Press Release

As Leaders Pursue Universal Education, Experts Ask: What Are the Goals?


Authors from Diverse Perspectives Try to Define Universal Education Goals in New Academy Publication

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. – World leaders and international agencies have focused increasing attention and resources on expanding access to schooling in recent decades, but there is little agreement on the goals of universal education. In a new volume from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, authors from diverse perspectives address the question, “What should be the goals of basic and secondary education of high quality?”

Despite broad consensus in the international community that educational goals are intrinsic to achieving educational quality, there is wide variation in education goals between nations and cultures, and frequently the goals are not well articulated at all. According to the authors of International Perspectives on the Goals of Universal Basic and Secondary Education, all nations, whether rich or poor, should devote more attention to defining basic and secondary education goals.

Authors from Africa, the Middle East, Asia, Europe, and North and South America offer divergent and constructive views that reflect their own political, economic, social, and religious contexts. They address key questions facing policymakers, such as: What happens when educational goals conflict? What does “high quality” mean in basic and secondary education?

International Perspectives on the Goals of Universal Basic and Secondary Education resulted from the American Academy’s project on Universal Basic and Secondary Education (UBASE), a multidisciplinary study of the rationale, means, and consequences of providing universal education. The book was edited by Joel E. Cohen (Rockefeller and Columbia Universities) and Martin B. Malin (Harvard University) and published by Routledge.Cohen notes that attempts to measure global educational progress, such as annual monitoring reports by UNESCO’s Education for All initiative, are more concerned with tracking “enrollment, attendance, and completion of schooling than with the aims, content, and quality of education offered.”

Cohen and Malin, along with David E. Bloom (Harvard University School of Public Health) edited a previous Academy volume, Educating All Children (MIT Press, 2007). The authors of that earlier book suggested that it is both possible and affordable to achieve universal high-quality education for children between the ages of 6 and 16 by the middle of the 21st century.

Contributors to the new volume include: Bala Ahmed (Bauchi Local Education Authority, Nigeria), author James Carroll, Mohamed Charfi (University of Tunis), Kai-ming Cheng (University of Hong Kong), William K. Cummings (George Washington University), George M. Ingram (Academy for Educational Development), Rebecca Jacobsen (Michigan State University), Ana Carolina Letichevsky (Cesgranrio Foundation, Brasil), Beryl Levinger (Monterey Institute of International Studies), Claudio Madrazo (La Vaca Independiente, Mexico City), Kishore Mahbubani (National University of Singapore), Deborah Meier (New York University), Mary Joy Pigozzi (Academy for Educational Development), Stephen J. Provasnik (National Center for Education Statistics), Vimala Ramachandran (Educational Resource Unit, New Delhi), Hamadi Redissi (University of Tunis), Fernando Reimers (Harvard University), Richard Rothstein (Economic Policy Institute), Laura Hersh Salganik (American Institutes for Research), Marcelo M. Suárez-Orozco (New York University), and Camer Vellani (Aga Khan University).

The UBASE project received support from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and individual donors. More information about the project and selected chapters from the volumes are available online.

Founded in 1780, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences is an independent policy research center that conducts multidisciplinary studies of complex and emerging problems. Current Academy research focuses on science and technology policy; global security; social policy; the humanities and culture; and education. With headquarters in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the Academy’s work is advanced by its 4,600 elected members, who are leaders in the academic disciplines, the arts, business and public affairs from around the world. (




Universal Basic and Secondary Education

Joel E. Cohen and David E. Bloom