One of the undeniable successes of the Education for All (EFA) agenda has been the opening of access to formal primary education [data 1].1 Just over the last decade (1999-2008) 52 million more children enrolled in formal primary education. Out-of-school children declined by 39 million; with South and West Asia as well as Sub-Saharan Africa accounting for over 80 percent of this decline. North America, Western
Europe, East Asia and the Pacific, and Latin America are likely to reach the 2015 numeric EFA and MDG targets. Central Asia and, Central and Eastern Europe should be within close range of the target; having reached 94 percent primary Net Enrolment Rate by 2008. Access to secondary education registered modest improvement. Though with wide regional and country-level disparities, some 525 million –nearly 60 percent– of children of eligible age were enrolled by 2008. [data 2]2 This constituted an increase of nearly 91 million since 1999.
A significant number of countries are close to gender parity at both the primary and secondary levels. All the same, the 2015 numeric target remains a challenge, especially for low income countries. 67 million children of eligible age are still not enrolled in primary schools, 74 million adolescents are out of school [data 3] and some 793 million adults and 127 million youth still lack basic literacy skills [data 4].3
From compelling evidence [data 5],4 an even more daunting challenge is that while many countries have successfully enrolled millions of learners in schools, a significant majority of them are actually not effectively This is manifest in the system’s failure to sufficiently prepare learners for subsequent levels of education, for trainability and educability, for taking up life-long learning (LLL) opportunities on their own, for the labor market and for the world of work. Due mainly to current analytical approaches and instruments, hard evidence on the general education systems’ effectiveness in producing graduates with appropriate dispositions, attitudes, aesthetics, life views and core values –peace, multiculturalism, respect for diversity and living together– remains scant. [Technical Note 1]
Evidence further shows that the challenge of poor quality education, low learning effectiveness and low learning outcomes is deeper in low income countries, globally for learners from poor households and for other marginalized groups [data 6].5
Poor quality and ineffectiveness challenges are also most pernicious at the basic levels of education, where the majority of learners have the highest levels of participation. Poor quality of basic education bequeaths not only poor quality to the post-basic levels but also constitutes acute exclusion of the marginalized thus aborting the social equity imperative of basic education. A stark manifestation of this reality is in the gross under-representation of learners from marginalized groups in post-basic and higher education systems, in high income jobs and from lucrative work opportunities. Unlike access, inequity of education quality, of learning experiences and of learning outcomes remains a formidable challenge for both developed and developing countries [Technical Note 2]6.
All of the well-documented benefits of education to development –reduction of a wide range of poverties, individual growth, economic growth,preventionof diseasesandepidemics,goodhealth,participatory democracy, sustainable use of the environment, diverse forms of equity and inclusiveness, peace, global citizenship, social cohesion, political stability etc.– are not feasible unless that education and that learning is of good quality, effective and relevant. General education lays the foundation for quality, effective and relevant education and learning throughout life. As such, failure to equitably provide quality, effective and relevant general education and effective learning at this level is tantamount to failure to realize the development impact of education and of learning. Poor education quality, therefore, stands in the way of inclusive and sustainable development at the individual, national and global level, of attaining virtually all MDGs and of attaining the six EFA goals, each of which has education quality as a precondition; and more directly goals 2, 5, and 6.
Both developed and developing countries are well aware of the quality crisis and its development consequences. Most of their education reform programs have education quality improvement and the enhancement of equity among key strategic objectives. The global EFA agenda has also identified quality as requiring attention. Yet, the challenge persists, and the EFA quality goals are dauntingly off track. UNESCO Member States have therefore overwhelmingly called on the Secretariat to redouble its technical support for their efforts to address the global challenge of equity of education quality and learning effectiveness.
Hitherto, what seems to be lacking are tools for systemic analysis and identification of critical constraints that prevent Member States from attaining and sustaining intended levels and equity of education quality and learning outcomes. In response, the UNESCO Secretariat, in collaboration with some Member States, has developed a General Education Quality/Diagnostic Framework (GEQAF) that seeks to enable Member States to profoundly analyze/diagnose and identify critical impediments that prevent their general education systems to equitably and sustainably provide high quality education and effective learning experiences to all learners. The lack of tools is particularly noticeable in general education (Kto12) relative to Higher Education and to Technical and Vocational Education and Training. Beyond national and international examinations which have very limited scope and longitudinal comparability, general education systems in most countries do not have a strong system-wide tradition of diagnosing/ analyzing, improving and assuring quality.
Weak analysis translates into serious gaps in the knowledge base required to guide the design and implementation of responsive quality improvement interventions.
