There is now an impressively broad consensus in the technical discussions on post-2015, about the necessary centrality of inequality in the new development framework. And a lot of thinking is underway about how to move from technical consensus to practical progress – both in terms of the actual, concrete elements that can embed inequality in the framework, and of the political negotiations that will stand between any proposal and the eventual reality.
There are a few good reasons – along with a few cautionary notes – to think that the education sector just might be the one to take a lead in moving the broad consensus
I had the pleasure to spend last Friday at UNESCO, at a global gathering of civil society (organised by the Collective Consultation of NGOs, CCNGO). With outstanding help (and dinner!) from Save’s education experts Gerd-Hanne Fosen and Elin Martinez, this was a pretty rapid immersion in a sector which has a full roster of issues to occupy it.
…To which I tried to add one more, by presenting some of Save’s thinking on inequality and post-2015 and suggesting that the education sector might have an important leadership role to play.
Here’s a quick (ahem) outline of the pitch – it would be great to hear thoughts on this, from within and outwith the education sector. The response felt very positive on the day.
- The inequality impact of children’s education can be pivotal: either exacerbating or ameliorating the often highly unequal situation in which children enter education, and thereby playing a major role in determining life-long inequalities in well-being. (Adult learning is also vital, of course – both because those who are through childhood must not be written off, and because of the importance of parental education in determining child learning.)
- Education could be a leader on inequality in post-2015:
- The gender equality target in education (MDG3) is the most direct challenge to inequality in the whole MDG framework, and was one of two cherry-picked by the MDG authors from the six ‘Education for All’ goals. This has created a powerful norm (perhaps the most powerful legacy of the MDGs), and establishes both the possibility and the value of targeting a ratio between more and less favoured groups.
- Although many (many, many) challenges remain, the sector is relatively advanced in terms of data disaggregation – so it is well placed to demonstrate the scale of different types of inequality (e.g. those based on gender but also on urban-rural location, income or wealth, ethnolinguistic group, disability, parental education and so on).
- An alignment of arguments may make political consensus easier to reach than with other inequalities. There is, arguably, no equity versus efficiency trade-off in education. Specifically, there is good evidence for OECD countries at least (h/t Will Paxton) that reducing gaps in learning outcomes has broader social (and economic) benefits. As the OECD succinctly puts it, “School failure damages social cohesion and mobility, and imposes additional costs on public budgets to deal with the consequences”. This means that intrinsic and instrumental arguments can reinforce each other. Not dissimilarly, there is space to tailor the case to different audiences, basing it either on child rights or on challenging inequality of opportunity.
- Two cautionary notes:
- The current MDGs give no incentive to reach marginalised groups, even where they are universal (such as primary education, where e.g. children with disability appear to have been fairly systematically excluded from the increase in access). The post-2015 framework must break with this aspect if it is to address inequalities across the board.
- The MDGs (though not the EFA goals) suffer from the narrow focus: that is, they treat enrolment rather than learning – or more broadly, thinking of equivalent issues in other services, they treat access rather than quality. As a result it’s possible to see substantial MDG progress on equal access, contemporaneously with widening ‘quality inequality’ (can I copyright that?). This striking graph of Young Lives data for Ethiopia, taken from here, shows just that: convergence in enrolment between the richest and poorest; but a disturbing divergence in outcome.
- Extend logic of gender target across the whole post-2015 framework: a concerted engagement from the education sector, from UNESCO to the broad range of national and international civil society organisations present, could develop and support proposals for inequality targets in education that might, as with MDG3, lead the way for others. Issues to consider include
- Dimensions of inequality: targets could relate to inequalities of income and/or wealth; and/or to more and less favoured groups on the basis of e.g. urban/rural location, ethnolinguistic group, religion, disability, parental education, regional location etc. One possibility is a combination of consistent global measures (say the ratio between the top 10% and the bottom 40%, by income); and nationally-specific measures, reflecting the most salient horizontal inequalities, ideally to emerge from participative national processes.
- Types of target: Assuming (I do!) that we’re talking about targets rather than indicators, what form should these take? Ideas being discussed (see e.g. Claire Melamed’s take from March 2012) include, the following – roughly in order of directness of the challenge to inequality:
- Universal goals: on the assumption that reaching all will prevent inequality – although MDG evidence suggests great inequality can still occur along the way;
- Targeting, i.e. to focus only on improving the performance of one or more less favoured groups (say, to complement a national child mortality target with an additional – presumably weaker – target for the lowest quintile);
- Equity-weighted goals, as proposed by one of the original MDG architects, Jan Vandermoortele;
- A floor below which no sub-division of society can fall (e.g. a floor establishing a minimum level of primary enrolment for every district, or for every ethnolinguistic group);
- The gap between the most and least favoured groups in a given dimension (say, to ensure the gap in child literacy between the richest and poorest quintile does not exceed 10 percentage points); …
- A ratio between the most and least favoured groups in a given dimension (say, to ensure the ratio of child literacy between the richest and poorest quintile does not exceed 1.5);
- Or of course, and perhaps ideally, some combination of these approaches.
- Other aspects to consider, in terms of delivering progressive education:
- Progressive expenditure – this could include targeting at areas with greatest need, ensuring mother tongue teaching to at least grade 3 (since its absence may penalise the marginalised most), and informal education to reach the hardest to reach.
- Progressive resource-raising – not to be forgotten, since where the money comes from can be as important as how it is spent in determining the overall inequality impact. In the last few months, I’ve heard more people (than just me, that is!) discuss the value of ratios of tax/GDP and direct/indirect tax as potential post-2015 indicators of everything from the progressive nature of policy to the accountability of government to the health of the social contract.