Since the nineties’ Education for All (EFA) and Millennium Development Goal 2 (MDG 2) have put formal education on the agenda of governments, international organisations and donor agencies. Lots of efforts and means have been mobilised to ensure equal access for all to foremost primary education, but to secondary education as well. Large and impressive improvements on access have been achieved, including access for girls.

But we also need to admit that the successful access-story has its serious drawbacks: in Uganda for instance, previously one of the so called “donor darlings”, enrolments have risen to even 94.5 %, but retention and completion rates are far from satisfactory, since drop-out in primary is as high as 48 %. Moreover, at the level of P6 many children cannot read, write and calculate properly (59 % on English, 54 % on numeracy). The same applies to many other countries throughout the world. We can hardly call this a successful development. Some even call it the collapse of the education system. Unfortunately and in many cases, high enrolments and easy measurable quick results appeared to be more important than effectiveness (read: quality), resulting into overcrowded classrooms and ill-prepared underpaid demotivated teachers.

Besides, the focus on formal education by EFA and MDG 2 was at the expense of participatory non-formal (adult) education, being very well developed and effectively implemented in many countries (being also suitable for teaching and learning of children and youth), foremost by NGO’s. Since EFA and MDG 2 participatory non-formal education, despite its proven effectiveness and cost-efficiency, is almost completely ignored and forgotten, and the still existing vast body of knowledge regarding effective non-formal methodologies is at risk of getting lost soon.

Another but interlinked problem is the demographic fact that the world has never before seen such large numbers of children and youth, foremost in the Middle-East, Africa, the Caribbean and South and Southeast Asia: today, 1.5 billion people are ages 12–24 worldwide, 1.3 billion of them in developing countries, the most ever in history (World Development Report, 2014). Many of them reaching adulthood without being properly prepared for today’s challenges and opportunities, due to a low quality and therefore irrelevant education. But they have already looked through the window of opportunities offered by today’s world, via modern media. Of course they would like to join that world, to take part and to express their talents, to seek for a meaningful life, but they lack the minimal competences necessary and feel excluded. Frustration and anger could very well be the negative effects, with its devastating fall-out on societies: undesirable behaviour, including various types of violence and abuse.

The launch, in September 2015, of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s: 2016 – 2030) could provide for a highly necessary turning point. SDG 4 on ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education and lifelong learning for all, proposes the establishment of quality education for obtaining and enhancing the necessary competences for access to employment, for youth and adults. It also includes a focus on early childhood development, being a determining factor for successful learning. The private sector is explicitly invited to take its share in implementing quality education, since it is obviously in their interest too to educate competent employees and to avoid unrest in society. We must however resist the existing temptation to aim for easily measurable and quick results, at the expense of improving the quality, and prepare ourselves for long-term commitments: a school is not just a building… The urgent question now is: what do we mean by quality education and how could we measure it?