The World Declaration on Education for All (EFA) (1990) and the high-level Unit Summit on Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) emphatically stressed the importance of meeting the educational needs for all children, youths and adults. UNESCO (the United Nation Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) has been mandated to lead this global movement within the international community to reach EFA. A concerted determination to promote education “became almost synonymous with ensuring that every child is in school” noted the UNESCO in its EFA global monitoring report (2015). International efforts undeniably led to a significant increase in school enrolment – 90.7% of primary age students worldwide were enrolled in school – and gender parity in primary enrolments rates – GPI of 0.96 has been achieved (World Bank 2012). This drive towards universal access to primary education, which was more applicable to the poorest countries rather than to more developed nations, albeit successful, has not been without setbacks in many parts of the world such as Africa. In Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) alone, around 31 million primary age children (over half the world primary children population) are out of school and only 6.8% of tertiary age youth were enrolled in tertiary education by 2010 (World Bank 2012).

Meanwhile, the international community realized the scorecard of the EFA has not been as expected and that focus on universal primary enrolment meant less attention on education quality. To this effect, the most recent World Bank initiative to improve global education has shifted focus from “access and kids in seats, to one where we’re now really going to focus on outcomes and results” says the World Bank’s president, Jim Yong Kim (The Guardian, Monday 18 May 2015 14.56 BST). The problem with the result-based approach to global management of education is that it presupposes that the world is one big whole community that shares the same interests, values, needs and aspirations. Even when social and economic variation is acknowledged, it is assumed that it can be controlled and reduced somehow.

It is perhaps inevitable that changing economic, social and political factors will always define and redefine our targets, make or break our educational systems. For the EFA project to work at all, the result-based approach needs to be rearticulated and rethought in predictable ways by drawing upon the existing economic and social inventory existing in each community.

The skills, knowledge, values and attitudes that teaching and learning promote must be responsive to local needs and expectations. Educational systems must be developed and evaluated through processes involving the local leadership and the context within which they are created. This approach by no means underestimates the fact that the world has become indeed a small but nonetheless expansive interdependent village. For the local initiatives to succeed, they must also shift gears to keep up with a rapidly developing world. At present, it is vital that further research be carried out in different global settings centering on local needs in relation to the global challenges. With this in mind, our goal for this conference on Quality in Education: Local Needs, Global Challenges is to begin to establish a road map in order to amplify local needs and capabilities in the global education agenda.