|Looking Back 10 Years and Anticipating the New Century
in Basic Education
Huge issues demand huge attention, and they deserve it. It was to discuss
such an issue that they came to the Forum held in Dakar, Senegal: 1,500 delegates
from over 180 countries that included a few Heads of State, more than 100
ministers, decision makers, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, heads
of the 5 agencies convening the Forum: UNDP (United Nations Development Programme),
UNESCO, UNICEF (United Nations Children's Fund), UNFPA (United Nations Population
Fund) and the World Bank; representatives of bilateral development agencies,
150 non-governmental organisations, the private sector and the media. Their
presence attested to the growing consensus that sustainable development depends
on investment in education and that education is a fundamental right and an
effective tool for preventing conflicts and building peace.
Such an education can only be built on strong foundations. Good quality basic education provides such foundations. The vision of such a basic education was promulgated at the historic World Conference on Education for All in Jomtien, Thailand, in 1990. The conference also adopted a framework which, however ambitious, set clear direction and worldwide action towards achieving education for all. Reaching this policy consensus and the agreement on the set of aspirational goals was indeed a remarkable achievement.
Ten years later, in April 2000, the World Education Forum met in Dakar to review progress towards the vision for Education for All (EFA) presented at the Jomtien Conference. A global synthesis report provided the most comprehensive picture ever of the state of basic education in the world. More than 180 countries prepared for the Forum by participating in the EFA Assessment, a detailed review of the state of basic education. It was an unparalleled store of information and analysis. While the Assessment is the biggest stocktaking of education in history, there are concerns over the quality of data, especially on the nature and quality of teaching and learning and of educational outcomes at all levels in education systems.
The look back into the decade since the Jomtien conference revealed trends, developments, stagnation, setbacks, challenges and achievements. The analysis of the global picture revealed 3 clear achievements:
- Mobilizing global action to improve education.
- Developing the knowledge base and analytic capacity. The EFA initiative has provided an effective mechanism for sharing knowledge and experience on what works in accelerating education development and making education accessible to all. The capacity to monitor and evaluate has been greatly enhanced.
- Identifying and clarifying the areas requiring further concerted action.
A Contrasting Picture of Progress, Stagnation and Challenges
Commitment, involvement and the rate of progress have been uneven.
- Significant improvement in access. The number of children in school has risen significantly from 599 million in 1991 to 681 million in 1998. Since 1990, the number of out-of-school children has decreased from 127 million in 1990 to 113 million in 1998. Some 10 million more children go to school every year, which is nearly double the 1980-90 average. East Asia, the Pacific, Latin America and the Caribbean are now close to achieving universal primary education.
- Big reduction in some countries in inequities, notably in areas of gender, disability and ethnic minorities. The gender gap has narrowed globally, but there remain considerable regional variations, and disparities are still particularly pronounced in the Arab States, South Asia and the Sub-Saharan regions.
- A big reduction in a small number of countries in the number and rate of adult illiteracy.
- The number of literate adults more than doubled between 1970 and 1998 from 1.5 billion to 3.3 billion. However, while the overall adult literacy rate has risen to 85% for men and 74% for women, illiteracy rates remain too high, especially female illiteracy. At least 875 million adults remain illiterate, two-thirds of them women - exactly the same proportion as 10 years ago.
- Despite the overall improvements, education reform in some countries stood still during the '90s or there have been declines.
- There has been a decline in public provision of education in Eastern Europe and Central Asia.
- Potential gains in Africa have been eroded as a result of civil war and the ravages of AIDS.
- Education, particularly that of girls and women, has proved its effectiveness in China and India, which have made impressive progress towards achieving universal primary education.
- Not all targets have been pursued with the necessary vigour. A notable example is that in many countries adult literacy and non-formal education are not accorded sufficient priority and are at the margins of reform efforts.
The Asia-Pacific Picture
Dominant themes for each of the four sub-groups within Asia-Pacific are:
- The persistent gender gap in the large countries of South Asia
- The need for education management reforms in the changing economies of the Trans Caucasus and Central Asia
- The need to address the problems of youth in the particular circumstances of Pacific States
- The need for sustaining EFA gains in economic crisis situations in East and Southeast Asia
The following observations can also be drawn from the Asia- Pacific situation:
- With the exception of a few countries mainly in the East and Southeast Asia, ECCD (Early Childhood Care and Development) was not extensively developed in the Asia-Pacific region. By the end of the decade, the Trans Caucasus showed rapid decline in the ECCD sector. Children from poorer families or from remote or disadvantaged areas have a lesser degree of access to pre-primary education.
- In nearly all countries participation rates have improved and the incidence of age appropriate enrolment has increased. Although the disparity in favour of males was reduced in East and Southeast Asia, it remained a characteristic of West and South Asia. A closer look at the problem revealed that the problem is located mainly in remote areas and rural provinces of just a few countries.
- Improvement in the quality of education is important and urgent as it is one area in which the Asia-Pacific region is weak.
- While repetition and survival rates show improvement, many countries have introduced automatic grade promotion policies.
- In adult literacy, remarkable progress was achieved in a few countries, including China, and modest progress in others over the last decade.
- Very few countries have provided numerical data concerning the development of NFE (non-formal education) programmes and services. In some countries, such as the Philippines, considerable progress has been made through expansion of the NFE sector and articulation of the formal with the non-formal system.
The New Agenda
Delegates from 181 countries attending the World Education Forum in Dakar adopted a Framework for Action committing their governments to achieve quality basic education for all, with a special focus on education for girls. The six goals they have set themselves include:
- Expanding and improving comprehensive early childhood care and education, especially for the most vulnerable and disadvantaged children.
