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"The question of who provides education needs to be addressed"

The international community has committed itself to the goal of securing a high-quality education for everyone by 2030. Non-state actors make a fundamental contribution to achieving this goal and are the focus of this year's UNESCO Global Education Monitoring (GEM) Report. On 3 February, the report will be presented in Switzerland at a virtual event. Basilio Ghisletta, education adviser at the SDC, speaks in the interview below on the report's significance for the 2030 Agenda's education targets.

A young woman teaches children from a boat on a river in the Philippines.

There are many ways to involve private organisations in the education system. © UNESCO, Roxanne Paraiso

According to the UN, 258 million children around the world do not go to school and 617 million people have no literacy or maths skills. The COVID-19 pandemic presents an additional problem: at its peak, more than 1.5 billion children were kept out of school by nationwide closures. Conflict, forced displacement and migration are also on the rise, denying the younger generation access to a better future – around two thirds of refugee children do not complete compulsory education. The annual UNESCO GEM Report is the key mechanism for monitoring progress and setbacks relating to the 2030 Agenda's ten education targets.

The GEM Report: an insight into where we stand

Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4 of the 2030 Agenda calls on us to ensure access to inclusive and equitable high-quality education and to promote lifelong learning opportunities for all. "The GEM report contains data and recommendations that influence education authorities on the ground as well as actors in international cooperation," says Basilio Ghisletta, education adviser at the SDC.

Basilio Ghisletta answers three questions to give a deeper insight into the topic:

Portrait photo of Basilio Ghisletta.
Basilio Ghisletta, SDC education adviser. © BG

Mr Ghisletta, what is the significance of this report?

The SDC views this report as highly significant. It is an important and well-researched global resource that highlights trends, progress and setbacks in education – insights that can then be used to Caption implement measures. The GEM report contains data and recommendations that influence education authorities on the ground as well as actors in international cooperation. The 2019 GEM report focusing on migration, displacement and education, for example, led the SDC to focus its programmes more strongly on the education of migrant and refugee children.

The UNESCO GEM Report 2021/22 focuses on the role of non-state actors. What conclusions does the report reach, and how do they align with the SDC's experience?

The report indicates that non-state actors play a key role in implementing the right to education. Many people would have no access to education and training, adult education or early years education if non-state actors did not provide such services. They are also involved in the provision of resources such as schoolbooks, computers and software.

But there are drawbacks too: non-state actors might fail to operate within regulatory frameworks or equal opportunities might be jeopardised. In some countries, for example, fee-paying private schools infiltrate the public system and undermine the fundamental right to education. This can lead to high-quality education only being available to those who can afford it, which is why SDG 4 on education and the GEM report explicitly state that compulsory schooling in particular – i.e. a year of preschool and 12 years of primary and secondary school – must be free of charge. But 'publicly funded' doesn't always have to mean 'publicly provided', so long as equal opportunities can be safeguarded. The SDC shares this approach.

What are the expectations for the report's publishing event?

Firstly it's an opportunity to learn where we stand on the education goal, to determine what we've achieved, and to decide what we should pay closer attention to both in international cooperation and within Switzerland. Secondly it's an opportunity to exchange ideas and talk about a subject that's hotly debated at the moment: the role of non-state actors – particularly those in the private sector – with regard to development cooperation on education.

The influence of these actors is increasing and new opportunities for public-private collaborations are emerging. Everyone shares the objective of providing high-quality education for all, but questions must be asked regarding who should provide it, who should be involved, and how it is regulated. We will be discussing precisely these kinds of questions at the event.

On 3 February 2022 Manos Antoninis, the director of the UNESCO report, will present its key conclusions at the virtual Swiss launch. A wide range of stakeholders from educational institutions, the private sector and philanthropic organisations will then discuss the role of non-state actors during three workshops.

Invitation, programme (PDF, 7 Pages, 325.5 kB)

Event registration

Non-state and public actors – a fruitful collaboration

Apprentices installing sanitary appliances.
Practice-based vocational skills development improves young people's chances of building a future in their own country. © FDFA

In its projects the SDC works with education authorities as well as non-state actors such as NGOs, foundations and the private sector. This can be done through innovative funding models that aim to promote the right to education, support the provision of education services for vulnerable groups, or test out new approaches. The goal is always to safeguard equal opportunities based on the principle 'leave no one behind'.

Collaboration with the private sector is especially important in vocational skills development, where curriculums need to align with the needs of the business world and prepare young people for the labour market in a targeted manner. This is illustrated by an SDC vocational skills development project in Ukraine.

Geberit (a Swiss sanitary facilities company), the Ukrainian Ministry of Education, and the NGO Swisscontact have successfully developed and implemented a practical training programme for prospective sanitary specialists. Since the project began in 2014, the new curriculum has been introduced in vocational schools across the country. The vocational training programme has been successfully completed by more than 1,000 young people, the vast majority of whom were able to join the local employment market.

A family homeschooling in Kambia, Sierra Leone.
Family plays an important role in education, particularly during school closures caused by COVID-19. © UNESCO Stephen Douglas, Sierra Leone

Partnerships with private-sector actors are becoming more important in basic education too. In a recent example of this, the SDC and the Jacobs Foundation worked with Roots of Impact and iGravity on the launch of a pilot project on impact-linked financing in education. The project supports non-traditional stakeholders in implementing innovative educational approaches that aim to promote equitable basic education and improve learning outcomes for vulnerable children and young people.

GEM Report 2021/22

The GEM Report 2021/22 devotes special attention to the topic of non-state actors in the education sector. The role of such actors goes beyond the provision of school education and includes interventions across a range of educational levels and areas of influence. The report calls on governments to view all institutions, students and teachers as part of a single system. Standards, information, incentives and a duty of accountability should allow governments to ensure everyone can benefit from the right to education without turning a blind eye to privilege or exploitation.

The UNESCO report states that publicly financed education does not necessarily need to be publicly provided. Nevertheless, inequalities in the education process, in student outcomes, and in the working conditions of teachers must be resolved. Efficiency and innovation are not trade secrets; they should be shared and practised by all. To that end, transparency and integrity must be maintained in public education policy to prevent individual interests from asserting themselves.

Education in the IC Strategy 2021–24

Education is firmly integrated in the 'human development' and 'economic development' objectives of Switzerland's International Cooperation Strategy (IC Strategy) 2021–24.

Switzerland endeavours to save lives, to ensure high-quality basic services in education and healthcare in particular, and to help mitigate the causes of forced and irregular migration. Implementing the right to education is a basic condition for human development and creates long-term prospects.

Individual populations will not have the necessary skills for economic growth without access to market-relevant vocational skills development that is founded on a solid, high-quality basic education.

This is consistent with the 2030 Agenda and with SDG 4 in particular, which calls for high-quality, inclusive education as well as the opportunity for lifelong learning. Like all other UN member states, Switzerland has committed to achieving the 17 goals of the 2030 Agenda, including SDG 4 on education.