Commonwealth Recommendations for the Post-2015 Development Framework for Education

Compare Forum Special Issue on Post-2015 Education and Development Agenda  Compare 43:6 December 2013
Compare Forum Special Issue on Post-2015 Education and Development Agenda
Compare 43:6 December 2013

Dr the Honorable Vasant K. BUNWAREE

Minister of Education & Human Resources, Republic of Mauritius

This is an Author’s Original Manuscript of an article submitted for consideration in Compare [the exclusive right to publish residing with Taylor & Francis, copyright BAICE]. The final version can be found here.


With discussion on the post-2015 agenda for education well underway, there seems to be reasonable consensus on the issues to be addressed. Access, equity and quality are words frequently appearing in the discourse (UNESCO and UNICEF 2013). There appears to be less consensus, however, on the structure of the development framework, and to whom it should apply. How to resolve the gaps and duplication among three global frameworks that address education – the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), Education for All (EFA), and the Decade for Education for Sustainable Development – and how to align these with emerging goals for sustainable development, remain open for discussion. Arguably more thorny is the question of whether all countries should be subject to the new development framework. There is probably no country that would claim it does not need to address access, equity or quality in its education system, yet developed countries’ engagement in the post-2015 agenda for education debate tends to be only through offices for international development, with their education ministries absent from the table.

Commonwealth Ministers of Education met in London in December 2012 to discuss these issues and develop recommendations for the post-2015 agenda. While recommending that three core concerns of access, quality and equity run through all education goals, they also put forward proposals for structure and participation that aimed to resolve these questions (Commonwealth Secretariat 2012c).This article outlines the Ministers’ recommendations.


Ministers proposed that the post-2015 development framework should feature three principal goals for education (Commonwealth Secretariat 2012b). These would build on the current education MDGs. These principal goals would be supplemented by six detailed subordinate goals that would build on EFA. This single, two-tier structure would allow the alignment of headline and specific goals and reduce the implementation and monitoring burden on countries. Targets and deadlines would generally focus on 2025, but options would be available for individual countries, depending on starting point, national priorities and capacity constraints. This allows for all countries, regardless of their current level of development, to take part in achieving development goals.

Principal Goals

The first principal goal relates to access. Much work remains in meeting the current MDG and EFA goals for universal primary education (Menefee and Bray 2012). However, in order to address the concern that the phrasing of the current goals resulted in an over-emphasis on enrolment to the detriment of learning outcomes (Melamed 2012), the focus of the proposed goal is access with learning.

Principal Goal 1: Every child completes a full cycle of a minimum of 9 years of continuous, free basic education and demonstrates learning achievement consistent with national standards.

The second principal goal relates to quality, but conceptualises quality in the context of a world in which education paradigms are evolving rapidly in response to changing political, economic, social and technological conditions (Robinson 2010). The goal seeks to go beyond the measurement of learning outcomes and be wide enough to encompass quality in other areas, such as policy and strategy, management and leadership, lifelong learning, community participation, quality assurance mechanisms, and development assistance.

Principal Goal 2:Post-basic education expanded strategically to meet needs for knowledge and skills related to employment and livelihoods.

The third principal goal relates to equity. The connection between an individual’s or a social group’s relative disadvantage and their inability to realise their potential is clear (Lewin 2012). National development can be considered the aggregate of individual or social realisation of potential. This is true of any country, regardless of its level of development. Reducing the gaps in achievement caused by disadvantage while at the same time improving overall educational achievement is key to the attainment of all development goals.

Principal Goal 3: Reduce and seek to eliminate differences in educational outcomes among learners associated with household wealth, gender, special needs, location, age and social group.

Subordinate Goals

Six subordinate goals support increased access, quality and equity:

i.    Reduce and seek to eliminate early childhood under-nutrition and avoidable childhood disease, and universalise access to community based early childhood education and development and pre-school below age 6 years

ii.   Universalise an ‘expanded vision of access’ to a full cycle of a minimum of 9 years of continuous basic education

      Successful achievement of national learning outcomes in cognitive, affective and psychomotor domains for both primary and lower secondary cycles at age appropriate levels up to the age of 15 years

iii.  Invest strategically in expanded and equitable access to post-basic and tertiary level education and training linked to wellbeing, livelihoods and employment and the transition to responsible adult citizenship

iv.  Eliminate illiteracy and innumeracy amongst those under 50 years old

      Provide education opportunities for young people and adults who have not successfully completed 9 years of basic education

v.   Reduce and seek to eliminate disparities in participation in education at school level linked to wealth, location, special needs, age, gender and social group and ensure all children have equal educational opportunities and reduce gaps in measured outcomes

vi.  Provide adequate infrastructure for learning according to national norms for buildings, basic services, safety, learning materials, and learning infrastructure within appropriate distances of households.

