26 October 2017
UNESCO Report Addresses Accountability on SDG 4
UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe
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UNESCO's Global Education Monitoring series released a report on accountability and SDG 4 (quality education).

The report calls for “stopping the blame game” on education, arguing that education is a shared responsibility among many actors and blaming teachers and schools may have counterproductive results.

The report makes a number of recommendations for improving accountability and increasing transparency on the education-related SDGs.

24 October 2017: The UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO) Global Education Monitoring (GEM) series has released a report that examines ways institutions and people can be held accountable for reaching Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4 on quality education. The report asserts that universal quality education is a shared responsibility among governments, schools, teachers, parents and other stakeholders.

The report titled, ‘Accountability in education: meeting our commitments,’ finds little evidence that performance-based accountability, when focused on outcomes over inputs, improves education systems. It argues that a “blame-focused” approach to accountability is associated with undesirable consequences, further asserting that blaming teachers for absenteeism and poor test scores is both unconstructive and unjust and can widen inequality and damage learning. For instance, the report states that “high stakes testing” may lead to teachers only teaching those “likely to do well.”

Using test scores to sanction schools and teachers can have unintended consequences, “leaving the weakest learners behind.”

UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova stressed that accountability for education “defines the way teachers teach, students learn, and governments act” but underscored that not all accountability methods are helping to achieve SDG 4. She explained that sanctioning teachers for poor test results to try to improve quality instruction and learning has had unintended and contrary consequences. Director of the GEM report, Manos Antoninis, elaborated that using test scores to sanction schools and teachers often results in changed behavior by the school or teacher, to protect themselves, “leaving the weakest learners behind.”

The report highlights a number of challenges related to transparency. Approximately half of countries produce a national education monitoring report that analyzes progress on their national education and budget, but only one in six governments publishes annual education monitoring reports. Nearly half of countries lack regulations on class sizes. Fewer than half of low and middle-income countries (MICs) have standards for early childhood education and only a few countries have mechanisms for monitoring compliance. The report suggests that transparency would help to identify education challenges. For instance, the establishment or strengthening of independent bodies such as ombudsmen, parliaments and audit institutions can help to hold governments accountable for education.

The report further addresses how a lack of accountability can contribute to corruption. For example, in the EU, 38 percent of education and training tenders had one bidder between 2009 to 2014. In sub-Saharan Africa, government regulations have often not kept pace with the growth of private schools and universities, which means students graduate with unrecognized degrees or attend schools operating without qualified teachers.

The report recommends that governments: design supportive, non-punitive accountability mechanisms for schools and teachers; establish independent institutions to handle complaints and respect the media’s freedom to scrutinize education; and develop credible, efficient regulations with associated sanctions for all education providers. In Latin America, for example, ombudsman offices helped increase access to education between 1982 to 2011. Observing that education is not justiciable in 45 percent of countries, the report further recommends making the right to education justiciable.

The GEM report is mandated to monitor progress on the SDGs for education. [UNESCO Press Release] [UN Press Release] [Publication: Accountability in Education]

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