Education International
Education International

Sacrificing education quality is not an option

published 25 November 2008 updated 25 November 2008

The Education For All Global Monitoring Report 2009 provides a useful blueprint for achieving greater equality of opportunity and improved quality of education for learners of all ages around the world.

“Education International applauds the report team for its comprehensive analysis of the multiple factors contributing to the growing inequalities in education,” said Fred van Leeuwen, EI General Secretary. “Teachers and their unions are deeply worried that disparities will continue to widen unless governments focus their efforts on measures to enhance equality as they pursue the Education For All agenda,” he added.

The Global Monitoring Report entitled “Overcoming inequality: why governance matters” is scheduled to be released today in Geneva. It is the seventh report examining worldwide progress towards the six Millennium Development Goals agreed to by the international community in 2000.

It warns that, although much progress has been made, this progress is undermined by a failure to tackle persistent inequalities due to gender, race, ethnicity, language, location, disability or other factors. “Unless governments act to reduce disparities through effective policy reforms, the EFA promise will be broken,” it states.

Education is a fundamental human right, yet opportunities for learning are vastly different across rich and poor countries. For example, the report compares enrolment rates in countries of the OECD with those of sub-Saharan Africa: “By age 7, almost all children in OECD countries are in primary school, compared with 40% for sub-Saharan Africa. At age 20, in OECD countries 30% are in post-secondary education, and 2% in sub-Saharan Africa.”

The report makes sensible recommendations for policy reform to overcome inequality. Among them, it urges governments to:

  • Commit to the reduction of disparities
  • Sustain political leadership
  • Strengthen policies for reducing poverty
  • Raise quality standards in education
  • Increase national education spending
  • Put equity at the centre of financing strategies
  • Strengthen the recruitment, deployment and motivation of teachers

The report highlights the worrisome fact that most donors are falling short of their own stated commitments to increase development assistance. In fact, “Aid to education is stagnating.”

“EI and teachers around the world share the concern that, without a renewed commitment to increased funding and the Fast Track Initiative, much progress could be jeopardized,” van Leeuwen said. “We need to invest more overall, and to invest more strategically by increasing aid to countries with the greatest needs.”

EI also welcomes the report’s insistence on the fundamental responsibility of governments to build and sustain free, quality public school systems that meet the needs of all: “ ... when it comes to basic education, especially in the poorest countries, private finance and provision are not substitutes for public systems that offer everyone the option of a good-quality education.”

Van Leeuwen said EI is pleased that the report acknowledges decentralisation and privatisation are not solutions. Decentralisation, “a potential driver of inequality,” must build in equity and “link resources to levels of poverty and deprivation in education.”

As well, the report asserts, governments must “recognise that school competition and choice, and private-public partnerships have their limits. If a public education system works poorly, the priority must be to fix it.”

The massive looming teacher shortage is another important issue raised, and suggests that the low salaries and poor living standards faced by teachers have implications for recruitment and deployment. The increasing recruitment of so-called contract, or untrained, teachers is a negative trend that can have potentially damaging consequences. The report states: “From an EFA perspective, increasing the supply of teachers while lowering quality standards is false economy.”

“At EI, we couldn’t agree more,” said van Leeuwen. “Millions more teachers are needed by 2015, but in our urgency to meet this need, we must not sacrifice quality. EI is committed to working to ensure our profession delivers high-quality education to students everywhere, and that is only possible when teachers are well-educated, highly-qualified and properly supported.”