What could be achieved with four and a half day’s military spending?

It should surely be obvious!

It should surely be obvious!

Twenty two billion US dollars sounds like a vast sum of money to me; such figures are quite frankly beyond my understanding. But this apparently is the sum that it is estimated would need to be spent annually for the next few years in order to achieve the Education for All goals. This amount of money, so it is reported, would ensure global provision for universal primary education, would see more girls attending and completing school, and would increase educational opportunities for children living in some of the world’s poorest countries. Such a figure could help to achieve a goal to which governments all around the world subscribed in 2000, but one that continues to cause concern and which in some countries is nowhere near being accomplished.

If twenty two billion US dollars per annum is what is required, it is hardly surprising that it so difficult to make progress in this area. After all, such a huge sum of money needs to be provided by wealthier countries, many of whom declare that they are currently facing their own economic challenges. And for those of us who deal with sums of money seldom exceeding the equivalent a few hundred US dollars, twenty two billion is largely beyond our comprehension. I was therefore amazed yesterday when reading a report from the recently held Oslo Summit on Education for Development, which quoted a speech by the Nobel Prize winner Kailash Satyarthi in which he states that twenty two billion US dollars is the equivalent of just 4 ½ days of the level of current military spending around the globe.

This statistics seemed to me quite astounding. Surely Kailash Satyarthi, for all of his authority and despite being a man held in such international respect, must have made a mistake. Could this figure be a true representation of the gulf between spending to improve the lives of children, and the development and deployment of weaponry aimed at destruction? Well yes, it turns out, his figures are correct. A search of official international government spending sources reveals that around twenty two billion US dollars is spent on armaments and other military spending every four and a half days.

Kailash Satyarthi in a statement to the Oslo meeting stated that:-

“The best defence is investment in education. If we had invested in education, the world would be much safer today. Education is not only the key to sustainable development, but also the best shield to defend against terrorism, insurgencies and other obstacles that impede the progress of humankind.”

I find myself, not for the first time, largely in agreement with views expressed by this great children’s rights activist.

Of course, it would be naïve to believe that countries will give up their focus upon spending on military equipment and armaments, particularly at what is seen as a dangerous time in many parts of the world. But Kailash Satyarthi makes a valid point when he suggests that should more of this money be directed at education, it might address some of the issues of poverty, greed, envy and deprivation which are the source of many of the conflicts which currently form a blight on a number of societies.

It can be argued with a degree of confidence,  that significant progress has been made towards achieving the Education for All goals in some parts of the world. India, is an example of one country where the educational opportunities for many, though not all children, have certainly increased. However it might be worth asking questions about why international aid to basic education was cut by almost 10% between 2010 and 2012, yet there has been a steady increase in military spending over the same period. Whilst some countries have benefited significantly from support to improve schooling, others, such as Burkina Faso have lost more than 50% of the aid provided for basic education. Other regions of the world are currently being devastated , and schools destroyed in part through use of the many billions of US dollars being allocated for military purposes.

Satyarthi points out that at this time only 4 per cent of all Overseas Development Assistance is targeted at education. He makes a good case for this being increased to a minimum of 15 per cent. However, he is realistic enough to know that this is not going to happen overnight.

I was motivated to write this piece partly because of my own appalling levels of ignorance in respect of the figures above related to educational aid and military spending. I found myself asking the question, If I am so lacking in appreciation of this situation, how can I expect others who are not so directly involved in education to know what is going on in the world?

The scientists William Moerner, Brian Schmidt and Elizabeth Blackburn, who are also Nobel Prize winners, along with a number of other eminent individuals wrote an open letter to the Oslo Summit  in which they pleaded for a change in this situation. In this letter they say:-

“We urge the international community to loosen the purse strings for the future of our children, to protect them from exploitation and violence, and to invest in their education.”

Does it really demand the learning and intelligence of Nobel Prize winners to make us understand that spending so little on providing basic education  when compared to that spent on military development is a denial of the basic human needs of so many children and future generations? If this really is the case, then those of us who consider ourselves to be “educated” are destined to continue to demonstrate our ignorance.


Being prepared to meet the challenge

Mrs Krishnaswarmy, a great matriarch of special and inclusive education in Bangalore. A lady from whom I have learned much over the past 15 years

Mrs Krishnaswamy, a great matriarch of special and inclusive education in Bangalore. A lady from whom I have learned much over the past 15 years


On my first visit to Bangalore in 2000 I was invited to speak to teachers and parents at a number of events in and near to the city. It was during this initial visit to India, facilitated through the hospitality of my dear friend Satish Inamdar that I first met Indian colleagues who have since become close friends, and with whom I have been working ever since those first sessions in the country. Jayashree Rajanahally has become a good family friend and has worked tirelessly to enable us to develop courses and networks with teachers and parents in south India and has been an influential figure in shaping the work that we do together on the MA in Special and Inclusive Education in the country. Her quiet influence has been an inspiration to myself and many others as we have worked together in India.

