The meeting of education experts (one of 11 other global consultations into post-2015 development goals) acknowledged that the first MDG to achieve universal primary education, had significantly improved the numbers of children signed up in primary schools. According to UN data, around 90% of children worldwide were enrolled in primary school in 2010, compared with 82% in 1999.
However, those gathered in Dakar recognised that any future MDG needs to be wider in scope. Speaking to the news agency IRIN, the head of policy at the Global Campaign for Education (GCE) said “we need a goal which encompasses our broad aim of quality education, equitably delivered, for all children.”
It is the quality of learning in many developing countries which particularly concerns experts. According to UNESCO, only around half of teachers in Africa have proper training. This shortage of qualified teaching professionals, along with a lack of suitable learning materials, means that many pupils are failing to acquire basic numeracy and literacy skills. Out of the 650 million children who complete primary school each year, around 250 million do not reach the literacy and numeracy standards needed for secondary level education.
The group also identified the need for countries to extend basic education beyond primary to include at least three years of secondary. However, at secondary level, there is an even more severe shortage of teachers and schools in certain countries. In Niger, for example, there are only 1,059 teachers for 1.4 million children at lower secondary level.
Overall, the focus of any new MDG is likely to shift towards an assessment of the quality or learning outcomes of each country’s school system. Independent educational institutions are therefore being asked to advise on what tests or measures might be used, because there are other considerations than simply attainment in literacy and numeracy. For example, the GCE believes that children need to be provided with “a safe learning environment” and to be encouraged in “creative thinking”.
Equity and access issues for marginalised children are also likely to feature more centrally in any new MDG framework. For example, children in rural areas or those with disabilities frequently struggle to access education. However the attendees at the meeting in Dakar were keen to stress that any new shift in focus would not mean that no attention would be paid to universal access to primary education. As one attendee put it, “there is still a sense of unfinished business”.