By Baela Raza Jamil, Founding Member PAL Network and Director of Programs Idara-e-Taleem-o-Aagahi and the Institute for Professional Learning, as well as Coordinator of the South Asian Forum for Education Development.
While Kenya and Nairobi were at a standstill preparing for the US President Barack Obama’s Airforce I to land on July 24 for the Global Entrepreneurship Summit, in another beautiful scenic setting, a global network on learning was born! The network will help hold countries accountable for ensuring their children are not just in school, but also learning. Committed to transparently conducting citizen-led household based assessments on learning, the network will increasingly enable communities to hold their leaders to account; it will support the call for lifelong learning for all – central to the new SDG on education.
The People’s Action for Learning (PAL), Network was formally established last week by nine passionate country groups who came together at Lake Naivasha Kongoni, Kenya last week. The PAL Network is a unique brand, aspiring to become a universal movement where learning is at the centre of all education endeavours. Led by ordinary citizens, it is committed to household based assessments for each child.
The PAL Network is an organically evolved group of grounded activists and thought leaders across three continents: Asia, Africa and Latin America. They have vowed to expand the membership from nine to 25 countries by 2025. The network seeks commitment to a global fraternity that is firmly embedded in a belief in citizen led learning assessments and action, rooted in evidence that is easily understood and propagated widely.
From strong beginnings in India in 2005, the movement has expanded to South Asia, East and West Africa, and Latin America. Of the nine member countries, four are from the nine most highly populated countries of the world (India, Pakistan, Nigeria and Mexico) and all are conducting verbal ‘one to one’ assessments for each child.
“Each Child” is a unique target for the PAL network, who believe that all deserve to learn and participate actively in personal and social development. The principles of quality, equity and accountability of this citizens’ led movement and its committed leaders have resonated well at many influential forums in the run up to the finalization of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) especially SDG 4 and its targets and the recent Incheon Declaration adopted in May 2015 at the World Education Forum by global leaders.
Navigating the rich multi-cultural and multi-lingual conversations of 20 participants from this south-south initiative, debates over the two day event in Nairobi last week were rich and lively. Much was achieved: the network’s charter was finalized after fine tuning the vision and mission, capturing well the essence of the movement, as were the principles of practice and governance.
Sub-committees were formed to energize the network through strands of communication and advocacy, capacity building, assessment for action, research and fundraising. A non-hierarchical democratic Steering Committee was also established representing all nine countries with equal voices.
The two days were a testimony to respect for diversity, voice, dialectical consensus and coming together of countries which have jointly assessed over one million children aged 5-16 annually. The numbers of children covered are staggering, the methods robust and all findings accessible to any citizen keen to find out whether children are learning or not.
Ten years of citizen-led assessments prior to the formal launch of the PAL Network are testament to an authentic demand led process thus far. The voluntary membership of the network is the soul of this movement: it is run with people’s energy and ideas on the most fundamental of human entitlements: “the right to learn”.