To much fanfare, the roadmap to end extreme poverty by 2030 was released Thursday. The high-level panel (HLP, one letter short of HELP) is co-chaired by David Cameron with the Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, the Indonesian president, and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the Liberian president. The forceful and well-oiled verb ‘eradicate’ was used to describe how extreme poverty would be ended. It would be eradicated. It is an interesting choice of verb and one which we never tire of using. Eradicate. The original Latin meaning to ‘uproot’. So, we want to ‘uproot’ poverty and do what with it? How are we going to uproot extreme poverty?
12 goals. 54 targets. 15 years.
‘Sustainability’ is mentioned a lot (in fact, 25 times). ‘Sustainable’ is mentioned a whooping 186 times. The phrase ‘sustainable development’, 99 times. Ok, so once extreme poverty is uprooted, the seeds that fall back to the ground will not find root. They will not grow again. This time, it’s sustainable.
And yes, this time it is different. I am sure much more qualified and knowledgeable people will comment, troll and discuss this report (indeed, some already have such as Andy Sumner and Alex Cobham here, and Claire Melamed here). And yes, there are plenty of eye-rolling statements and narratives, such as when you read that the panel discussed “the daily reality of life on the margins of survival” (p.15). In London. Or, the new and oft-repeated catchphrase of the report to “leave no one behind”. And, speaking about a “global ethic”, which apparently is financial in philosophy as the panel proceed to list off a cost-benefit analysis of development interventions.
I just want to touch on a few features and then speak more specifically about the education sub-directory in the roadmap.
The X factor
Although the goals are universal, the targets are not all universal. “Almost all targets should be set at the national level or even local level, to account for different starting points and contexts” (p.41). Rather than stating that there should be universal access and completion of pre-primary education, Goal 3(a) states that there should be an “Increase by x% the proportion of children able to access and complete pre-primary education”. According to the panel, they have gone to great lengths not to be prescriptive but to illustrate examples.
Furthermore, indicators will be disaggregated by income, gender, location, age, people living with disabilities and relevant social group. This is landmark. But, it is also a huge ask of the current and future state of data collection, validation, analysing and synthesising capacities of many national governments, both in terms of district, regional and national-level data.
The basic framework for the goals is the old acronym that we all learn: SMART. Specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound. They are SMART goals. Or are they? The panel acknowledge the risks of a single agenda, ranging from “unworkably utopian” to “overloaded” to “business as usual”. Despite the acknowledgement, the panel does not satisfactorily address these risks in the report.
Much like the ‘risks and assumptions’ written for a LogFrame, they are just there because they have to be. The panel states that the “best way of managing these risks is to make sure that the post-2015 development agenda includes clear priorities for action that the international community can rally behind” (p.26). This just sounds like business as usual (aka MDGs) and doesn’t actually address the risks identified.
There are three ideas that standout in the education sub-directory of the roadmap, otherwise known as Goal 3:
- Pre-primary schooling. After much evidence clearly demonstrating the impact, pre-primary schooling gets a look in. Also known as ‘early childhood education’ or ‘early childhood development (ECD)’, this is a cross-cutting issue of the roadmap and will begin to feature prominently in development initiatives and interventions. However, there is a lot to be learned from the MDGs in regards to ensuring equitable and effective access to schooling. It will be more than a matter of just building pre-primary schools, recruiting teachers and producing textbooks. The inclusion of secondary schooling in this goal was a preordained due to the MDGs focus on primary schooling.
- Standards. The move towards standards is one already being played out in OECD countries both at the secondary and tertiary levels of education. Here, both B and C look to promote and achieve ‘quality’ by measuring students against standards and outcomes. While it focuses on accountability and measuring students’ performance and learning outcomes, a standards agenda can often come into contest with inclusion-driven agendas.
- Get a job! In another boost to the life-long learning agenda and concept, D recognises the need for vocational and technical education for ALL, and not just education for children. Also known as vocational and educational training (VET), it has a long, storied and debated history in regards to its role in public education, the national economy and political and educational discourse and agendas. It is often framed around the notion of providing alternative, low-skilled career and workforce pathways to young adults who do not succeed in the traditional education system. Its inclusion here is perhaps in response to rising youth unemployment rates and the lack of alternatives for young people who are unable to ‘succeed’ in the traditional education system.
Within this goal, there are also a number of glaring issues and questions that only academia will probably address, think about and write on. The issues mainly reflect broader and deeper issues of power and Discourse.
- Who decides what standards and which standards? A few key phrases stand out: “completes primary education able to read, write and count well enough to meet minimum standards”. What constitutes ‘well enough’? Well enough for what, for whom? To do what? Who will decide what the minimum standards are? How will these standards be monitored, appraised and renewed? Will all children be tested against the same standards, regardless of circumstance? Where does creativity, music, art, drama and other non-science subjects fit into the curriculum and standards? How will a standards agenda co-exist with a focus on inclusion?
- Who decides what skills and which skills? With jobs and skills featuring prominently, it is stated that we need to “Increase the number of young and adult women and men with the skills…needed for work by x%”. What skills are those? Are they the skills needed to work jobs that do not currently exist but will exist in the future economy? Who will decide what skills to address? Are they traditional skills?
- “regardless of circumstance”. This is a nice, convenient phrase, expressed as a means to addressing (or at least referencing) inequality and inequity. It captures a child in northern Ghana who has a disability, lives with his grandfather in a rural area and is not attending school. It also captures a young girl in northern Vietnam, who was married at the age of 12 and no longer attends school. Or a young refugee from Burma still living in a refugee camp on the Thai-Burma border. It is a clumsy phrase and perhaps dismissive of the role circumstance (read: inequality) plays. It is not just a matter of regarding circumstance as regardless. This phrase does not capture inequality and inequity. Remember, it is mostly the political, social, economic and cultural circumstances of children and their families that keep them from accessing, attending and completing schooling. Throw in the broader circumstances at community, national, regional and global levels, and more needs to be said and addressed than just ‘regardless of circumstance’.
There are many things to admire about this report and the roadmap is describes. Its scope. Its ambition. It is just down-right tenacious in the vision it puts forward. At the same time, it raises a lot of questions and does not put to bed many prior concerns with a single, global agenda formed by an elite few. While the panel’s roadmap is not a GPS for ending extreme poverty, it does offer the vision and the conditions for doing so. In effect, it is a street directory, which individuals, communities, organisations and governments can use to find the best path forward towards meeting many of the goals and ending extreme poverty.
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