Ideological or Data-Driven Education: Do we want status quo failure or a “Learning Generation”?
A diverse data-driven education ecosystem that combines the best of the public and private sectors can break the status quo in global education. The Education Commission cannot advocate for innovation without diversity.
A diverse data-driven education ecosystem that combines the best of the public and private sectors can break the status quo in global education. However, diversity underpins innovation, and only with innovation can we break the status quo in global education and begin walking the path toward a ‘Learning Generation.’
This week, the International Commission on Financing Global Education Opportunity delivered its report on the state of global education at the United Nations General Assembly. The report tells us that by 230 878 million young people will not be on track to learn basic secondary skills. 69% of children in low-income countries will not have even learned basic primary level skills.
“Education will determine whether the defining trends of this century — technological, economic and demographic — will create opportunity or entrenched inequality”, a preview of the report says.
To work toward opportunity — and their vision of a ‘Learning Generation’ by 2030 — the Commission has laid down a new and achievable pathway for change. Based on analysis of past and present challenges, and the principle that we can learn from educational ‘success stories’. This pathway envisages transformations in four major areas: performance, innovation, inclusion and finance.
To transform performance, we learn, investing for measurable results must go hand in hand with cutting waste. Re-balancing the scales of global education, and ensuring inclusion, must be a priority. This focus on resource efficiency and equality is timely and apt.
It is innovation, however, that will underpin any lasting transformations. We cannot improve performance, inclusion or even finance systems without it. “Breakthroughs in delivery” are not just about technology, as the report suggests. There are opportunities to innovate across the life cycle of education — from teacher training and development, to monitoring and evaluation.
The report is clear . We need to transform the status quo in education with urgency, without ideology, and with data.
We cannot do this, however, without innovation and there has not been enough of it driving decisions public education over the last century. While finance, health, and resource sectors have embraced the innovations of the 21st century, education has remained opposed to change.
There are encouraging signs, however. More recently the private sector has played an increasingly important role in developing new models that have tackled both access and quality. If we want to achieve a ‘Learning Generation’, the private sector must play a role in global education not as a rival of the public sector, but as a partner.
The ‘privatization’ debate sparks ideological fury like few others, on both sides of the political divide. More often than not, this stems from the tendency to view ‘public’ as innately acting for the common good and ‘private’ as innately self-serving at the expense of the common good. We need to temper ideology with reality.
The private sector is neither a profit-making parasite, nor can it solve all problems. What it is, is a partner — a partner that can support, inspire and invigorate the public sector, and the entire global education ecosystem with it.
The challenges facing the global education sector are only likely to grow in the coming years. By 2050, for instance, the population of Africa will have doubled. By 2060, Nigeria will be the third most populous country in the world, with only India and China having more people. With an expanding, youthful population, new pressures will be placed on the education sector across the continent. It is unrealistic to expect that the governments that are struggling to meet the challenges of today will be able to rise to meet the challenges of tomorrow without help. As the Education Commission notes, we need a robust and thriving education ecosystem that includes both state and non-state actors.
The private sector can provide support. As has already happened across much of Africa and Asia, affordable community schools supported through small tuition fees are increasing access across poor urban slums, and even in remote villages. Almost 50% of the communities in Kenya that Bridge International Academies, the largest education provider in this sector with a focus on empowering communities to create high performing schools, serves are rural.
There is further strong evidence that the private sector inspires new thinking. The private sector — including school management organizations contracted to by the government to deliver public education — has been at the forefront of education innovation for some time, from embracing data and monitoring student learning, to thinking about teacher training in new ways. Charter School Management organizations have been partnering with the state of Massachusetts for decades, and have delivered remarkable learning gains and improvement in life opportunity for the state’s children.
The reasons for this are complex. The private sector by necessity tends to be more results-driven. Private schools are directly accountable to parents. School management contracts that require learning gains for children ensure that private organizations that do not deliver performance lose their contract. This drives performance-centered innovation that improves learning outcomes.
That is not to suggest that the private sector always gets things right. Nor should the private sector try to ‘solve’ global education alone. Governments remain uniquely positioned to chart their own course through global education reform and set their own educational agenda. States also have a number of inherent advantages around resource mobilization and reach.
Global education is a collaborative project and it is time to embrace diversity of provision and financing mechanisms to ensure delivery of a child’s right to education. Learning is not only for children. For the private sector, this means sharing our successes — and our failures. For the public sector, this means listening and keeping both eyes open. If we can translate the best on offer from private sector– real time learnings from flexible and dynamic school systems — into benefits for the public sector, then the global education ecosystem as a whole can be transformed.
The Education Commission report is promising. However, the importance of private sector involvement to increase investment and innovation in education needs to be addressed with clarity.
It is time to put aside our ideological predilections and embrace diversity, and return the focus of education to the development outcomes for children, families, and nations.