- Ensuring that by 2015 all children, especially girls, children in difficult circumstances and from ethnic minorities, have access to and complete free and compulsory primary education of good quality.
- Ensuring that the learning needs of all young people are met through equitable access to appropriate learning and life skills programmes.
- Achieving a 50 percent improvement in the levels of adult literacy by 2015.
- Eliminating gender disparities in primary and secondary education by 2005 and achieving gender equality by 2015.
- Improving all aspects of the quality of education to achieve recognized and measurable learning outcomes for all-especially in literacy, numeracy and essential life skills.
A 10-year initiative on girls' education was launched at the Forum by the Secretary-General of the UN. The initiative is based on the recognition that education of girls brings immediate benefit for nutrition, health, savings and investment at family, community and ultimately country level. It is a long term investment that yields an exceptionally high return.
Poverty is the single most important factor explaining the inability to meet target goals set by governments. The Dakar Declaration included the commitment to provide more money for basic education through increased aid and debt relief. It established a clear intention by international bodies that no government will fail to provide basic education to its people for want of money: it will be made available to all governments in poor countries that agree to seriously commit themselves to developing national plans to bring basic education to all their citizens by 2015.
For the NGOs the Declaration was not enough. Their response was mixed. They claimed there was no precise timing for achieving certain goals, no binding commitment to provide money but welcomed the commitment for free primary education by 2015 and for recognizing the importance of civil society in the context of education for all.
Anticipating the New Century in the Asia-Pacific Region
New challenges to education have emerged in the 1990s: the collapse of Communism in Europe, the revolution in communication and information technologies and growing globalization. Many global trends were not foreseen at the World Conference on Education for All in Jomtien, especially the rapid spread of HIV/AIDS and the proliferation of ethnic conflicts. In the coming years we need to place special attention on ways in which basic education could respond to issues related to these challenges. Immediate and urgent attention is also required to improve the state of basic education. Examples of action needed include:
- Build new comprehensive EMISs (Educational Management Information System) with strong monitoring and evaluation components. Efforts made so far deserve encouragement and support.
- Reduce the persistent gender gap in all areas.
- Take action to redress the lack of access to early childhood care and education to disadvantaged groups especially in rural areas.
- Harness new technologies to benefit the poor.
- Motivate teachers and help them acquire a better understanding of their changing role.
- Realize that the challenge will continue to be enormous especially due to demographic pressures and increased poverty that many countries experience.
- Use low cost and more efficient options for providing basic education.
- Increase focus on what is happening to children's learning and development rather than only on "growth" of the system.
- Recognize that learning is not a prerogative of schools but it also takes place outside them.
- Develop appropriate markers and indicators along the way to assess progress.
- Ensure that the programmes of various components of EFA (ECCD, Literacy, Primary Education, Continuing Education...) are well linked to EFA and not pursued as independent activities.
- Adopt more effective and imaginative approaches for reaching children on the margins of society.
- Adopt measures for greater integration of children with disabilities into mainstream schools.
- Develop a better understanding of the socio-cultural, economic and physical factors that exclude children from education (including partnership between school and families, adequate support for teachers, building effective linkages between formal and non-formal education, effective partnership between non-governmental organisations and governments).
- Come to grips with the potential and actual extent of the HIV/AIDS impacts on education in order to take appropriate action to respond to and even control the situation. Education can equip children intellectually, affectively, morally, so that they can make sound decisions, deal with pressures, keep themselves free of HIV infection, and extend compassion, solidarity, and care to all who are affected by the disease.
- Teach children to listen, not just hierarchical listening ability of listening only to the teacher, but to listen to each other and, therefore, to discuss in a spirit of tolerance.
Advocacy was instrumental in securing larger contributions from international and national agencies and in keeping before national governments the singular importance of EFA for longer term development. However, towards the end of the decade there was a noticeable reduction of funds from donor agencies. The EFA Assessment exercise has served to renew and re-invigorate advocacy efforts and generate renewed commitment and support for the flow of funds, loans and grants to developing countries for all aspects of EFA. Finance, of course, is a means to the end (EFA). There are other equally fundamental issues such as the content, method, ways of assessing and planning and managing.
In his inaugural speech to the General Conference of UNESCO on 15 November 1999, the new Director-General of UNESCO, Mr. Koichiro Matsuura, said, "One of my stewardship's absolute priorities will be to assist and reinforce Basic Education wherever needed - with due regard for the local culture. Basic education for young children, both boys and girls, is the single key to their future, to any hope for employment, livelihood, and social emancipation. It is also the first and necessary step towards democratizing access to higher education or vocational training. Indeed, basic education is the true driving force for sustainable development in the world. I shall pursue this effort on behalf of basic education in every practical way throughout the term of my office."
UNESCO PROAP, through its Asia Pacific Programme of Education for All (APPEAL), is determined and committed to continuing its role of supporting Member States in accelerating progress towards Education for All in Asia and the Pacific.
A.H.A. Hakeem, Education Advisor and Co-ordinator, Asia Pacific Programme of Education for All
(APPEAL), UNESCO PROAP
Prior to taking up h is appointment at UNESCO PROAP in Bangkok in February 2000, Mr. Hakeem served as Deputy Minister of Education and Secretary-General of the Maldives National Commission for UNESCO, after the Founding Director of the Institute of Teacher Education in the Maldives and Director of Educational Planning. He has been associated with the activities of UNESCO and ACCU since 1990. He undertook his higher studies in Australia.