Throughout the world I meet individuals whose drive and tenacity have been critical in establishing provision, support and training for those concerned for children from marginalised populations. As I consider the latest UNESCO Global Monitoring Report I reflect upon the work of these dedicated professionals and the impact that they are having on the lives of families. One such person is Mrs Rukmini Krishnaswamy who for more years than she cares to remember has been training teachers to work with children who have been rejected from schools and in some cases excluded from the basics that we would wish for all children. Mrs K still has immense energy, though her mobility is not as good as it has been in the past. She visits villages in remote areas to work with some of the poorest families in Karnataka State and continues to provide training to hundreds of teachers each year. Her commitment was to the fore of my mind as I read sections of the UNESCO report that considers the necessity to provide quality training for teachers.

The report indicates that the numbers of available teachers in poorer countries has increased but that the quality of teaching is often limited as a result of the provision of unqualified or poorly trained teachers.

“Many countries have expanded teacher numbers rapidly by hiring people to teach without training. This may serve to get more children into school, but jeopardizes education quality. In a third of countries with data, less than 75% of teachers are trained according to national standards”.

In India the situation for the poorest children in rural areas is exacerbated because of the difficulty of attracting the best qualified teachers to teach in deprived communities. Despite the introduction of government incentives it is reported that:-

“In India, all states have a caste-based reservation of posts to ensure that teachers are available in more disadvantaged areas and schools, but teachers with lower levels of qualifications are hired to fill the reserved positions”.

Whilst it is easy to be critical of this situation the authors of the report recognise that:-

“In India, states cannot fill their caste-based quotas for recruitment of teachers unless teachers with lower levels of qualifications are hired”.

I regularly meet well educated and qualified teachers in India, but the majority of these are working in private schools where resources and conditions for working are reasonable. Whereas my visits to some government and village schools indicate that there is little incentive for any but the most committed and altruistic teachers to work there. In these schools teachers are often accused of failing children and providing them with a less than adequate schooling experience. Yet many of these teachers demonstrate a real commitment to their pupils and are doing their best to provide for them with only minimal training and often in overcrowded classrooms with inadequate resources. The report identifies an issue that I have seen many times in the poorer areas of India when it suggests that:-

“Instead of getting adequate training and teaching conditions, teachers get the blame for poor learning outcomes”.

However, the picture is not entirely bad. There is an increasing recognition that the professional development of teachers is crucial to ensuring that all learners gain access to a curriculum that is meaningful and an education to equip them for life in their local communities and beyond. The teachers who I meet are enthusiastic about developing pedagogical approaches that enable them to support previously excluded pupils. There is a growing acknowledgement in India of the rights of all children to gain an education that addresses their individual needs, and whilst I still encounter negative attitudes, I am as likely to meet teachers who want to learn new skills and teaching strategies to enable all the children in their communities to learn. My own experience certainly recognises the statement in the report that:-

“Education strategies increasingly recognize the importance of accommodating children with disabilities in mainstream schools. However, more needs to be done to implement them effectively by adopting measures such as addressing attitudes of teachers and head teachers through training, and designing curricula that pay attention to the needs of disabled learners.”

Whilst the report finds much wanting in the provision of quality teaching for children in the most deprived areas, and recognises that teacher confidence in respect of addressing the needs of learners with disabilities or other disadvantages is often low, there are several examples of innovation and progress provided upon which we can all build.

I am fortunate to work with groups of teachers in Bangalore who are focused upon improving the experiences of every child. These are the future leaders of education in south India and I feel confident that they have the ability to take their own learning forward and share it with others for the benefit of all children.

It seems to me that colleagues like Mrs Krishnaswarmy and Jayashree Rajanahally have pioneered a way forward towards a more inclusive education system in Bangalore. I feel assured that there are others now waiting to take over the baton of leadership and to take the agenda on into a brighter future for all learners.

Click on the blue YOUTUBE link at the top of this page to see a brief film produced in association with the UNESCO report

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



Making progress but …

UNESCO Report. Essential reading for inclusive teachers

UNESCO Report.
Essential reading for inclusive teachers

“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