As we pass the mid-way point to the target date for the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), an agenda for the next set of goals is already being discussed. The current education development goal of universal completion of primary education by 2015 has led to the expansion of enrolments in many countries. However, measurements of learning outcomes have found that too many children are graduating from primary school without having achieved competency in literacy or numeracy. To tackle this problem, three World Bank economists, Filmer, Hasan and Pritchett, have proposed the current education MDG be replaced by a Millennium Learning Goal (MLG) in place of universal completion of primary education in a paper published by the Center for Global Development.
This working paper critiques the proposal from the perspective of education quality. It argues that where learning outcomes are used as an indicator of quality there is a tendency to privilege cognitive learning outcomes that are amenable to measurement by standardised testing. Filmer et al.'s proposal errs in this direction. As a consequence the problem of raising learning achievement is treated as a technical one neglecting complex, often cultural specific and political nature of education as a social practice. A MLG that promotes testing can have the unintended effect of impoverishing curricula and educational processes as teachers and learners come under pressure to maximise scores in pen and paper tests, irrespective of whether this enhances useful learning outcomes. The current MDG has been accompanied by a concern for quality at both the international and national level, including debate on the meaning and conceptualisation of quality. Filmer et al. suggest that a transition from the current MDG with quality to a MLG. It is argued that is important to sustain the debate that has already been flourishing around quality. Finally, it is argued that any measure of learning outcomes can only be a partial indicator of quality that must be supplemented by monitoring of educational processes, most especially teaching and learning processes within classrooms.
The paper concludes by warning that a MLG would have to be formulated with caution and include more expansive forms of indicator than that suggested by Filmer et al. as well as having associated process targets.
EdQual Working Paper No. 16, ISBN: 978-1-906675-15-8, 22 pp.