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Fulfilling a collective responsibility to provide global public goods in education


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By Manos Antoninis and Priya Joshi, Global Education Monitoring Report


gpg 2.pngGlobal public goods are the institutions, mechanisms, and outcomes that transcend borders and provide benefits to all. Controlling infectious diseases, tackling climate change, enhancing international financial stability, strengthening international trade, and achieving peace and security are all global public goods, as is knowledge for development.

However, the level of provision of global public goods is insufficient. Some countries may free-ride on other countries’ efforts. Moreover, global public goods are political: some countries may be unwilling to support them, as when they resist monitoring their compliance with international agreements. Or they may disagree with how they should be delivered. Their provision depends on catalytic action from responsible leadership, which may be lacking. And, as the 2017/8 Global Education Monitoring Report argued, the increasing focus on short-term results distorts financing decisions.

Global public goods in education are linked to knowledge for global development. What precisely these goods are is however contested. A policy paper, launched today by the Global Education Monitoring Report at a side event in the fourth meeting of the SDG-Education 2030 Steering Committee, draws attention to three types of global public goods in education – data, research and networks. It calls for building consensus towards priorities that are fit for the purpose of achieving SDG 4.

Supporting global public goods in education will require joint, long-term vision and real leadership from the wealthier countries, combined with support from philanthropic institutions that value the complexity of learning. It is important to resist piecemeal, short-term, project-based approaches that would put the delivery of global public goods at risk.


Data, including standards and measurement tools, help monitor and report progress against common international commitments.

The expanded scope of the SDG 4 measurement and monitoring agenda calls for more sources of information than was the case before 2015. The UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) recently estimated that the global annual cost of collecting data for the SDG 4 is US$280 million of which US$60 million would need to be provided to poorer countries.

However, data collection is plagued by problems of financing and coordination. Even the minimum activities needed are inadequately supported. UIS has faced a tricky financial situation. In 2011, the United States’ refusal to pay its dues to UNESCO caused a loss of 34% of UNESCO’s contribution. In 2016, the end of the World Bank’s Development Grant Facility meant the further loss of 23% of non-UNESCO voluntary contributions. UIS shed one-third of its staff between June 2015 and October 2017. With the new demands of the SDG 4 agenda, it is stretched further than ever.

It is necessary to:

  • Support the institutions that have a mandate to collect data and monitor education in the SDGs and link this support to the achievement of long-term results.
  • Review and endorse the estimated cost of collecting comparable data for SDG 4 monitoring and allocate resources to fund the necessary learning assessments and household surveys.



Research is critical for education to respond to the challenge of sustainable development. First, it is needed to provide the analytical underpinnings of SDG 4 indicators, to understand what we mean when we talk of ‘relevant and effective learning outcomes’, ‘early childhood development’ or ‘digital literacy’.

Second, it is needed to identify the skills, including social and emotional ones, for sustainable development and how education systems can deliver them.

gog def cardPioneering research takes place almost exclusively in rich countries. In the few cases where innovations are carried out in poor countries, researchers from rich countries dominate, and policy implications are not taken up by the countries most affected. There is often a tendency to dedicate most resources to carry out research that serves the needs of the few.

The history of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), which was established in the late 1960s to address the key challenge of the time – namely to raise food production – provides a useful example of a global public good. Set up by three multilateral organizations to scale up pioneering work by the Rockefeller and Ford foundations in Colombia, Mexico, Nigeria and the Philippines, it helped achieve global impact on food security. It did that through pooled funding, joint priority setting and governance mechanisms, and the development of research capacity in the South.

No less of an effort is required for global education, what the UN Special Envoy has called ‘the civil rights struggle of our time’.

It is necessary to:

  • Develop and implement a research programme that will provide the analytical foundations of the SDG 4 monitoring indicators, especially those related to learning outcomes that have yet to be compared across countries.
  • Design and establish a consortium of research institutions along the lines of the CGIAR to answer the key education questions of our time.


Networks diffuse existing knowledge and help countries exchange lessons from the implementation of education policies to develop their capacity and improve their system.

Sustained technical support to countries is needed to help build national capacity, especially through peer learning mechanisms at the regional level. Such support networks can enable countries to use data and research results for national planning and policy formulation purposes to help improve system performance.

Again, there are lessons to be learned from other sectors. The International Monetary Fund has established several regional technical assistance centres, of which six in sub-Saharan Africa, to improve the performance of economic and financial institutions. A group of countries focused on major health system reforms established the Joint Learning Network for Universal Health Coverage as a hub for support and exchange on implementing related reforms. The Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery is a partnership that helps countries reduce their vulnerability to natural hazards and adapt to climate change.

It is necessary to:

  • Establish new and support existing regional centres that will help countries acquire, adapt and use global and regional knowledge on education policy implementation.
  • Promote the role of regional organizations in establishing peer learning mechanisms where member states can exchange their respective education policy experiences and draw lessons from other countries.


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