The “Leaving No One Behind” seminar was a focal point of Oslo Education Week as the aim of the seminar was to identify the children and youth that are most in danger of being left behind. Guiding this seminar was the question: What are the key barriers to accessing and completing quality education? The 170 participants discussed what practical measures can be taken to prevent this from happening. Based on lessons learned from Education for All (EFA), the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and other initiatives, participants identified successful public policies and innovations that target vulnerable children and youth. The June 16 seminar was hosted by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (Norad) and the Union of Education Norway.

The overarching message was: The Education Commission should genuinely put equity at the very core of its analysis and recommendations. In turn, the rich discussions throughout the day are summarized in three messages for the Education Commission:

Message #1: Counting the invisible: the need for better data for inclusion

To ensure no one is left behind, the Education Commission should advocate for disaggregated data on who is excluded. It is vital to take steps to count those who are currently invisible in statistics. For example, there are children living on the streets, or refugees, internally displaced people, nomadic populations, and those living in illegal settlements who have their identities masked deep within complex statistics.

It is encouraging that greater efforts are being made to support the collection of disaggregated data. One important example is in relation to including people with disabilities in household data such as UNICEF MICS, as well as in census data. There is a need for questions developed by the Washington Group aimed at identifying disability to be used systematically in surveys and administrative (including EMIS) data. Experience from surveys in which these questions have been used shows that this is possible to do so without difficulty and in ways that are not too time-consuming.

Data on the invisible are needed to inform progress in both access and learning, recognizing that the invisible are still more likely to be out of school, and also to ensure that once in school they have the opportunity to learn.

Message #2: Political will: from rhetoric to action to leave no one behind

Data on its own is not enough. The information we possess must be used by those at the local (including by teachers in schools), national and global levels. This requires broad stakeholder engagement in the use of data and evidence to inform policies, to change practices and to channel resources to where they are most needed. This means moving from the tokenistic involvement of civil society toward meaningful participation, particularly through the inclusion of teachers. Indeed, it is vital to include those who know the children and their specific needs and therefore hold the key to make policies a reality. To achieve this, the Education Commission should come up with a strong recommendation for governments to legislate for institutionalised social dialogue with teacher organisations thereby better ensuring their full participation in the development, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of education policy. The Commission should also support data and evidence being made available and accessible to all.

As part of this, there is a need to collect data on learning not only for national and global accountability through summative assessment systems, but also to strengthen in-school formative assessment in conjunction with support to teachers to ensure data are used to improve the quality of education in the classroom.

Girls’ education provides a stark example of the need to move from rhetoric to action. Over the past 15 years, progress has been made in improving the availability of gender-disaggregated data but this has yet to shift policies and financing needed to tackle gender-based violence and other barriers that hold back girls’ access and learning. A key reason for this lack of progress is identified to be associated with weak political will. In turn, the Education Commission needs to pay attention to strengthening political will for excluded groups, including marginalized girls.

More generally, there was agreement that policies that have worked for the 90% of the world’s children in school will not work for the last 10%. At the same time, implementing strategies that improve learning for the most marginalized – such as poor, rural girls – will improve learning for all. As such, there was consensus that we will not find the ways to inclusive systems unless we analyse everything through the lens of equity.

Message #3: Financing to leave no one behind: focus on raising domestic financing progressively

The Education Commission should put equity at the core of budget decisions, and avoid “fads” in financing. Philanthropy and aid have an important role to play, but will not fill the financing gap. Rather, sustainable financing of education will need to come from domestic resources. To achieve this, there is a need to raise the domestic resource base through progressive taxes. Aid donors can play a role in supporting countries in achieving this. Donor countries also have a responsibility to create more transparency in the international financial system by removing legal loopholes that accommodate tax avoidance.

A related issue explores aspects of the education system that public resources (both domestic and aid) should focus on. Given the majority of children from poor households are in government schools, and some do not make it beyond primary school, public funds aimed at leaving no one behind need to focus on these schools if they are to improve learning for the most disadvantaged.

Another current ‘fad’ is results-based financing. This can help to shift the focus from inputs to outputs, and ensure attention is paid to effective implementation. For GPE, for example, 30% of the grant is dependent on achievements within equity, learning and efficiency. There was a fear, however, that those who do not achieve satisfactory results are exactly those who will need more financing and that results’ indicators may be set externally. As such, failure to achieve results should not automatically mean that funding is cut; rather, reasons for the failures must be identified while strategies and implementation are adjusted accordingly. The importance of defining the right results and indicators, and that these need to be owned locally, was stressed: financing incentives that are not owned locally and by the government will not be sustainable.

A related point is that donors and other external partners need to engage with the education sector for the long haul. Given education is an on-going process, it requires long-term, predictable, core support. As much external support for the education sector as possible should be aligned with one education sector plan with developing countries in the driver’s seat when it comes to devising plans and identifying national priorities based on an evidence-base of local needs and through broad stakeholder consultation. These plans need to identify disadvantaged groups and set targets for their progress in access and learning at different levels of the education system.

Olav Hereid Seim is the Education Policy Director in the Global Initiatives Section at the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. For further information on the 2016 Oslo Education Week, the programme is available here.