Viewed from the outside, the international community might seem unified by a common purpose, which has resulted in the near certainty of the inclusion of an education goal in the post-2015 development framework. However, the education sector is not without internal debates. It is easy enough for all stakeholders to agree on the importance of education on a general level, as demonstrated in the narrative of the High-level Panel Report, for example, but the process of deciding on the content of the education goal, identifying its targets and indicators, has shone a spotlight on the disagreements amongst a number different approaches within the sector.
Roughly speaking, there are three different groups or discourses that aim to influence and shape the education agenda: the "learning" discourse, focused on testing and measurable learning outcomes, the "skills for employability" discourse, centred around skills, employability and economic returns, and the "right to education" discourse. While proponents of each of these perspectives may embrace "quality education and lifelong learning for all" as a global goal, differences in approach are reflected in proposed targets and indicators. In the case of the two first discourses, the preferred targets and indicators reflect an instrumental understanding of education where quality is translated into measurable learning outcomes (in terms of reading, writing and counting) and/or employability.
In its post-2015 advocacy, Education International (EI) has called for the universal completion of a full cycle of continuous, free quality education from early childhood through to upper secondary, as well as equitable access to post-secondary education and lifelong learning. Our demands stem from the inalienable right to education as well as a broad notion of quality education, as one that builds intellectual confidence and self-esteem, enables learners to use information creatively to solve problems, reduces prejudice, and promotes social inclusion.
Clear targets and indicators will ultimately set the focus for the implementation of the new education goal(s). While literacy and numeracy are necessary and part of a broader set of competences that a quality education offers, they are far from sufficient. A narrow goal allows education systems to entrench inequalities by setting low standards, while still offering the elite the opportunity to develop critical thinking and other higher-order skills. Ultimately, a narrow goal also disempowers teachers as it leaves no room for teaching and learning processes beyond a focus on the basics and thus limits opportunities for a quality education.
EI advocates a set of rights-based indicators that shift the focus towards the education system as the unit of analysis, towards the inequalities within the system (in terms of inputs, processes and outcomes), and towards a multidimensional notion of quality, with teachers viewed as practice-based experts on educational quality. One example of such an indicator would be: "the percentage of teachers who report that they receive adequate resources (i.e. materials, facilities) and the support necessary for them to deliver quality education".
Underpinning these differences in approach are more fundamental questions about the role of the State versus that of the private sector and donors. Disagreements within the education sector are not related solely to the provision and financing of education, but also the issue of who sets priorities and policies. It is fundamentally a question of whether human rights should be integrated in a systematic way within all goals, targets and indicators. EI's perspective is that, being a public good and a basic right, education is the responsibility of governments and must be publicly financed. Tuition fees and indirect costs related to education form the single greatest barrier to equitable access to education; yet there continues to be a shift towards policies that promote "affordable education" and away from policies that guarantee "free education for all".
Representing the teaching profession's views on education, EI takes a rights-based approach enshrined within international human rights treaties, and defends the labour rights of teachers and education workers, as well their right to have a say in the formulation of a new education and development agenda. Easily measurable goals, such as literacy and numeracy, might be appealing in their simplicity and clarity. However, in addition to ignoring the broader purpose and role of education laid out in the human rights framework, as well as large parts of the curriculum, such approaches lack ambition and reinforce the crippling disparities within and between countries.