UKNC's address at the Teacher Education Knowledge Mobilisation Summit

Gary Brace is the UKNC’s Vice Chair and Non-Executive Director for Education. The following speech was delivered by Gary Brace at the National Liberal Club on 21 April 2016.

It is a pleasure to be here today and to have the opportunity to address so many experts in education at this pivotal time in the evolution of global education policy.

Today is very much about the future. Looking at how we can mobilise the academic community and use teacher education to help deliver the new Sustainable Development Goal on Education.

But as a historian, I think it’s worth spending just a very brief time looking at where we’ve come from.

The previous Millennium Development Goals or MDGs expired in 2015. The eight goals which focussed on ending extreme poverty and hunger, included one on education – to achieve universal primary education by 2015.

We did make progress – the number of children and adolescents out of school has halved, global illiteracy rates have fallen by 25% and the gender gap has narrowed.

But 58 million children worldwide still do not go to school. Of those in school, an estimated 130 million are still unable to read or write following four years of education. And over 750 million adults lack sufficient literacy skills. These are sobering numbers.  And behind each is a real life we’re failing, with the most disadvantaged being the last to benefit.

So where are we now?

The good news is the new Sustainable Development Goals seek to take on board and respond to the compound challenges of the MDGs. They are certainly a much broader, more complex and robust set of goals.

We are also arguably starting from a stronger position, with the SDGs having been agreed by a much more collaborative process.

The result is that we have many more goals and targets: 17 Global Goals and 169 targets. Top prize to the first person who memorizes them all!

UNESCO has been mandated to lead and coordinate the Education 2030 Agenda and has produced the Global Framework for Action – the implementation plan if you like.

UNESCO and UNICEF are now developing the Indicator Framework for the education goal as part of the indicator process for all the SDGs, coordinated by the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (where you probably will find someone who can list all of 17 goals and 169 targets!)

Fortunately today – we can focus primarily on just one of the Goals – SDG 4 on education.

The Education Goal

The new Education Goal recognises that just getting children in to school is not enough. Equally as important is what children learn whilst they’re in school and that learning can and must continue beyond school.

Bums on seats will not automatically lead to an adult population with the knowledge and skills necessary to help lift a country out of poverty or drive forward innovations in science and technology.

And this is an important lesson for all of us – not just developing countries. All countries need to ask themselves what children and adults need to learn and how teachers can best teach.

The Education goal has 7 associated targets which pick out the need for ‘quality’ education and training throughout life and highlight the centrality of education to achieving the other SDGs.

The question of what is ‘quality’ and how can it be measured is key. We need to be sure we know what education is for and how we can determine if an education has been successful.

UNESCO’s report ‘Rethinking Education: Towards a global common good revisits the question of what education is for.  Amongst many things, it challenges us to think about non-formal, less institutionalised (post-basic) education and to see the search for knowledge and education as a ‘collective societal endeavour’.

It says that sustainable development, responding to intolerance and discrimination and addressing the disconnect between education and the world of work, are amongst many considerations for the future.  So, delivering the Education 2030 targets challenges us all to engage in re-defining the purpose of education.

Another very basic issue is how countries facing significant resource constraints can deliver a quality education in the midst of daily challenges of class-size, language and financing.

The role of teachers

If is of course stating the obvious that teachers are central to learning and education is central to fighting poverty. The SDGs recognise this – placing teachers at the heart of that fight.

Three of the targets associated with the Education Goal call for an increase in the number of scholarships available to developing countries and a substantial increase in the supply of qualified teachers.

It’s therefore never been more important to ensure that teachers are getting the training and education they need to equip children and adults with the skills they need to function well in the 21st century.

The indicator for the target around qualified teachers is likely to focus on the percentage of teachers who have received the minimum level of training required in that country. This is a good starting point. But it runs the risk of missing something which runs deeper.

Pedagogy

One of the issues which has received less attention than it warrants in this debate is the role of pedagogy – the way teachers teach – and how teachers are supported throughout their careers.

Working with the University of Glasgow, the UK National Commission for UNESCO has produced a policy brief which highlights the central role of pedagogy to delivering the Sustainable Development Goal on Education.

It suggests it would be possible to agree seven principles for pedagogy which can be adapted to national and local contexts. This could be complemented by a monitoring and evaluation framework which would enable teachers to continue to develop their skills through on-going training and mentoring.

We shouldn’t ignore pedagogy because it’s hard to measure. Instead we should be creative and ambitious in our plans for the future of education.

I’d like to challenge the group here today to think about pedagogy, how it can help to deliver the Education Goal and what we can do to ensure teachers receive on-going training and support.

So my key challenge questions are:

  • How could ‘Rethinking Education: towards a global common good’ help us define quality education?
  • What are the specific implications of SDG 4 and targets for on-going teacher education?
  • How might a focus on pedagogy help to deliver SDG 4 and the Framework for Action?
  • What can the teacher education sector do to help developing countries overcome their resources constraints?
  • What might teacher education do differently to help equip children and adults with necessary skills for work?