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 Providing learning Opportunities for All                by Koïchiro Matsuura

In his Editorial following EFA Week UNESCO Director-General Koichiro Matsuura supports all forms of non-formal approaches to providing learning opportunities for out-of-school children, particularly those that involve the community. "Governments, international organizations, donors and non-governmental organizations should consider this," he says, "all options for learning are apt provided the quality of education is not compromised, and unorthodox approaches are worthy of dignity and recognition."

Over 700,000 children in more than 100 countries lobbied their parliaments last April to make greater efforts to provide basic education for more than 100 million children left out of school. Participating in the Education for All Big Lobby, thousands of children - from Chile to Bangladesh, from Denmark to Mali - called on their legislators to do more to give all children a chance to go to school.

This event comes exactly four years since the international community undertook to guarantee education for all (EFA) by 2015.

Since then a great deal of progress has been made, if unevenly --  670 million children are receiving the first-level schooling they need to continue their education, or find a job.

But more needs to be done for the estimated 104 million left by the wayside, blighting prospects for themselves and for the societies in which they live.

The out-of-school children are strongly concentrated in Sub-Saharan Africa and South and West Asia, according to the latest Education for All Monitoring Report, published by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Many of the excluded children --  about 60 percent of whom are girls --  are among the rural poor. Others include street children, AIDS orphans, children at work, members of minorities, children with disabilities and those caught up in conflicts.  Young people beyond elementary school age who have missed out on an education also need help in order to enable them to catch up.

Experience shows that removing school fees can cause a dramatic leap in enrolment. So can providing incentives to needy parents, as Brazil does by paying a monthly stipend to 10 million poor families. Countries like Niger, Guinea-Bissau and Bangladesh have markedly improved enrolment by the simple expedient of offering school meals.

Such measures on their own are not enough, however, and it is necessary to rethink the concept of schooling in some circumstances.  Children cannot get an education where there are not enough teachers, either because it is too expensive to train or pay them or because, as in some parts of Africa, so many of them are dying of AIDS.  Trained teachers are often unwilling to work in rural areas, and the formal school system often excludes large groups of children, such as those who work or who do not speak the official language.

Several countries have experimented with ways out of this dilemma, and invariably the solution lies in involving the community.

The Indian state of Rajasthan provides an example of innovative and flexible thinking.  With the help of the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, regional and national authorities have established an extensive project of barefoot teachers known as Shiksha Karmi, or educational worker.

The project, launched in 1987, faced initial hostility - particularly from regular teachers, who could not see how it could provide a quality education -- but has since proved so successful that many parents prefer the community-based schools.

The Shiksha Karmi teachers, all of whom are recruited young and many of whom are women, come from the community and are therefore well-placed to know which children are left out of school. They undergo 37 days of intensive training before facing their first class and receive frequent top-up courses that make them the equal of professional teachers within eight years. 

To ensure high academic standards, each group of about 15 Shiksha Karmi teachers is supported by three professional teachers. The schools are tailored to the needs of the children. To give an example, they offer classes at night for children who work during the day, and the textbooks are printed in large type so that they can be read under feeble lighting, while women from the community provide escorts for girls and help in the schoolrooms.

Governments, international organizations, donors and non-governmental organizations should consider this:  all options for learning are apt provided the quality of education is not compromised, and unorthodox approaches are worthy of dignity and recognition.

Educating the young - ALL the young -- today will ensure social and economic development tomorrow by reducing illiteracy affecting an estimated 860 million adults. Educating girls, in particular, will have a measurable effect on health and demography.

Koïchiro Matsuura

 

Rights, Equality and Education for All.           The Leap to Equality

Educational inequality is a major infringement of the rights of women and girls
All countries have pledged to eliminate gender disparities in primary and secondary education by 2005. According to the new edition of the EFA Global Monitoring Report, 54 countries are at risk of not achieving this goal on present trends.More than 56 percent of the 104 million out of school children are girls and over two-thirds of the world’s 860 million illiterates are women.But reaching equality is not just a question of numbers. It implies the same chances of learning, of benefiting from equitable treatment within the school and the same opportunities in terms of employment, wages and civic participation.This new edition of the Report highlights innovative and best practice, suggests priorities for national strategies and examines how the international community is meeting its commitments towards EFA.

"Education for All" means what it says. The international community has committed itself, in the Dakar Framework for Action, to having all eligible children attending fee-free primary schooling by 2015. In addition, adult illiteracy is to be halved, early childhood education and programmes for out-of-school youth are to be increased, and the quality of education is to be much improved. ‘All children’ includes, of course, boys and girls. However, both the Framework and the Millennium Declaration emphasize that gender disparities in primary and secondary schooling are to be eliminated by 2005, and that equality throughout education is to be achieved within a further ten years. Gender equality, then, is given major prominence in the Dakar and Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Why is this?

In no society do women yet enjoy the same opportunities as men. They work longer hours and they are paid less, both in total and pro rata. Their choices as to how they spend their time, in both work and leisure, are constrained than they are for men. These disparities generate substantial gaps between how much women and men can contribute to society, and how much they respectively share in its benefits. In most countries, a fundamental aspect of these disparities, which is both one of their causes and one of their continuing consequences, is inequality in access to and performance in education. These inequalities are deep-seated, and will require special attention and commitment if they are to be removed within the time-frame envisaged by the Education for All (EFA) goals. Accordingly, this report focuses on the main dimensions and causes of these educational inequalities and identifies strategies whereby they can be overcome.

The continuing prevalence of educational inequality is a major infringement of the rights of women and girls, and it is also an important impediment to social and economic development. This first chapter is concerned not with philosophical questions about the appropriate nature or extent of these ‘rights’. Rather it documents the extent to which such rights are already accepted as legally binding on states by virtue of international treaty, or are promised by international declarations which governments have approved. The important developmental case for securing educational equality is also briefly discussed.

Chapter 2 provides an assessment of the world’s recent progress towards achieving the six EFA goals, giving particular attention to gender and to the ways in which it affects the implementation of all of Dakar’s educational aims. Chapters 3 and 4 focus upon the causes of gender inequality in education and upon potential solutions, respectively. The following two chapters adopt a broader agenda – assessing progress with national EFA strategies in Chapter 5 and examining the extent to which international commitments in support of EFA are being met in Chapter 6. The final chapter pulls together these strands, outlining the major elements of national and international strategy towards achieving a genuinely equitable education for all.

UNESCO

 
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