Earlier this year, Girin Beeharry stepped down as the inaugural director of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s global education program. But he’s not going quietly. His recent essay, “The Pathway to Progress on SDG 4,” is essentially a manifesto for international actors in the education sector. In it, Girin diagnoses deep failures in the sector he’s helped shape in recent years, and lays out his vision for what needs to change to get back on track toward the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal of quality education for all (SDG4).
Here, the sector responds. We’re delighted that 20 education leaders, researchers, and practitioners have contributed their reflections on, challenges to, and support for Girin’s essay. And Girin has contributed a postscript to his essay, where he responds to some of the challenges and alternative proposals. There’s a lot to digest, so here we offer a brief reading guide:
Several contributors are firmly on Team Girin, and some talked about specific ways to act out his agenda
In particular countries:
And among international actors:
Luis Crouch, Senior Economist at RTI, shares Girin’s urgency and priorities but is a little more optimistic. He retains hope that countries do recognise the problem and that there are donor agencies ready to help.
Laura Savage, Senior Education Adviser at the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Development Office, endorses Girin’s ambition and offers four “yes, buts” to supplement his proposals.
Caitlin Baron, CEO of the Luminos Fund, urges the donor community to stop seeking silver bullets. There are nongovernmental organizations with well-evidenced education models, ready and waiting to scale—let’s help them do it, she says.
Oliver Sabot, Director at Nova Pioneer, draws lessons from the health sector urging us to do one thing really well, monitor progress relentlessly, and measure outcomes obsessively.
Others noted that weak monitoring data and the wrong kind of accountability are limiting progress
A common challenge to Girin’s manifesto is the problem of top-down priority setting by the global education community
Although those writers are still very much in support of the foundational literacy agenda:
In fairness, Girin doesn’t ask that foundational literacy is forced on countries. And his postscript acknowledges many of these challenges, suggesting a reframe to his essay that starts with what needs to happen at the classroom level to improve literacy and numeracy, continuing to whether domestic actors are poised to take the actions needed to enable these changes, and then what the global community needs to do to support them.
Here at CGD, we pushed back on whether test scores can trump other goals around access, safety, and equity
But, even if you believe learning should be the priority, perhaps it takes all of SDG4 to help kids learn
Woven through every single essay in this collection are two common threads: a deep respect for the impact Girin has had on the sector, and a sense of obligation to answer the challenge he has laid down. You may wholeheartedly agree with his manifesto or you may challenge parts of it. Either way, it is hard not to admire his impatience with the current pace of progress.