The diagnostics/analysis guided by GEQAF is meant to help Member States strengthen both the qualitative and quantitative knowledge base required to effectively guide the design and implementation of responsive, targeted and timely general education system quality improvement interventions. Eventually, evidence from the diagnosis/ analysis could be used to generate country and even sub-country level qualitative and quantitative indicators for general education system quality. These indicators could be used to establish a national and even sub-national baseline on the quality of the general education system, establish benchmarks toward which the country should work and support the monitoring of progress.
The GEQAF is also meant to strengthen Member States’ capacities to regularize and institutionalize the analyses of the quality of their general education systems as well to sustainably monitor progress in improving their quality. It is NOT meant to support cross-country comparisons, but is rather meant to support the monitoring of country progress over time. Where a cluster of countries wish to develop common indicators emanating from the results of respective country reviews, such regional indicators and joint monitoring of progress can be supported by UNESCO.
The key premise of GEQAF is that equitable delivery good quality education and effective learning experiences requires robust and well-functioning education systems. As an analytical tool the Framework is NOT meant to ‘tell’ Member States what is wrong with their general education systems and/or how to fix it. It is rather meant to help Member States raise key questions about their systems, assess whether the systems are able to deliver on the quality priorities States have set for themselves, and, if not, why not? The Framework will also be able to help Member States judge whether their education systems have efficient ways to monitor themselves.
This Framework takes national knowledge of general education systems as a starting point and brings in international knowledge to enrich local knowledge as necessary. By facilitating Member States to raise and answer questions pertaining to their general education system themselves, this Framework acknowledges and respects local knowledge. It assumes the existence of sufficient within-country expertise and experience to identify challenges as well as to design and implement responsive interventions. At the same time, the Framework acknowledges the potential contribution of global knowledge(s) but only when it is "grafted to a resilient local root." Such resilience is to come from being well-adapted to the national context.
Developing a "resilient local root" starts with an understanding of the national and sub-national development context of general education systems; including a deep understanding of their political economy. Understanding the development relevance/responsiveness or the expected development impact of an education system is therefore a starting point toward answering the question of what constitutes a quality general education system.
Acknowledging a "resilient local root" or contextual development relevance means acknowledging that quality education is necessarily contextual. The context has geographic, time and client dimensions. Conditions differ across countries and also over time. Stakeholder expectations of education systems may also vary. Accepting this contextual nature impels the humility of "technical assistance providers" to let the context define its quality; AND once defined, to support the necessary efforts to reach and sustain that contextualized quality. At the same time, accepting the contextual nature of quality entails the recognition of not only the immediate context; but also national, regional and global contexts. Thus regional and global standards do still serve as critical points of reference.
This Framework adopts a comprehensive and systemic approach to education and acknowledges the reality that accountability to deliver quality education and to effectively facilitate learning lies at all levels and in all aspects of a general education system. Fragmentation of sub-systems of general education quality has often led to inherently inconsistent and sometimes contradictory policies, strategies and programs. It has also, often, led to uneven and imbalanced improvements of sub-systems of general education quality. For instance curricula reforms have not always taken into account the books and instructional materials, teachers, teaching processes and assessment methods required to give them effect. Changes in student curricula have not always taken into account the teaching and learning environments within which such curricula are to be delivered, or teachers who are supposed to implement such curricula. Conversely, changes to the physical teaching and learning environments have not always taken the demands of diverse curricula into account or even taken into account teachers’ and learners’ needs that have to be met within such environments. What often is referred to as a system actually does not pass as "system", but rather comes out as loosely coupled sub-systems and elements of general education.
To assure fidelity to a systemic approach, this Framework is comprehensive in its analysis/diagnostics but is targeted in the interventions that follow the diagnostics/analysis. Metaphorically, it compels the builder of a quality general education system to shake each pillar that supports system quality and then allows the builder to focus the repairs on pillars that rattle the most and specifically those whose rattle threatens to collapse the system if not repaired. However, while repairing the weak pillars, the builder stays cognizant of the impact of their strength on existing previously strong pillars and may have to iteratively adjust the strength of both the old and new pillars. In other words, the builder safeguards the integrity of the system and remains loyal to the systemic approach by ensuring balanced strength of all pillars, with the weights of the balance determined by the specificities of the system’s needs and priorities.
This Framework operationally conceptualizes a quality general education system as "one that is effective for purpose, has enduring/sustained development7 relevance or responsiveness, is equitable, is resource efficient and translates into substantive8 rather than symbolic access." Consistent with the key premise of the GEQAF, this definition focuses on a quality general education system as an inescapable precondition for equitable delivery of good quality education and learning effectiveness. Thus, we operationally define what constitutes a good quality education system and not what constitutes quality education; with the latter being a result of the former. This definition thus focuses on key elements of the system that should allow for optimal provision of quality education and optimum delivery of effective learning experiences.