2 April 2024

Striving for quality education amidst rising challenges

From 2000 to 2015, the world rallied behind the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), with a primary focus on achieving universal primary education. The results were promising: global enrolment rates surged from 83% to 91%, marking a significant stride towards educational equity. However, as the baton passed to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2015, the narrative shifted from mere enrolment to the pursuit of quality education for all, extending the ambit to secondary education as well.

While the enrolment figures paint a rosy picture, the reality within classrooms often starkly contrasts. Despite being physically present in educational institutions, a distressing number of young learners fail to acquire foundational literacy and numeracy skills. UNESCO’s alarming statistics reveal that approximately 60% (137 million adolescents) are in school but are not learning effectively. This sobering revelation underscores a critical systemic flaw: the absence of essential quality components within educational ecosystems. Many schools grapple with a dearth of qualified educators and inadequate educational resources, undermining the very foundation of effective learning.

Moreover, the noble principle of “Leave No One Behind,” enshrined within the SDGs, confronts formidable challenges in implementation. Economic disparities perpetuate educational inequities, with disadvantaged children facing a fourfold higher likelihood of being out of school. Additionally, youth caught in conflict or refugee situations are disproportionately affected, facing heightened barriers to educational access and retention.

In 2015, amidst the launch of the SDGs, all UNESCO member states pledged to allocate 4-6% of their GDP towards education—an investment crucial for fostering inclusive and equitable learning environments. Regrettably, the majority of nations have yet to translate this commitment into concrete action, with actual expenditure hovering between a mere 1% and 2.9%. This glaring gap between rhetoric and reality poses a formidable obstacle to realising the aspirations of quality education for all. Despite the commendable surge in enrolment rates, the concomitant increase in funding to fortify learning environments has not materialised. This fiscal shortfall is acutely felt in Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) institutions, where the acquisition of state-of-the-art equipment is imperative for imparting industry-relevant skills.

To catalyse meaningful change and chart a course towards quality education for all, a paradigm shift is imperative. At the forefront is financing. Education, intrinsically, yields no immediate economic return, often relegating it to the realms of pre-election promises rather than post-electoral priorities. Thus, it becomes imperative to continually prod UNESCO members to honour their commitment to education investment, recognising it as an indispensable driver of societal progress.

Furthermore, the prevalent project-based funding model employed by many organisations, while ostensibly expedient, falls short of fostering sustainable outcomes. Principals and educators find themselves ensnared in a perpetual cycle of fundraising and project management, diverting their focus from the core mission of nurturing conducive learning environments. It is time to transcend the ephemeral allure of short-term projects and embrace enduring partnerships anchored in sustainable funding models. Such a transformative approach should encompass not only the provision of basic infrastructural necessities but also the nurturing of innovative pedagogical approaches tailored to the evolving needs of learners.

This shift towards sustainable financing aligns seamlessly with the imperative of quality assessment. The current funding model, focused on projects, often hinders a comprehensive evaluation of impact, failing to grasp the holistic interaction of various interventions. Moreover, this model frequently prioritises donor expectations over the genuine needs of stakeholders and a quality-centered approach. Since 2022, VIA Don Bosco has sought to address these dual challenges by embarking on a rigorous research and development journey and is developing a new tool called the “TVET Quality Compass.”

The compass provides a holistic evaluation framework, meticulously measuring the entire ecosystem of a technical and vocational education and training (TVET) center. Tailored specifically to TVET education, it allows for analysis of elements contributing to quality from access to education to integration into the job market. This framework highlights the specific requirements of a training center based on its context and stage of development. By identifying strengths and weaknesses, it provides an opportunity for the center to initiate a quality improvement process based on tangible data rather than intuition or guesswork. Through its non-prescriptive nature, the compass allows the center to chart its own course by addressing its immediate needs.

While the tool supports training centers in quality enhancement, it also enables entry into a virtuous cycle of sustainable financing. Indeed, based on the collected data, the compass identifies areas for improvement. It is from these insights that VIA Don Bosco aims to develop its future programmes. What are the advantages? Programmes are formulated in alignment with schools’ ongoing needs on their journey towards quality education, serving as genuine support rather than a complication. Furthermore, the tool allows us to meticulously track the sustainability of our interventions and the progression of quality over many years. It ensures that our initiatives yield enduring dividends for learners, communities, and donors alike.

The journey towards quality education demands unwavering commitment and concerted action from all stakeholders. By bridging the chasm between commitments and actions, redefining funding structures, fostering enduring partnerships, and introducing holistic quality assessment methodologies, we can pave a transformative path towards a future where every learner realises their full potential.


Filip Lammens
General Manager, VIA Don Bosco Belgium & The Netherlands