With the 2015 deadline of the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) fast approaching, governments and organisations across the world are looking towards the next step. Introspection is a necessary part of the process as both the successes and failures of the original MDG agenda are being assessed and dissected, providing captivating accounts on both sides. The eLearning Africa news service has been following developments and taking notes.
By Alicia Mitchell
The areas that have attracted our attention are, naturally, education and ICT infrastructure. Whilst impressive statistics concerning achievements under the MDG2 (achieving universal primary education) are abound, debates are also raging over what these numbers actually mean. In Africa, the disparity of progress between nations is stark. Many countries have delivered substantial results – Tanzania had doubled its 1999 net enrolment ratio to 99.6 per cent by 2008 – more than half of out-of-school, primary school aged children live in Sub-Saharan Africa.[i],[ii] Only 19 out of 112 countries are likely to miss the goal of universal primary education by 2015 but, as Amanda Beatty and Lant Pritchett highlight in their report, From Schooling Goals to Learning Goals: how fast can student learning improve?, this increase in enrolment and completion has not equated to better learning results.
Pritchett and Beatty point out that although many countries have already exceeded enrolment goals set out in the MDG2, very few students in these countries meet the minimum standards of literacy, numeracy and science.[iii] In addition, the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) has found that over half of the global extremely poor live in a household where the head does, in fact, have some degree of education.[iv] This means that education in and of itself is not currently a guaranteed path out of poverty.
It is a worrying situation when many countries have been dutifully channelling money and resources into education systems which have not been providing substantial improvements in the lives of citizens. Education has the potential to be a mass enabler, increasing access to economic opportunity, decision making and equality, but only when it facilitates effective learning outcomes. After all, education, is only the tool with which we can bring about learning, and not an end in itself.
So now it is the task of the post-2015 agenda to set targets measured by learning quality rather than education quantity. The ODI also points to the somewhat encouraging fact that when the head of a household has some level of secondary education, the number of households in extreme poverty falls to under ten per cent, suggesting that any future education goals should extend their remit to secondary and even, as a special report published by the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI) and the Korea Development Institute (KDI) suggests, tertiary and pre-primary levels.[v]
In the year 2000, ICT was covered only in the fifth and final target of the last Millennium Development Goal, MDG8: Develop a Global Partnership for Development. Little needs to be said of the changes that have taken place within the technology industries over the past thirteen years to explain why what seemed to be an afterthought then must be at the very top of our priorities now.
In a piece written for the Center for Global Development, defining what he deemed to be essential content for a post-2015 agenda, Charles Kenny dismissed Internet access as something non-essential, as something not “good in its own right.”[vi] However, an outlook that fails to recognise the essential role ICT can play in both economic and personal growth is unhelpful.
In 2010 global Internet user penetration reached thirty per cent, matching the level that developed countries had attained by 2001. In countries with low broadband penetration, the cost of an Internet connection can be up to one hundred per cent of Gross National Income per capita, compared with just two and a half per cent in the best connected nations.[vii]
With the emergence of a global digital economy, new technologies have introduced yet another arena in which poverty can be entrenched and propagated. In 2011 the World Bank Group (WBG) assessed its progress in the fields of connectivity and ICT, reporting that technology has the potential to “widen rather than narrow existing inequalities.”
With this in mind, it is essential for a post-2015 agreement to position ICT as a core area of development. The recommendations to come out of the WBG report focused not only on the continued efforts to expand Internet access, but to strengthen support for ICT education, noting that lack of simultaneous training severely constrained the efficacy of new technologies in developing countries.[viii]
This brings us back to the issue of education. Looking toward a future that is likely to go on being defined by online, mobile and digital technologies, we need to see functional ICT skills being effectively taught alongside standard literacy and numeracy teaching. Everyone should be able to make use of the opportunities that ICT can provide. Otherwise the so-called ‘digital divide’ will only get wider and wider.
Dismissive opinions like those held by Kenny will only serve to uphold out-of-date notions of linear development models, forever condemning developing countries to limp behind in the shadow of their developed neighbours. With investment in infrastructure and innovative use of ICT, developing economies could have the opportunity to forge their own paths.
[i] Goal 2: Achieve Universal Education Fact Sheet. UN Department of Information. 2012. p.1. http://www.un.org/millenniumgoals/pdf/MDG_FS_2_EN.pdf
[ii] Millennium Development Goal Report 2012. United Nations. 2012. p.17. http://mdgs.un.org/unsd/mdg/Resources/Static/Products/Progress2012/English2012.pdf
[iii] From Schooling Goals to Learning Goals: how fast can student learning improve? Amanda Beatty and Land Pritchett. September 2012. p.6. http://www.cgdev.org/files/1426531_file_Beatty_Pritchett_Time_to_MLG_FINAL.pdf
[iv] Post-2015: the road ahead. Claire Melamed. October 2012. p. 8. http://www.odi.org.uk/sites/odi.org.uk/files/odi-assets/publications-opinion-files/7873.pdf
[v] Post-2015 Development Agenda: goals, targets and indicators. Nicole Bates-Eamer, Barry Carin, Min Ha Lee and Wonhyuk Lim with Mukesh Kapila. October 2012. p.14. http://www.cigionline.org/sites/default/files/MDG_Post_2015v3.pdf
[vii] Post-2015 Development Agenda: goals, targets and indicators. p.21.