Efficiency in global education design

By Tom Kaye

Education plays an important role in increasing incomes, fostering peace and saving lives. Despite international recognition of these facts, inefficiencies in the design and delivery of education programs abound.

This results in either the considerable wastage of funds (in developed countries), or an inability to provide comprehensive quality education to all a country’s children (in developing countries). Disposing of traditional, inefficient methods of education program design and embracing a more international perspective would significantly reduce administrative costs for many countries around the globe.

For nearly 70 years the international community has formally recognised and linked education with improving life outcomes. As such, education was embedded in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Art. 26) and was included in the Millennium Development Goals (MDG Goal 2). An ongoing international commitment to better education outcomes is reflected again by the inclusion of a discrete education-focused goal in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in September 2015. SDG Goal 4 aims to “ensure inclusive and quality education for all”. This will provide a focus on improving education outcomes in developed and developing country contexts over the coming 15 years.

Whilst the SDGs provide a set of internationally agreed targets, they give little in the way of concrete action plans to achieve these targets at the country level. Countries develop often-decentralised plans to achieve the goals in line with national policies. While this approach allows countries to take ownership of the operationalisation of the goals – a positive impact of the development process – it means that many countries spend large sums of money undertaking similar research, design and development processes.

Is it not worth contemplating ways to create efficiencies in the design and development phase to ensure that countries have adequate funding left to implement quality programs?

The process of curriculum development is one example of a lack of international cohesion that results in significant amounts of inefficient expenditure. Countries, or in many cases, individual states, regions, territories or provinces, invest huge sums of money to design curricula that often end up containing content that is similar to many other national curricula.

In Australia, the creation of a national curriculum will generate greater efficiencies, and will help Australia continue to be a nation at the forefront of global education services.

This issue manifests in both the developed and developing world. Australia has yet to fully adopt national primary and secondary curricula. On 18 September 2015, the Australian Education Council endorsed a standard national curriculum up to Year 10, while the full curriculum to Year 12 has been released for consultation. This process of designing a national curriculum was budgeted to cost approximately $32 million dollars between 2013/14 and 2015/16. In Bangladesh, just under US$40 million (approximately $57 million AUD) is being spent between 2011 and 2017 to update the primary education curriculum.

Between them, Australia and Bangladesh will spend approximately US$89 million on curriculum revisions between 2011 and 2017. These are only two of the world’s approximately 195 million countries. While a simple expansion of the costs occurred by Australia and Bangladesh would not properly reflect the total global expenditure on curriculum revision, these examples provide a small insight into the total expenditures that are occurring world wide in this space.

While both Australia’s shift to a national curriculum and Bangladesh’s movement away from its rote-learning based curriculum are long overdue, it is important to understand that these significant processes are not one-time-only events.

As Australia’s social and economic requirements shift over time due to changes in technology, the economy and society at large, Australia’s curriculum will require further revision to ensure that students graduating from secondary education possess the relevant competencies to fulfill these industry-led requirements.

In spite of the costs, forgoing curriculum reform is not possible. In Bangladesh, as with many other developing countries, curriculum reform is crucial to improving education outcomes, which will in turn drive development and play a pivotal role in the long-term improvement of living standards. In Australia, the creation of a national curriculum will generate greater efficiencies, and will help Australia continue to be a nation at the forefront of global education services. As such, it is important that new and more efficient ways to undertake these processes are discovered.

Initial forays into more efficient curriculum development processes have already begun, thought they are yet to be universally accepted. The International Primary Curriculum (IPC) is used in approximately 1,900 schools worldwide, and the International Baccalaureate (IB) is offered in approximately 4,200 schools worldwide. These internationalised teaching and assessment models demonstrate that it is possible for countries to collaborate with each other to develop robust and standardised curricula.

In addition to the economic efficiencies, these global programs help to break down national boundaries and simplify individuals’ abilities to move globally between secondary education, tertiary education and, subsequently, employment.

While only a first step, the continued expansion of IPC and IB shows that international collaboration on education program design is possible. It demonstrates that countries can work collaboratively in education design, an area that had previously been the sole domain of individual nation-states. This may be the first step for countries collaborating to increase the efficiency of education program design and delivery – something that, in the future, could reach far beyond curriculum design into areas including textbook and resource design and teacher training.

Given the billions of lives at stake, an immediate change in the traditional way of doing business is required. Let us hope that politicians, administrators and education program designers worldwide are up to the challenge.