Kevin Watkins on addressing inequality in education

In this short video, Kevin Watkins gives his opinion on addressing inequality in education. He explains how in recent years there has been dramatic progress in getting children in to schools. Improved attendance rates have been achieved in most countries. The challenge today is how to progress from here, building on this momentum. As many as 57 million children are still not included in the education system. Children not yet attending school may be at a disadvantaged due to war, forced marriage, child labour and many other factors. If children do not get the opportunity to learn, the disadvantage they face will be lifelong. Education is vital. The international community needs to take seriously what it has promised with regards to ensuring each child in the world has the opportunity to gain an education. Despite governments promising no child would be left behind, the reality is that marginalised children are being left behind and the international community needs to act to make a change.


Kevin Watkins joined the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) as Executive Director in June 2013. He is a former non-resident senior fellow with the Center for Universal Education at the Brookings Institution, and was previously director and lead author of UNESCO’s Education for All Global Monitoring Report. His research focuses on education, globalization and human development.


In a blog Kevin wrote for the Guardian, he argues that Pakistan is a case study for the consequences of political neglect of education. In Pakistan, a quarter of primary school age children do not attend school – this equates to 5 million children. Half of those who start school drop out before the end of grade 3. Another problem is that not all those who attend school are learning. After three years of primary education, only one third of children can perform basic literacy and calculus tasks. Inequality is a major problem, with urban boys from the wealthiest 20% of households averaging 10 years of schooling, in contrast to girls from poor rural households who get just one year. Kevin argues that lack of political support for education in Pakistan is a major barrier to progress that must be addressed.

In 2012, ODI published a report that reviewed the evidence base concerning progress on the education Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and Education for All Goals (EFA) to 2015 and beyond. It explores experience with the MDGs to date, current debates and policy developments, the aim of a post-2015 global agreement similar to the MDGs, how a global agreement might add value to national efforts, and the type of agreement that might be made, including targets and indicator. One of the recommendations that the report makes is for the post-2015 education agenda to concentrate on equity and the poorest. The authors recommend that any new goals should explicitly be measured for each quintile, for example, and could even be set in terms of the performance of the bottom one or two quintiles. They argue that the current goals look at averages rather than focusing on how the poorest are performing.

A UNESCO report was published to establish discussion of the proposed post-2015 educations goals. It states that while there has been remarkable progress towards the six Education for All goals since they were established in 2000, challenges still remain. Some major education needs have not received the attention they deserve. The drafting of post-2015 goals provides an opportunity to establish fresh priorities, ensuring a focus on emphasising equality, measurability and aid finance. As the global education community prepares to identify new goals for the post-2015 period, through this report, the Education for All Global Monitoring Report team calls on its decade of experience to propose what those goals could look like, along with guiding principles, specific targets and indicators.

This HEART Talks video is part of a series of resources on inequality in education. The accompanying HEART Talks videos are: