|Meeting Basic Learning Needs: A Vision for the 1990s (UNICEF - UNDP - UNESCO - WB - WCEFA, 1990, 170 p.)|
|1. Global Challenges and Human Development|
As the range and gravity of problems facing the worlds nations have grown, so too has awareness of the need to emphasize human development on global and national agendas. From settings as diverse as the 1987 Asian Forum of Parliamentarians on Population and Development, the 1988 Cartagena meeting of Latin American Ministers of State, the 1988 North-South Roundtable in Amman, the ongoing work of the South Commission, and numerous United Nations meetings, a general understanding has emerged: Real development is human development, and long-term economic growth and social wellbeing rest on the quality of life of every woman and man.
Confidence in this view has grown as countries have accumulated experience in providing basic education. Many countries have made remarkable societal improvements as a result of their sustained investment in basic learning opportunities. The experience of Europe and North America, and more recently of Japan, the Republic of Korea, and Singapore, strongly support the conclusion that basic education is a necessary part of an equitable and efficient foundation for national development.
Despite the real financial constraints evident in the 1980s, some countries have had striking success in fostering a better quality of life for all. Major global initiatives, such as those related to access to clean water and sanitation, primary health care, immunization, and child survival, have each saved millions of lives and enhanced the well-being of hundreds of millions of people. Since the 1970s, an estimated 1.1 billion people have benefited from improved water supply and sanitation facilities, and in four low-income African countries the percentage of the population with access to clean water doubled from 1980 to 1985. Worldwide, over 60 percent of all children are now vaccinated against the six major diseases that kill young people, and the goal of universal immunization seems near. This is an astonishing improvement over 1974 when only 5 percent of the babies born in the developing world received these vaccinations. One child survival technique alone, oral rehydration therapy, saves as many as a million infants lives a year.
These successes required major initiatives, concerted action, and the formation of development alliances. Equally indispensable was the use of new communication technologies to disseminate the knowledge and skills needed to deal with the problems of water, sanitation, and health. In sum, these examples are dramatic proof that where there is a willingness and a commitment, gains in human development can be attained, even within the financial and other constraints of the current global challenges.
Recently, the development literature has focussed more on constraints than on opportunities. A review of the state of basic learning in the world will reveal, however, that these constraints are not the absolute barriers to progress that many have assumed; with strong public and private commitments, they can be overcome. Constraints and opportunities are part of a complex whole where demographic, cultural, sociopolitical, technical, economic, environmental, and strictly educational factors are interrelated in a circular pattern of causes and effects. Each nation must be viewed individually: its background characteristics, financial capacity, and past educational efforts combine to determine the ultimate impact of learning achievement on its population. Whatever the constraints, a societal willingness and effort can minimize the inhibiting effects of these constraints and allow each country to exploit the unprecedented global opportunity to meet its current challenges.