Post-2015 education agenda: student voices

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

Sajjad Alhawsawi

Centre for International Education, University of Sussex, Past BAICE Student Representative,

Helen Hanna

PhD student, School of Education, Queen’s University Belfast, BAICE Student Representataive,

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.

Following the United Nations Millennium Declaration in 2000, eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were adopted, to be achieved by 2015. Although only one goal is directly related to education—that of attaining universal primary education—the other goals may be achieved through education. Additionally, UNESCO set six education goals outlined in the Education For All (EFA) framework, which includes issues of access, equity, and learning outcomes. These goals (MDGs and EFA) overlap in many aspects and varying interpretations have been ascribed to them by international organisations and government bodies. As the deadline for achieving the goals approaches, much discussion and consultation work is being carried out across the globe, including in the sphere of education (Wordl We Want, n.d.). Students meeting at a postgraduate conference under the auspices of the British Association for International and Comparative Education (BAICE) and the United Kingdom Forum for International Education and Training (UKFIET), and hosted by the Centre for International Education at the University of Sussex, made a contribution to these discussions. This article summarises the presentations and main issues discussed at the conference with regard to the post-2015 education agenda, focusing on nine key areas.

The first issue addressed during the conference related to gender equality (MDG goal 3), universal access to education (MDG goal 2), and equity (EFA goal 2), and the potentially ‘perverse effects’ of MDGs and EFA. It was suggested that in Mozambique, as in some other parts of Sub-Saharan Africa, pregnant girls are often excluded from the regular school timetable and transferred to night courses. This is viewed as helping to achieve all three goals as the girls are permitted to remain in education; however, this strategy was considered by the conference as problematic in terms of the goals as by ‘punishing’ pregnant girls by excluding them from day classes, the achievement of gender equality is being hindered. Students recommended that there be clearer guidelines for the attainment of MDGs and EFA goals so that accurate descriptions of the intended achievements might be reflected in statistics.

The second issue that arose related to the role of language of instruction in the achievement of educational quality and equity in the post-2015 education agenda. Drawing on the example of the educational context for minority language communities in multilingual Thailand, critique was made of the MDGs (goal 2) and EFA (goal 2) frameworks with respect to the continued marginalisation of linguistic and cultural minorities in terms of accessing good quality primary education in their first language. It was proposed that there are significant educational benefits to bilingual education, and that there should be an emphasis on equity and valuing minority languages and cultures in the post-2015 education agenda.

The third key issue raised related to a proposal to develop a MDG dedicated to rural development, and relatedly, the development of education that is relevant to rural communities. Examples were drawn from rural Zimbabwe, where it was reported that the development rate was slow due to issues such as human capital flight, lack of quality education facilities, and the absence of a local development centre. It was suggested that a MDG dedicated to rural development might help to counteract urban bias, enabling rural communities to become globalised and empowered to take ownership of their development. It was further argued that the curriculum taught in rural educational settings should be tailored to meet the development needs of the sector. In relation to this, discussion emphasised the importance of availability of funds and that this should be taken into consideration when addressing educational issues in the post-2015 education agenda.

The fourth key issue related to sustainable development, and the development of goals and indicators on related values in education. Within the post-2015 MDG framework, it was argued that educational goals should look beyond enrolment, completion and parity, towards education focused on the acquisition of sustainability-related values. Examples of such values include those presented in the Earth Charter and in the UN Millennium Declaration. It was suggested that indicators for such values should be context-specific, to increase credibility and attainment.

The fifth issue arising from student discussions was that of international commitments to achieving educational goals in both the MDG and EFA frameworks. Although many nations signed the UN Declaration and endorsed EFA goals, these commitments are not legally binding; rather, they are non-enforceable moral commitments. While donors could put pressure on the receiving nations, this was not considered appropriate and sufficient. Thus, the introduction of international minimum standards regarding education rights was emphasised, in order that the future education agenda might be achieved.

The sixth concern raised was informed by goals on equity in education. Since children in many parts of the world are living in societies affected by crisis or conflict due to war, religious, political or cultural violence, famine or natural disasters, the issue of providing education for such a group can pose a significant challenge. The conference argued for attention to education under conflict as part of a future agenda.

The seventh area addressed was that of the adopting of different set of goals and foci by different international organisations, such as UN and UNESCO. The result has been two overlapping sets of goals found in MDGs and EFA, with a lack of coordination at the international level. It was proposed that an international organised effort to design the next education agenda should avoid two sets of competing goals.

The eighth issue related to power relations in designing the post-2015 agenda. It seems that the majority of the organisations involved in the evaluating and re-engineering of education and development goals were organisations from the North that focussed mainly on the South; there is a lack of input from the South in discussions relating to the post-2015 agenda. It was argued that the issue of power relations should be addressed in any discussion of post-2015 frameworks and that voices from the South should be represented. Additionally, the conference suggested that issues of inequality, gender and quality education should be addressed in terms of the development of the North as well as the global South – the next global agenda should focus on all regions without exception.

The final issue discussed by student delegates related to ways in which attainment of the education goals can be measured. The conference showed concern about whether the existing approaches of MDGs and EFA precisely measure the attainment of these goals. For example, many students in the conference argued that the term ‘completion’ as in ‘completion of universal primary education’ does not necessarily entail ‘learning’. Thus, it was felt that most of the indicators for the attainment of the goals were limited, particularly in the case of the MDGs as they excluded quality and learning, or did not exist initially, as in the case of the EFA goals. Thus, the goals were perceived as input measures rather than measures of learning and skills gained. Therefore, the conference called for development of specific measures on learning attainment.

In conclusion, many opportunities but also many challenges were raised when considering the post-2015 global education agenda. Student concerns on the debate related to areas such as the development of relevant, quality and equitable education, gender parity in education, the need for clarity and contextual considerations in defining indicators, the need to address North-South power differentials, and the development of a more streamlined single set of goals. It is hoped that students will continue to be able to make their voices heard as deadlines for the achievement of goals approach.


World We Want. Available at:

Acknowledgments: We would like to thank the British Association for International and Comparative Education and the UK Forum for International Education and Training for their generous funding of the conference during which the discussions outlined in this article took place. We would also like to thank Prof Mairéad Dunne at the Centre for International Education at the University of Sussex for hosting the event, and to our speakers, Dr Yusuf Sayed and Prof Keith Lewin, for their expert input. Finally, we would like to thank the student delegates for their contributions, without which this article would not have been possible.