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Transforming Education: Changing Lives

Transforming education is as essential for human development and population health as it is for economies. That is the view of the Global Agenda Council on Education Systems, who have spent the last year defining a list of priorities that can help achieve the goal of Education for All.1

The Council met in Abu Dhabi at the World Economic Forum’s Summit on the Global Agenda 2011, and in later follow-up meetings, where they developed a three-pronged strategy: the need for a new metrics; how to improve quality via leadership and teacher development, and ways to ensure people around the world can access Education for All at every stage of life. This paper will explore these key themes and the Council’s recommendations for action. Some attention will also be given to work with partners, including the Forum.

1. New Metrics: Measuring the Links between Policy Decisions and Outcomes with a Focus on Equity

Old metrics have measured limited outcomes. Measuring a fixed issue like enrolment does not adequately capture quality or equity of education. Old metrics fail to provide readily available comparative information on relevant public policies. As a result, there has been no good way to link national policies to education outcomes or to hold countries accountable for their commitments. Without relevant data, policy-makers cannot take effective action.

New metrics within a global database are needed to capture enough information to inform policy-makers at the global, national and local levels. These new metrics can measure the links between policy decisions and outcomes. It will then be possible to see what steps countries are taking and how effective each of these steps are at promoting quality and equity. This information can lead to cross-country public benchmarks that enable stakeholders to work together to improve education policies and programmes.

Key considerations for developing new metrics include:

  • Combining policy measures such as cost of education, adequate teacher education, integrated special education, etc., with quality and equity measures
  • Using policy and programmatic measures to examine relationships between educational and economic outcomes
  • Using better measures to promote accountability and transparency and providing indicators of country efforts to comply with agreements and improve educational outcomes

Creating benchmarks that are effective and universal requires:

  • Examination of education policies over the past two to three decades (including current policies from around the world and the history of policies so long-term impact can be examined)
  • Examination of implementation in practice as well as policies and legal frameworks
  • Ensuring that measures simultaneously support universal goals and address local needs
  • Ensuring that outcome measures promote quality rather than teaching to the test
  • Empowering all stakeholders (students, teachers, school principals, parents) within the education system to become vocal advocates for the need to improve policy that will provide better outcomes

Members of the Global Council on Education Systems have been busy working in this area.2

2. The Role of Leadership and Teacher Development: Improving the Quality and Equity of Primary, Secondary and Tertiary Education for All

The Council focused on how to increase access around the world to primary school. A similar level of attention needs to be paid to increasing access to secondary and tertiary education. Achieving quality education for all at these levels requires the development of strong education leaders and the support and development of teachers.

Successful learning opportunities should be available to children of all socio-economic backgrounds and adapted to their needs. Creating and fostering learning environments that support high quality education, 21st century job and civic skills, values and critical thinking is critical. It will require supporting students, teachers and parents alike. Transforming education places unique challenges on democratic leaders who may have to address re-election in the short term while addressing long-term needs. To achieve transformational change in access to quality primary, secondary and tertiary education, it is essential to:

  • Foster educational leadership across all relevant stakeholders (students, teachers, parents, school principals, school district administrators, private and public sector officials, civic leadership)
  • Improve the status of the teaching profession, raise teachers’ education standards and attract top talent into full-time teaching positions and educational leadership
  • Improve policies, supports and programmes within the school systems to promote teacher and leadership development, validate real competence, ensure career opportunities and provide adequate salaries

Examples of Ongoing Work of Council Members in Improving Access to Quality Primary, Secondary and Tertiary Education and in Teacher And Leadership Development

The Global Partnership for Education (GPE), chaired by Carol Bellamy, sponsored the All Children Reading Workshop in Kigali, Rwanda in early March. Twenty-six country teams – made up of representatives from ministries of education, civil society, teachers associations and local donor organizations – met to discuss innovative solutions to give all children a chance to read. They drafted Early Grade Reading Action Plans specific to each country. At the GPE’s Replenishment Conference in November, participants pledged to cut in half the proportion of non-reading children in grade two in 20 developing countries over the next five years. The Global Partnership for Education is posting materials from the All Children Reading initiative, including presentations, working documents, videos and links to GPE partners’ work in the literacy field.3

Council Member Fred Van Leeuwen also led an initiative to establish an international dialogue at the second International Summit of the Teaching Profession on 14-15 March 2012 in New York. Education ministers and union leaders from 23 countries discussed the future of the profession, preparation of teachers and development of school leaders, and made pledges to work towards country-specific policy objectives. These will be evaluated at the third summit in March 2013.

Wendy Kopp is leading the development of Teach For All, a global network of national organizations in 23 countries across Europe, Asia, the Americas and the Middle East. The aim is to expand educational opportunities through enlisting their nations’ most promising future leaders to commit to teaching for two years in high-need areas, and to work throughout their lives – within and outside of education – to address the root causes of educational need.

The Intel® Teach Program offers in-depth professional development for K-12 teachers to provide students with skills like problem-solving, collaboration, decision-making, etc. In 2011, the programme expanded to Uganda, Zimbabwe, Gabon and Tanzania. The programme is carried out in partnership with governments, civil society and multilaterals, including UNESCO, bilateral funders such as USAID, and other for-profit companies. In addition, Intel developed Teachers Engage, an online global community where teachers can connect and share ideas and strategies that transform classrooms.

Cisco’s is a global online professional community designed to provide education leaders with ideas, resources and peer-to-peer dialogue on solutions to transform industries and professions.

3. Life-long Learning: Education at Every Stage

Early childhood education is critical to effective outcomes in primary and secondary school. In addition, places that care for young children during the day are indispensable to working parents. At the same time, a focus on equal educational opportunities for all and on the link between education and work opportunities require investment in adult and life-long learning.

