to countries and challenges them. This agenda has a multitude of implications for planning and management of the education sector. 

An ambituous agenda 

Education 2030 is ambitious. So was the EFA framework. It can be argued that the major progress made at global level and in several countries since 2000 demonstrates the potential value of an ambitious international agenda: such ambition may help to bring people together, to mobilize resources, and to create enthusiasm. But there are still many countries (for instance in South Asia, the Sahel region, or in Central Africa), who are at risk of not achieving even the EFA goals by 2030. It is essential therefore that the agenda is accompanied by an analysis of key lessons learnt by countries that have made progress. Two broad lessons deserve emphasis:

  • Countries that have made progress have built effective public administrations at central and decentralized levels. Governments and their partners need to strengthen national systems, and public administrations. This key element in development cannot be bypassed.
  • A long-term agenda requires that partners be ready to offer medium-term or long-term support. Or, at the least, that they have a long-term vision of support. While neither of these points is new, they may recently have been overlooked in the search for quick solutions. The return to project mode, which is visible in some countries, inspired by an “exasperation” with government inefficiency, may be understandable, but it is not helpful to longterm development.

A broad agenda 

Education 2030 offers a broader view of the education sector than those defined by both the Jomtien Declaration in 1990 and the Dakar Framework for Action in 2000. The agenda pays attention to Early Childhood Care and Education; it demands universal secondary education; the acquisition of skills, including through stronger TVET, figures prominently. But the agenda is accompanied by a surprisingly limited list of key implementation factors: while there is a fully justified and well-argued focus on “teachers,” the emphasis on “facilities” and “scholarships” is more difficult to grasp, as these are not key factors of successful education systems.

The first implication of such a broad agenda is that countries need sector-wide policies and plans, characterized by a balanced approach between the different sub-sectors, paying attention to the articulation between them. The damage done to education systems (and to the wider socio-economic development of countries) through a simplistic emphasis on basic education, neglecting the contributions by higher education or TVET, has been difficult to repair.

The second implication is that the implementation of such a sector-wide policy demands a balanced and comprehensive set of strategies, the choice of which needs to be guided by what the past has taught us. There is in particular a need to avoid returning to old errors. Facilities are a basic requirement, but on their own they will not lead to improving quality.

An agenda to measure 

Education 2030 is accompanied by a demanding Monitoring & Evaluation (M&E) framework, which consists of many indicators, including several that are new and for which data are difficult to collect. This emphasis on monitoring reflects the present policy environment, which puts great emphasis on results-based everything. Two implications have to be kept in mind:

  • Many national M&E systems need strengthening and, even more so, reforming. They should not only measure what is most easily measurable, as this is not always the most important. M&E systems should allow for long-term change, avoiding the temptation of short-term but artificial improvements. They should use a wider range of sources and actors, to gain a better insight into the state of education, for instance through user surveys. While more and more monitoring and evaluation is taking place (of students, of teachers, of schools, of plans, of systems, and so on), more efforts are needed to learn from monitoring and from evaluation, and especially to transform this learning into policy reform.
  • The growing emphasis on accountability, reflected in the monitoring burden, has to be accompanied with much stronger support systems, through professional development of public servants, from the central ministry to the classroom. Accountability without support will inevitably lead to further de-professionalization of those who are at the heart of education systems and to whom we entrust the realization of Education 2030.


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