Education International
Education International

Challenges to quality education

published 12 July 2013 updated 3 October 2013

Quality education: broad, right-based definition

Quality education: broad, right-based definition

“Concerning quality education, nothing is more important than to make sure that you do not define quality education in a narrow way: quality education is broad, not only in its purpose, but also in terms of what it entails.

“I sometimes say that even if you have 90 per cent of children at school, you will still not be really close to a quality education system if the 10 per cent who are left out are the most vulnerable, because you do not have an equality focus.

“When we look at quality education, we therefore need to not only look at the aggregated numbers, we have to disaggregate them and look at what is the situation for girls, for children with special needs, for Indigenous groups. We have to check that we have a system that is actually reaching out to all.

“That is very important today, when everything is measured by numbers, because you can have positive numbers overall, but if minorities are not included because they do not create a big impact on the statistics, you certainly cannot consider that you have achieved universal quality education for all.

“So, quality comes into the content of education, which must be sensitive to diversity, and extends into teachers’ training, teaching and learning materials, the curriculum and textbooks.”

Pakistan: Hierarchy of exclusion

“You will see a lot of the same things in Pakistan.

“There is also a pyramid when it comes to access to education and we know, more or less, who will be the last ones to be included: usually, you reach the cities before you reach the rural areas; you reach boys before girls; you reach the mainstream population before the indigenous populations or the minorities; you reach the students with no special needs before the students with special needs.

“You can see that hierarchy in Pakistan. Cities have a higher school enrolment rate than rural areas where there are many communities with no schools at all. And we know that the enrolment rate for girls is much lower than that of the boys.

Girls’ education hampered by culture and tradition

“Now, our special focus in Pakistan is girls because their rate of school participation and completion is low, and the country has a very high drop-out rate too, both for boys and girls, but especially for girls.

“It is not the only country, but it is an example of a country where, in addition to working on the infrastructure, financing and public policies, they have to work on the cultural aspect and the attitudes, particularly with regards to girls’ education. Some will say it is a religious matter: I do not know how much of it is religious, but to me it is more of a cultural and traditional aspect.

“There are fundamentalists connected to the Taliban who actively work against girls having an education, shamelessly destroying schools providing education to girls, attacking them, threatening parents and girls against school participation. They always see girls’ education as a threat, particularly because being educated also means that you become independent.

“Some of this is just an inherited attitude and way of doing things. So, you need to work across a broad spectrum and also on changing attitudes, and that has to be done from within. I do not believe that we can or even should come from the outside and tell them what the right attitude is. However, we can support those who are working towards girls’ education, starting with local communities, and convincing them that this is good for their girls.

“I wish to stress that there are success stories: the rate of participation is increasing and you see girls who are breaking through social classes, coming out of poverty and managing to get an education, then becoming role models themselves.

“In Pakistan, they have just held elections, so I think it is important to seize the momentum. With the new government getting into place after the elections, things will hopefully calm down.

EI’s collaboration to advocate for education

“We came together with our affiliates and other cooperating partners such as the UN Special Envoy for Global Education, Gordon Brown. We got together to join forces, as in Haiti, to put demands on the government to have a development plan and a follow-up of this plan’s implementation.

“EI will also shortly launch a scholarship fund in Pakistan focusing on girls’ education.

“Above all, we want to sure that when violent people kill teachers, kill students, oppose girls’ education, they know that we are watching them. This is about putting the spotlight on what is happening, mobilising the local and global communities into distancing themselves from this terrible attitude. It is also about supporting those who are brave enough not to give up on a good cause and who need to know that they are not alone in their struggle to ensure quality education for all, including girls and women.

“I believe that Malala Day, the initiative by the UN Special Envoy for Global Education Gordon Brown, to be celebrated on November 10, is about the same thing: Malala is one girl, a symbol of bravery and fighting for a very important cause, i.e. girls’ education. On that day, we will be focusing on girls’ education all over the world, not just in Pakistan.

Emergency assistance to help rebuilding efforts

Emergency assistance to help rebuilding efforts

“Then there is the question of where do you start: that is why EI went into Haiti with emergency assistance, helping affiliates and teachers to get the basic infrastructure back after the earthquake hit.

“Now, they still have not rebuilt the country completely, and our support is increasingly directed at supporting our affiliates in building a coalition for quality public education in the country. We focus on how teachers, as professionals, and their unions can become agents and solutions to develop a quality public education system.

“With January’s mission, we were able to support our affiliates in not only having their campaign to build a quality public education system in Haiti, but also in bringing this campaign to the authorities, having a dialogue and cooperation with the latter to move forward.  We want to influence authorities with the right suggestions.

Haiti: Small, sustainable steps towards quality education under teachers’ supervision

“In Haiti, the government has developed a good plan on how to move forward. EI and its affiliates are the experts on what needs doing, but are also watchdogs monitoring that the plan for education is actually implemented. It is a difficult role to take, as you cannot expect to have quality public education for all children tomorrow in this country, so you have to agree to take one step at a time, sustainable steps building on each other for the future.

“While Haiti has to work to developing public education, it also has to work on its teacher training, higher education and curriculum development.

“Even if the Government itself does not have the money to finance the public sector, it can get involved and start taking control through teacher training and curriculum development.

“It is all about finding the right way forward and it is different for every country, because they have different levels of development.

Haiti lacks the money and the infrastructure; to a certain extent, it also lacks the public policies, but it is getting some of these in place, and teachers are crucial to implementing education policies.

“Haiti is a very good example in that respect: 85 per cent of education there is private. We can go into Haiti and take control of the national education system - but you have to realise that, even if you put the whole national public budget on the table, you would not be able to fund education for all. There is a big challenge in building a public sector in Haiti, because politicians actually do not have control over what public services should be.

“Furthermore, if you want to develop a country as an independent country, you have to support the long-term development of the infrastructure of a political system and a public education system. This means that you need to link individual schools together in the same system.

Devastating natural disasters

“Also, natural disasters struck both Haiti and Pakistan. It is devastating for poor countries that so many of them have natural disasters: they are so severe when they strike because these countries do not have the funds to prevent or deal with the consequences afterwards.

“It is different in a society such as Japan, where [natural disaster awareness] is part of education and the whole society is trained on what to do when an earthquake disaster strikes. Some say that the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti was terrible, but it could have been a little better. Just look at the diseases that developed after the earthquake: if you had vaccination programmes, if you had had the knowledge that just by educating girls and women on the importance of letting your children have vaccination, you could have prevented some of the epidemics and diseases later. This is definitely a vicious circle where, in many ways, education is the solution and the tool to promote development.