Cross-cutting themes

The above goals, in their universality and concern with equality, appear comprehensive. But the experience of implementing the current development framework, together with the emergence of global concern over issues such as climate change and migration, led ministers to suggest thematic emphases running through all goals.

Ministers thus agreed on the importance of focusing efforts on vulnerable and marginalised children —whether they are the consequence of migration or the collateral damage arising from cataclysms, natural or man-made or socially constructed mind-sets. Indeed, lack of resilience of education systems to conflict has caused the greatest failures in meeting the current goals (UNESCO 2011). It is universally agreed that education must play its part in addressing the challenges of environmental change (Commonwealth Secretariat 2012d) and contribute to sustainable development.

In order to focus efforts on these hardest- to- reach children, Commonwealth ministers propose four cross-cutting themes to be addressed by all education goals. These are of such fundamental importance they should be addressed by all education interventions. They are:

a) Education in Emergencies – Conflict and disaster risk reduction integrated into national education sector plans;

b) Migration – All migrants of school-age or who are education professionals recorded in monitoring of education goals by the host country to inform policy formulation;

c)   Gender – All reporting and evaluation of the development goals disaggregated by sex and analysed through a gender lens; and

d) Education for Sustainable Development – Education for sustainable development mainstreamed in all education policies, teacher and school leader preparation, and curricula.


The Commonwealth embraces 54 countries, 2 billion people and considerable diversity. Its priorities, which were articulated by its education ministers at their triennial meeting in Mauritius in 2012, are global priorities (Commonwealth Secretariat 2012e). Accordingly, diverse needs can be addressed through flexible national or regional targets and deadlines, set within a global framework of goals that is universal in conception and implementation. This clearly necessitates a comprehensive, integrated and multi-sectoral approach to development, and that can be best achieved through a unified structure of principal ‘headline’ goals and subordinate, sectoral goals.


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Commonwealth Secretariat. 2012b. Commonwealth Ministerial Working Group on the Post-2015 Development Framework for Education: Recommendations. London: Commonwealth Secretariat.

Commonwealth Secretariat. 2012c. Commonwealth Ministerial Working Group on the Post-2015 Development Framework for Education: Statement. London: Commonwealth Secretariat.

Commonwealth Secretariat. 2012d. Education for Sustainable Development in Small Island Developing States: Information Brief. London: Commonwealth Secretariat.

Commonwealth Secretariat. 2012e. Eighteenth Conference of Commonwealth Education Ministers: Issues Paper Synopsis. London: Commonwealth Secretariat.

Lewin, Keith. 2012. Revisiting the internationally agreed goals for education. Paper presented at 18th Conference of Commonwealth Education Ministers, August 28-31, in Paille, Mauritius.

Melamed, Claire. 2012. Post-2015: The road ahead. London: Overseas Development Institute.

Menefee, Trey, and Mark Bray. 2012. Education in the Commonwealth: Towards and beyond the Internationally Agreed Goals. London: Commonwealth Secretariat.

Penson, Jonathan, Akemi Yonemura, Barry Sesnan, Kimberly Ochs and Casmir Chanda. 2012. Beyond the Commonwealth Teacher Recruitment Protocol: Next steps in managing teacher migration in education in emergencies. In Next steps in managing teacher migration: Papers of the sixth Commonwealth research symposium on teacher mobility, recruitment and migration, ed. Jonathan Penson and Akemi Yonemura, 126-166. London and Paris: Commonwealth Secretariat and UNESCO-IICBA.

Robinson, Ken. 2010. RSA Animate: Changing education paradigms. London: The Royal Society of Arts.

UNESCO. 2011. The hidden crisis: Armed conflict and education. EFA Global Monitoring Report 2011. Paris: UNESCO.

UNESCO and UNICEF. 2013. Thematic consultation on education in the post-2015 development agenda, 18-19 March 2013 – Dakar, Senegal: Summary of outcomes.