Global Goals and Basic Education in Developing Countries: The Unceasing Debate about Impact

Roger Abogzuah Ayinselya

Education has been considered as an important vessel to people’s development. Arguably, through education individuals are provided with the skills and knowledge for understanding their society and unearthing their potentials for personal and national development. Burtch (2006) describes education as a major force in economic, intellectual and social empowerment.

Realising this important role that education plays in the lives of individuals and national as well as international development, the first world conference on ‘Education For All’ (EFA) was launched in Thailand in 1990. The aim was to ensure that all countries achieved universal primary/basic education for all children by the year 2000 (WCEFA, 1990). By this, countries were to ensure that all children, irrespective of their geographic location, family background and gender had access to basic education. The Framework for Action specified targets and strategies for all countries to achieve this aim. Many countries were strongly committed to these goals as seen in their national educational policies. Ten years after the launch of the EFA agenda, however, it was established that remarkable progress had been accomplished in terms of access but quality as measured through various indicators such as pupils’ ability to read, write, do numeracy and spell left much to be desired in many developing countries. There were also reports of high dropout rates among pupils as a result of system inefficiency (Dambe’le’ and Oviawe, 2007).

Following the inability of many countries to make sufficient progress in the EFA agenda, the United Nations (UN) ratified Millennium Development Goal (MDG) on primary/basic education in 2000 reaffirmed the need for universal basic education by 2015.  A Document Review Report (2003) stressed the core priorities of basic education as means for poverty eradication and overcoming social inequality. Prioritising universal basic education continued to be the main agenda for the international community. A decade of the launch of the MDGs, reports emerged that efforts to achieve access for all children, particularly in many developing countries, have tended to adversely affect quality standards (Barrett, 2011; Kruijer, 2010). This was because of the increased enrolment of pupils did not correspond with increase in teachers and other teaching and learning resources thereby putting pressure on existing resources (Kruijer, 2010). In Malawi, for instance, the ratio of pupils to classroom increased to 119:1, the ratio of pupils to teachers also increased to 62:1 and the ratio of pupils to text books increased to 24:1 (USAID, 2007). The situation in Ghana was not dissimilar. The increase in enrolment resulted in overcrowded classroom and increased teacher workloads (Akyeampong, 2011). Increased enrolments without corresponding increase in resources has implications for children’s learning experiences. A number of reports reveal that in many developing countries most children complete basic education with little or no basic skills in writing, reading and doing numeracy expected of them at that level. For instance, according to the 11th Global Monitoring Report, only one-third of children in South and West Asia and two-fifths in Sub-Saharan Africa achieved basic competence in reading at grade 4 (UNESCO, 2013/14). A national education assessment on basic education in Ghana indicated that less than 25% of children in Ghana acquired the proficiency level for primary six English and only 10% achieved proficiency in primary six mathematics (Wereko and Dordunoo, 2010). This trend is worrying not only because these children are ill-equipped with the basic knowledge to make the transition to the next levels in education but may also lack the skills to function well in their daily lives.

What does this mean for global agendas then? Well! My reflection on this issue, is more questions rather than answers. I wonder, could it be that universalising ‘access to basic education’ is a misplaced priority? Or could it be the issue of ‘one shoe does not fit all’? Or could it be both? Targeting universal basic education is good. However, the fact remains that the priorities, values and educational needs of individual countries vary. Therefore, to generalise ideas to solve global problems by the international community as if one shoe fits all seeks, not only, to ‘reinforce the new imperialism but also further limit the capacity of developing countries to determine their own educational agendas’ (Tikly 2004: 190). As argued already, individual countries have their priorities.  It is imperative to allow countries to set targets in their own educational policies that will conform to their resource capacity and national development needs and interests. It is also important to recognise that for education to prove more useful, it often needs to be more sensitive to the local and cultural realities of each country (Crossley et al., 2005). The agenda for implementation of the current United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including the education goal, appears to acknowledge this concern. In its draft outcome document for the adoption of the post-2015 development agenda, the UN General Assembly declared that the SDGs are to be implemented in a manner that is consistent with the rights of individual countries, by taking into account different national realities, capacities and levels of development and respecting national policies and priorities. By this, national governments are now bound to embark upon a comprehensive program of implementation, developing a national strategy, agreeing upon a national monitoring framework and a process for annual reporting (SDSN, 2015; 15). Civil servants, local governments and other stakeholders are all expected to play a pivotal role in planning and implementing the SDGs. This acknowledgement looks promising, yet it is early days to make any comprehensive critique of the impact this may have, not only on access to basic education but also on the quality of education that children receive in developing countries.


I will keep my fingers crossed!



Barrett, M., A.  (2011) A Millennium Learning Goal for education post‐2015: a question of outcomes or processes. Comparative Education, 47(1), pp. 119-133.

Burtch, B. (2006) Education law and social justice. In Oduaran, A. and Bhola, H.S. (Eds) Widening Access to Education as Social Justice Netherland: Springer, pp. 83 – 94.

Crossley, M., Herriot, A., Wando, J., Mwirotsi, M., Holmes, K. and Juma, M. (2005) Research and Evaluation for Educational Development: Learning from the PRISM Experience in Kenya. Oxford: Symposium Books.

Dambele, M. and Oviawe, J. (2007) Introduction: Quality Education in Africa-International commitments, Local Challenges and Responses. International Review of Education, 53, pp. 473-483.

Document Review (2003) The Local Solution to Global Challenges: Toward Effective Partnership in Basic Education, Canada, Opmeer, Netherland Foreign Affairs. Available at:

Kruijer, H. (2010) Learning How to Teach: the upgrading of unqualified primary teachers in sub-Saharan Africa. Paris: Education International.

Sustainable Development Solution Network(SDSN) (2015) Getting Started with the Sustainable Development Goals: A Guide for Stakeholders. Available at:

Tikly, L. (2004) Education and the new imperialism. Comparative Education, 40(2), pp. 173–98.

UNESCO (2013/14) Teaching and learning: Achieving quality for all. Education for All: Global Monitoring Report. Paris: UNESCO

USAID (2007) ‘School Fees and Education for All: Is Abolition the Answer?’ A Working Paper for EQUIP2

Wereko, T.B. and Dordunno, C. (2010) Effective Delivery of Public Services: Focus on Education. A review by AfriMAP and the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa. Johannesburg: Open Society Initiative for West Africa

World Conference on Education for All (WCEFA) (1990) Meeting Basic Learning Needs, Jomtien, Thailand. Available at:



About the Author

Roger Abogzuah Ayinselya has a first degree in Psychology from the University of Cape Coast, Ghana (2011). He also has a master’s degree in Educational Leadership, Policy and Development from the University of Bristol, UK (2014). Roger is currently a PhD student in the Faculty of Education at Canterbury Christ Church University. His research interest is in the area of basic education, teacher identity, professional development and education.




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