Shifting paradigms in pursuit of Sustainable Development Goal 4: comparing contexts, participants and sector integration in education and development policy discourses in Oceania.

Year: 2019

Author: McCormick, Alexandra

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

I share initial findings from the pilot study for a comparative analysis of recent global education policy shifts in Oceanic contexts, from critical globalization and decolonial perspectives (Nederveen-Pieterse 2015; Mignolo 2007). The global sustainable development goals (SDGs) espouse paradigmatic shifts in aiming to improve on global social policies of the Millennium Development Goals and Education for All, with education consistently attributed prominence as an ‘enabling’ goal, tied to principles of social justice including gender and other aspects of equity. These shifts include recognition that ‘development’ should pertain to all contexts, not just economically poor nations, and that identifying strategies is not just the province of ‘high-level’ stakeholders. A third shift articulates that each of the 17 SDGs should work in concert to support improved quality of life, rather than in separate silos.

I ask: (how) are these (re-)acknowledged principles - of universal applicability, shared responsibility and integrated sector strategies - being pursued in Australia and its near region, almost one third of the way toward the SDGs’ 2030 deadline? Investigation includes asking which education and international development policy actors are involved, and how, with the aim of contributing to understanding processes for equitable and relevant education of good quality. I employ critical discourse analysis, and a focused ethnographic approach within comparative case studies.

This research, currently underway, is the pilot stage, in which I investigate Australian contexts, and includes document analysis of a corpus of multilevel policy documents. The next stage will include a survey and supplementary interviews with education policy actors. Comparative document analysis and fieldwork will then be undertaken for post-colonial Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu.

Australia released its first voluntary review of progress toward the SDGs in 2018. Official aid to education featured in the evaluation of national performance on SDG4, in parallel with work domestically. Beyond organizational reporting, there is a paucity of comparative, critical scholarship of their multi-scalar (traversing global, regional and national contexts) influence in the Oceanic or Pacific region to date. The Australian government expressed commitment to the SDGs, indicating substantial leadership aspirations. A 2015 review, however, noted of Australia’s own relatively recent paradigmatic shift, in relation to the nature of its assistance, that such attempts at repositioning have not taken hold. In addition to the value of comparative, multi-level investigation, such apparent tensions demonstrate the need for continued, systematic investigation of policy engagement and processes associated with Australian Aid and the SDGs.