Cognitive science shows the importance of brain development from birth to age three. While early childhood care and education (ECCE) is increasingly at the forefront in some countries – in the presence of rapid urbanization and as more people move into the formal economy – the first three years of childhood education are not sufficiently supported in many nations worldwide. Attention to the marked needs of improved ECCE is increasing. In August 2010, the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution on Implementing the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) in Early Childhood.4 There has been considerable recent growth in developing and establishing indicators for the field by UNESCO, UNICEF, the World Bank, think-tanks like the Brookings Institute and others. Global progress could be markedly advanced by:

  • Recognizing the opportunities for ECCE and including new knowledge in post-2015 goals given that we are on the eve of drafting the next generation of development goals
  • Bringing together private and public sector leaders to work on extending affordable quality ECCE to address current gaps that harm productivity and healthy child development

 Examples of Ongoing Work of Council Members in ECCE and Life-long Learning

Through chairing the development of policy indicators for UNESCO’s Holistic Early Childhood Development Index (HECDI), Jody Heymann has been actively involved in advising UNESCO on international measures of how well countries support the healthy development of children from birth to age eight. These efforts involve collaboration with colleagues from UNICEF, the World Bank, the World Food Programme, the OECD, Bernard van Leer Foundation, Rise Institute, Tufts University, the Human Early Learning Partnership, Save the Children and the International Children Centre (Bilkent University, Turkey), among others.

Education International (EI) is implementing a new Early Childhood Education (ECE) strategy that will lay out guidelines for equity and quality in the early years and offer scholarships for members who pursue graduate studies in education, particularly early childhood education and development in African universities. EI has set up regional and sub-regional working groups and seminars on ECE to facilitate information and knowledge exchange among its members and partners, and is conducting a study on the public and private provision of ECE.

A new research initiative between the Turkish non-governmental organization ACEV (Mother Child Education Foundation) and Yale University Child Study Center is integrating bio-behavioural systems with socio-ecological perspectives to understand the associations between early childhood and peace-building. The study will create a consortium of scientists and experts for further exploration in this field, with the initial results available in 2013.

The Intel® Easy Steps digital literacy programme is designed for adult learners who have little or no experience with computers. The programme, which completed pilot projects in Karachi, Pakistan, in 2011, aims to help adults in developing countries learn skills that can assist them in creating small businesses or micro-enterprises.

With 10,000 academies in 165 countries, the Cisco Networking Academy helps students from every socio-economic background succeed in a technology-driven world by teaching the skills needed to design, build, manage and secure computer networks – improving their career prospects while filling the global demand for networking professionals.

Working with the Forum

Several Council Members took part in the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2012. This provided a key opportunity for these Members to discuss their priorities.5

Wendy Kopp focused on prioritizing education and addressing educational disparities in two panel discussions, “Forging Ahead: The United States in 2012” focused on political and economic realities in an increasingly partisan country, while “Overcoming the Youth Employment Challenge” highlighted successful private sector approaches that empower youth through innovative work readiness and entrepreneurship training education.

Fred van Leeuwen participated in the interactive session “The Education-Entrepreneurship-Employment Nexus”. Focusing on future labour demands, entrepreneurial education and creating curricula to meet pressing needs, the session addressed new education models to accommodate gaps in dynamic talent markets.

In the session “Global Risks 2012: The Seeds of Dystopia”, Jody Heymann described the role of education in tackling increasing social and economic disparities and their critical consequences. She presented new ways to increase transparency and accountability in the tracking of what steps governments are taking to improve education globally in the session “Shaping New Models of Development with the Global Agenda Councils”.

Wendy Kopp shared reflections through the Forum blog. Her post on transformation in education highlighted the need for leadership in classrooms, schools, politics and across sectors to transform education systems. Another post reflected the realization that only through transformational and united leadership will we realize the educational opportunities for children to which we all aspire.

Schools for Life

Intel, Cisco and Microsoft support the World Economic Forum’s Entrepreneurship initiative. In 2012, in collaboration with Junior Achievement-Young Enterprise, Intel and the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship will launch a social entrepreneurship curriculum in Europe.

Innovative Entrepreneurship & Entrepreneurship Education, a monograph written by Guenter Faltin and Juergen Zimmer, was discussed at the World Economic Forum on the Middle East, North Africa and Eurasia in Istanbul in June 2012. The monograph describes the model of Schools for Life in Thailand, and argues that transforming massive youth unemployment requires fighting poverty through innovative entrepreneurship, focusing on idea development and refinement, the quality of entrepreneurial design and the success of socially and ecologically responsible entrepreneurs.

Building on their previous work and discussions in Davos, Jody Heymann and Max Price, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cape Town, wrote a policy brief for the UN Global Colloquium of University Presidents. A Critical Time for a Global Fund for Education addresses the economic rationale behind greater commitment from high-income countries to fund secondary and tertiary education globally.

Possible Next Steps: A Greater Role for the Forum in Education

There are important global efforts underway to move education forward, including initiatives by governments, IGOs, NGOs and civil society. Nonetheless, far more could be done to engage private sector leadership in the campaign to improve educational opportunities globally. The skills gap is enormously costly to firms in need of better-trained employees to compete. The feedback of many senior leaders during the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2012 indicated that the Forum could play an increasingly important role in campaigns for education.

Because of its convening power, and mindful of the importance of education to economic success, the Forum is well positioned to contribute in this critical area. We recommend a multi-year campaign that focuses on ensuring access to quality education for all – addressing current equity gaps within and between countries.


The opinions expressed here are those of the individual Members of the Council and not of the World Economic Forum or any institutions to which they are affiliated.