Eight Updates on Global Education from UNGA

September 26, 2019

World leaders and policymakers are in New York this week for the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) to discuss key global issues, including global education. Here, we round up the big announcements at UNGA related to education.

1. UK PM Boris Johnson Pledges Money for Global Education

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced £515 million for global education. The funding will particularly focus on improving basic literacy and numeracy and getting children in conflict zones to school. The money is also meant to unlock further funding for investment in education—£100 million will go toward the International Finance Facility for Education (IFFEd). IFFEd leverages grants and guarantees from donors to increase lending by multilateral banks. The Netherlands joined the UK in pledging support to IFFEd.

2. World Bank Wants to End “Learning Poverty”

According to World Bank estimates, three-quarters of Grade 3 kids in Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania cannot read a simple sentence. Half the children in rural India cannot do simple two-digit subtraction. The global education literature is full of a variety of dire statistics about poor learning outcomes. The World Bank convened an event to introduce the concept of “learning poverty”—the percentage of children unable to read by the age of 10—and what can be done to tackle it. While the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set up ambitious goals for free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education,” the World Bank is placing a distinct focus on basic literacy by age 10. This raises an important question: How should policymakers managing weak education systems prioritize investments to improve expanded access to quality primary and secondary versus ensuring foundational literacy and numeracy?

3. The Gates Foundation “Goalkeepers” Report Tracks SDG Progress

The report focuses on inequality, with a particular focus on geography and gender. Where you are born matters more than anything else for predicting your future life outcomes. Gender inequality also matters within every single country. But it’s not all bad news: health and schooling years have improved pretty much everywhere. More schooling for girls is associated with better earnings, better health, and reduced exposure to violence. But do these improvements bridge critical gaps in economic opportunity? Schooling is unlikely to fully close gaps in adult life outcomes by itself (as a recent CGD blog by Pamela Jakiela and Susannah Hares points out). Women in countries with the same levels of schooling can see big differences in average labor force participation. Can education play a bigger role than it currently does in promoting equal opportunities for women?

Figure 1. Education Alone is Insufficient to Close the Gender Gap in Labor Force Participation

Source: The Gates Foundation. (2019). Examining Inequality.

The report also highlights data from Francophone sub-Saharan Africa on the World Bank’s “learning poverty” concept. While schooling has improved, current trends show that learning performance is getting worse, with little hope of reaching universal proficiency by 2030.

Figure 2. Learning is Getting Worse

Source: The Gates Foundation. (2019). Examining Inequality.

4. Oxfam Highlights the Role of Education as the Ultimate Equalizer

A new Oxfam report takes on a key issue at the heart of education debates: What is the role of schools in improving intergenerational mobility? Is more schooling and better learning a ladder to opportunity? We need better evidence to understand whether the massive supply-side expansion in schooling is leading to improved social mobility. With income mobility lower than educational mobility in many developing economies, we need to ensure that the poorest segments of society receive not just an education but also the benefits of that education.

5. The Education Commission Wants to Transform the Education Workforce

There is consensus from researchers to billionaire philanthropists alike that teaching quality is critical. Teacher salaries also tend to occupy a large share of the education budget. The report by the Education Workforce Initiative focuses on how to improve recruitment, training, deployment, and development of teachers. Recommendations in the report are ambitious and key implementation challenges include political economy and financial feasibility hurdles.

6. Brookings on Learning to Leapfrog

In a new report, the Brookings Institution calls for transformative innovation to make “rapid, non-linear progress” to address education’s challenges. They emphasize three things:

  1. innovative pedagogy
  2. structural changes to enhance quality teaching, including widening the profile of who can be considered educators and blending of formal and nonformal schooling, and
  3. promoting the role of the “missing middle,” including networks, school chains, and community of practice.

They acknowledge that their call to action will be “difficult to do.”

7. GPE Advocates for Better Data Systems

The Global Partnership for Education (GPE) presented the outcomes of the Education Data Solutions Roundtable, which looked at how to improve the availability and use of education data in developing countries. The initiative emphasizes the role of strengthened government systems. The “Education Management and Information Systems” (EMIS) is the backbone of government data systems, into which other datasets can be linked. Data integration and interoperability across datasets is crucial for effective policy analysis. If ideas in the report are taken forward and we do see an increase in the use (primarily by governments) of linked administrative data then a next phase of work on education data solutions may think through (i) the protocols and frameworks required to make these data open for public consumption and (ii) the support that local analysts will need to work with the data to diversify the user-base and the range of questions being asked.

Figure 3. GPE Recommendations to Support Stronger Data Systems

Source: Global Partnership for Education. (2019). Outcomes of the Education Data Solutions Roundtable (DRT).

8. UNESCO on Reimagining Education

UNESCO launched the “Futures of Education” initiative to look beyond the 2030 agenda for sustainable development and “reimagine how education and knowledge can contribute to the global common good.” The initiative will involve a wide array of stakeholders to foster a global debate on how education can shape the near and distant future.


CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.

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