With 2015 well underway, it’s time to revisit the education development agenda.
2015 was set as the deadline for the achievement the Education for All (EFA) and Millennium Development Goals. In the years since the goals were set, considerable progress has been made toward their achievement, with increased accessibility to primary education for school aged children and improvements in adult literacy rates.
While progress towards the global educational goals has been laudable, we must continue to strive towards the achievement of basic educational standards, which improve workforce productivity and innovation. We should also keep in mind that the goals towards which we project our educational aspirations could always be more ambitious.
It is with awareness of the imperative of the need for action and ambition that world education and political leaders should formulate the post-2015 development agenda. But this doesn’t promise to be an easy task. The biggest challenge is perhaps developing a framework that is ambitious for economies at different stages of development.
For instance, the goal of universalising primary school education for young children remains largely an aspirational goal for countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, but is much less ambitious for economies that have already achieved full primary completion, such as Europe and Central Asia, East Asia and Latin America.
So what are universally relevant priorities that are also ambitious for nations that have already made considerable progress towards educational goals?
Firstly, there is a need for increased government investment in education to improve educational quality. Statistics from the Ministry of Education of The People’s Republic of China reveal the equivalent of 4.3 per cent of China’s annual GDP was spent on education in 2012. While this percentage is higher than previously, additional investment in education could be used to improve educational facilities, the quality of instruction and education outcomes.
There is also a need to improve the quality of education by ensuring teachers hold relevant qualifications. Within even the most advanced global education systems, school teachers have been criticised for failing to hold tertiary qualifications relevant to the courses they teach. Where teachers lack specialist, expert knowledge needed to teach subjects, they should be required to upgrade their qualifications.
To prevent decline in the quality of education, governments must safeguard the standards of private institutions and non-institutionalised learning organisations. The expanding private education sector should be closely monitored and regulated following an increase in the number of unscrupulous education providers. Students should be guaranteed adequate training and value for money when they enrol in certificates, courses and degrees, to maintain graduate quality and confidence in education systems.
Education leaders also need to prioritise the teaching of curricula relevant to today’s students and tomorrow’s workforce. In many economies a “skills gap” has emerged as the skills possessed by school leavers and graduates do not match those required by the jobs market. If we aspire to a productive and innovative global workforce, schools and institutions must teach students applied skills with a focus on graduate job outcomes.
Despite increased educational opportunities for women and rural students, education leaders still need to address persistent inequity in education systems. The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs estimates that US$30 billion in GDP is lost from the Asia-Pacific region annually, due to gender gaps in education. In addition, rural students in even developed nations, such as Australia and the US, have reduced access to quality education and educational opportunities, as compared to their urban counterparts.
Education and political leaders also need to stop rising costs of education preventing educational access. Reduced state tax support in the US, and reductions in government funding in Australia, are forcing institutions to create an offset through increasing tuition fees. Fee increases in these countries have made many schools and institutions inaccessible even to middle-class families.
Expansion of vocational training programs and part-time learning options should be considered to improve education accessibility. Prospective students are often locked out of education systems because of the need to earn money to support themselves and their families. By increasing practical training opportunities, and offering courses on a part-time basis, the pursuit of income and an education need not be mutually exclusive.
Increased accessibility and quality of education and the promotion of equity in education are key priorities for nations that have already made considerable progress. They are also universally relevant. These priorities, along with possible solutions, should feature centrally in the post-2015 education agenda.