“With the deadline for the Education for All goals less than two years away, it is clear that, despite advances over the past decade, not a single goal will be achieved globally by 2015. This year’s EFA Global Monitoring Report vividly underlines the fact that people in the most marginalized groups have continued to be denied opportunities for education over the decade. It is not too late, however, to accelerate progress in the final stages. And it is vital to put in place a robust global post-2015 education framework to tackle unfinished business while addressing new challenges. Post-2015 education goals will only be achieved if they are accompanied by clear, measurable targets with indicators tracking that no one is left behind, and if specific education financing targets for governments and aid donors are set”.
It is easy to apportion blame, but to do so will have little or no impact upon the situation. The recently published Education For All Global Monitoring Report 2013/14, from which the above quotation is taken, makes it clear that the millennium development goals which were established to improve the lives of millions of disadvantaged individuals and groups are not going to be achieved. This is a terrible indictment of the lack of focus maintained upon one of the most critical factors of human rights, that of attaining equity and justice for marginalised individuals. However, simply wringing our hands and looking for a scapegoat is not what is needed at this time. We also need to bear in mind that those countries struggling to provide even the most rudimentary child care and education are often under pressure from many directions. Sub Saharan Africa is often cited in the report as an area of great concern. Imagine what it must be like here to be an education policy maker fighting for the rights of a child in an area of war or famine or environmental degradation. Where would you start to put things right?
The report contains a vast amount of information and should be essential reading for all who claim to be working for a fairer education system and particularly those of us who sit in positions of comfort and privilege. The majority of individuals highlighted in this report are powerless and unlikely to effect the changes necessary to improve their lives unless they receive the support of those of us who have benefited from the services that others have been denied.
There is far too much within this report to consider in a short piece such as this and I therefore intend to return to this important document over the coming days and maybe even weeks. Furthermore, I hope that those of us who have been entering into dialogue, or at least sharing the pages of this blog will keep the report to the forefront of their minds and those of others who have responsibilities for children and families. If you have something to say, post your comments – let’s try to learn from each other. My lone voice is powerless, but by involving others we may gain some momentum in the necessary debate.
As a teacher I am always urging my students to begin with an analysis of strengths rather than simply finding fault, and there are certainly some positive statements within the latest Education For All Global Monitoring Report. So my early attention will be to those improvements in the lives of children identified by the authors of this important document. Sadly, when positives are reported they are often accompanied by a caveat reporting a more negative view of specific regions.
Early intervention has been shown to have a positive impact upon the lives of children. Providing early learning and care sets them on the path to a good education and also enables professionals to identify learning needs and plan actions for the support of children likely to have problems with learning, sociability or health. The report states that:-
“Since 2000, pre-primary education has expanded considerably. The global pre-primary education gross enrolment ratio increased from 33% in 1999 to 50% in 2011, although it reached only 18% in sub-Saharan Africa. The number of children enrolled in pre-primary schools grew by almost 60 million over the period”.
A focus upon this aspect of education has clearly reaped rewards, even if this is an uneven picture. There are committed organisations and individuals working hard to give children a better start in life. In India I am aware of the important work undertaken by organisations such as the Madhuram Narayanan Centre for Exceptional Children who have been working with UNICEF to train teachers and other professionals in providing support in the early years of children’s lives. Since my first visit to Bangalore in 2000 the work of good colleagues such as Mrs Rukmini Krishnaswamy (affectionately known as Mrs K) who have supported parents alongside training thousands of teachers, have impacted positively upon the early identification and support of children, many from poor circumstances. These organisations and individuals give us cause to believe that the situation can be improved.
However, whilst there is improvement we could certainly be doing better. This latest report indicates a gross inequality of service being provided. Whilst early intervention has increased, we need to look beyond the numbers to gain a true picture of what is happening. Access to early intervention is critical for those children likely to be at greatest risk, yet the report indicates that:-
“In many parts of the world, however, there is a wide gap in enrolment between the richest and poorest. Part of the reason is that governments have yet to assume sufficient responsibility for pre-primary education: as of 2011, private providers were catering for 33% of all enrolled children, rising to 71% in the Arab States. The cost of private provision is one of the factors that contribute to inequity in access at this level”.
I stated earlier on this page that I would try today to emphasise a positive angle from the report. Whilst it may be easier to find fault than to celebrate success, there is some indication that figures are moving in the right direction. Sadly, the rate of progress is painfully slow and as indicated in today’s final excerpt from the report included below, it looks destined to remain tardy for the foreseeable future. But let us consider this. Behind every small step of progress there are individuals working hard for the improvement of children’s lives. If every one of us can increase our own efforts and the support that these committed individuals are given by just 1% then we will see improvements over the coming years.
“No target was set at Dakar in 2000 to guide assessment of success in early childhood education. To gauge progress, this Report has set a pre-primary education gross enrolment ratio of 80% as an indicative target for 2015. Of the 141 countries with data, 21% had reached the target in 1999. By 2011, the number had risen to 37%. Looking ahead to 2015, it is projected that 48% of countries will reach the target. An 80% target is modest, leaving many young children, often the most vulnerable, out of pre-school. Any post-2015 goal must provide a clear target to make sure all young children have access to pre-primary education, and a way to track the progress of disadvantaged groups to be sure they do not miss out”.
You can download a full copy of the report from: http://www.unesco.org/new/en/education/themes/leading-the-international-agenda/efareport/reports/2013