By Fred van Leeuwen, general secretary of Education International, the global federation of teacher unions
It is clear that the world will not meet the goal of universal primary education by the year 2015 as planned in the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals. That is the bad news.
But it’s very important to state the good news as well; primary school enrolment has increased by more than 10% over the past decade. And more than that, gender participation gaps have narrowed and more students are making the transition to secondary school.
In any endeavour, more so in such a critical global priority as the education of our children, it is vital that we be objective about the evidence; that we use facts and our experience of events to chart a course for the future.
From the perspective of the world’s teachers, the evidence shows us that the international focus must be widened beyond mere access to education. Access to quality education is critical and can no longer be ignored. Unfortunately, millions of students around the world who have been enrolled in school, even for a period of years, cannot read or write at even a basic level. And the issue of quality is not reserved to the Third World. One recent study said that although the United States spends more than $3.7 billion a year in school costs, “too many students are not learning the basic skills needed to succeed in college or work while they are in high school.”
Evidence of the need for and value of quality education will be coming into even sharper focus as UNESCO’s forthcoming 2013/14 Education for All Global Monitoring Report presents data on the impact of properly trained teachers and quality education systems on students and on nations. This subject will be discussed in depth on Oct. 4 as Education International launches a year of action, a special initiative for quality education at UNICEF in New York, at UNESCO in Paris and around the world.
The purpose of the initiative is to raise awareness among governments, inter-governmental organizations, financial institutions, community leaders and the general public about the critical role quality education plays in the development of the individual and society.
Education International is leading a global movement, with EI’s more than 30 million educators from 170 nations mobilizing and joining with parents and students, communities and governments, NGOs, business leaders and international organizations, to demand access to a quality education for every student and remind decision-makers that education must be the bedrock of any post-2015 development agenda.
The three pillars of the initiative are:
Quality teaching – ensured through the recruitment of high-calibre candidates to teaching, high-quality initial teacher education and continuous professional development, and attractive salaries and conditions of service, determined through collective bargaining and other forms of social dialogue.
Quality tools – appropriate curricula, and inclusive teaching and learning materials and resources, including textbooks and well-designed information and communications technologies. A quality curriculum that is flexible and developed through an inclusive process that guarantees teachers’ participation is highly desirable.
Quality environments – healthy, safe, secure, supportive and comfortable teaching and learning environments, with appropriate facilities to support student learning and to enable teachers to teach effectively.
On the subject of evidence, special mention must be made of the work of the staff and leadership of the EFA Global Monitoring Report. In a world where too often, speculation is the basis of policy and action, the report maintains a steady empirical focus, overturning stones and shibboleths to find fact, perform analysis and deliver evidence-based tools for advancing global development.
The teacher perspective was on prominent display on July 12 at the United Nation’s Malala Day, named for the young Pakistani girl shot by the Taliban for daring to defy them. There, a a Youth Outcomes document entitled “The World We Want” was presented to the UN secretary-general, Ban Ki-Moon. Among other things, the document asked the world body to “Work urgently to ensure all children have access to quality learning…”
The youth delegations included a contingent from Education International. A young Egyptian teacher spoke, saying her union fights “for the right to education, especially for girls” and urged the UN “to create laws that make going to school an obligation for all children.”
Across the world, this call for access matched with quality is changing the dialogue about our future. This young teacher from Egypt spoke for many who want their education to be about more than what can be tested; they want the tools to participate and succeed in building the future.
We invite all partners who care about the education of our children to join forces with us in our call for quality education for all.