Cover Image
close this bookMeeting Basic Learning Needs: A Vision for the 1990s (UNICEF - UNDP - UNESCO - WB - WCEFA, 1990, 170 p.)
close this folder1. Global Challenges and Human Development
View the documentA. Introduction
Open this folder and view contentsB. The Global Challenges
View the documentC. Constraints on Human Development
View the documentD. The Role of Human Development in Addressing Global Challenges
View the documentE. Defining Basic Learning Needs
View the documentF. New Opportunities for Human Development

D. The Role of Human Development in Addressing Global Challenges

Human development, at the level of individuals involves a process of learning and of applying what is learned to better the quality of life. With more learning, both individuals and groups are better able to derive sustenance from their environment, to participate effectively in society, to meet challenges, to create new solutions, and to transform the world in a positive way. Learning is a catalyst for all development processes, whereas a lack of learning opportunities constrains the individual and societal ability to produce, or to benefit from, development.

After four decades of successes and failures in economic development, it has become abundantly clear that economic, socio-cultural, and environmental processes are closely linked; development or decay along one dimension profoundly affects the others. Each new development effort, whatever its focus, must recognize the complex interactions among all facets of life on this globe. This interactive nature of change requires a multi-sectoral, long-term, and international view of development in the design of programmes and policies. The pivotal determinant of the success of these programmes and policies will be whether a country’s population possesses the appropriate basic skills and knowledge.

In many nations effective human development can help contain and even reverse the current threat of economic stagnation or decline. There is ample scientific evidence for the contributions of education to social and economic development. For instance, primary education is known to improve the productivity of workers in the factory and in the field and to provide the necessary skills for self-employment and entrepreneurship. Basic learning of all types can help families earn higher incomes and make better use of their earnings through informed consumption choices and improved household management.

At the macroeconomic level, an analysis of a sample of developing countries indicated that increases in literacy contribute to increases in investment and in output per worker. Literacy, as well as nutrition and income, was also found to correlate with increased life expectancy and reduced infant and maternal mortality. Overall differences in patterns of educational investment, especially at the basic levels, are significant in explaining differences in national rates of economic growth and in other development indicators.

Since the majority of workers in developing countries are engaged in subsistence agriculture, the effect of basic education on agricultural productivity has been an important policy issue and the subject of much research. One study by the World Bank - based on eighteen analyses carried out in thirteen developing nations - concluded that a minimum of four years of primary education increased farmer productivity by an average of 8.7 percent for all countries and 10 percent for those undergoing modernization and growth. The greater the demands on farmers to adapt to changing technologies, credit, and marketing systems, the higher will be the benefits to those possessing basic skills.

The effect of primary schooling on wage workers and entrepreneurs is indicated by the higher productivity of primary school graduates, as measured by adjusted earnings differentials. Both private and social rates of returns to primary schooling have been shown to be high relative to other forms of schooling: in one multinational comparison social rates averaged 27 percent for primary and 15-17 percent for secondary education, while private rates averaged 49 and 26 percent respectively. They are also high relative to the common return to capital investments which is about 10 percent. Primary schooling is critical for promoting the productivity of small entrepreneurs because they face additional decision-making demands and retain a larger share of the benefits of their own productivity. As in the case of agriculture, primary schooling increases the productivity of both wage earners and entrepreneurs even more in situations of rapid change and development.

Economic disparities are reinforced and reproduced over time by unequal access to basic education and unequal achievement in learning. More equitable access to effective basic learning opportunities will immediately begin to reduce the gap between the least educated and the most educated within a society. Equity in basic learning will also make access to further learning more equitable by assuring that individuals can be selected for these opportunities on the basis of actual achievement, rather than family or community wealth.

The reduction of learning disparities has both immediate and long-term effects. Some of these effects are linked to the importance of education for technological advancement, which has the capacity to affect profoundly the life circumstances of every person today. All countries need citizens capable of working with and through technology. Increasingly, the possession of knowledge and reasoning ability defines individual and national efficacy. In a very real sense, to be deprived of basic education is to be deprived of the essential tools for modern living. Without the skills to participate in a literate, technological world and the knowledge to transform their environment, people will remain on the margins of society, and society itself will lose their vast potential contributions.

Box 1.02. Refugees: Displaced Children At Risk

Children of refugees, displaced persons, and migrants often have limited or no access to basic education and literacy programmes, but such programmes are crucial to their adaptation and survival. The lives of these children have been disrupted by war, (...), and/or civil conflict. Forced to acculturate to new worlds often radically different from those from which they came, they require education to adjust to their new environment. Dinka children displaced by the war in southern Sudan, for example, must adapt from a rural nomadic lifestyle to the urban environment of Khartoum. An education for that displaced child may mean the difference between begging on the streets and productive employment.

Although often numbered among the poorest of the poor, the children of the refugees and displaced are a significant minority. The over 14 million officially recorded refugees are equivalent to the population of 42 of the least populated countries in the world or approximately one quarter of the voting bloc in the United Nations. Estimates of displaced persons - not only officially recognized refugees, but also internal refugees, economic migrants, and asylum seekers - range from twenty to thirty million. Most live in the developing world in countries that can least afford the price of conflict. Women and children constitute the majority of these peoples and many displaced children have lived in camps or squatter settlements their entire lives.

Unfortunately refugees and the displaced often fall between the cracks in the planning and implementation of educational programmes. Asylum governments may fear that refugees or displaced settlements harbor the “enemy” and are reluctant to invest in this human resource. Expecting that the refugees will eventually be repatriated, governments have little incentives to invest in another country’s human capital.

Basic education bridges the gap between relief and development modes of assistance. Whether the refugees or displaced people eventually settle locally, repatriate, or resettle in a third country, an education will be useful for their eventual integration. An education can also assist in the process of creating a durable solution. Mozambican refugee children in Malawi, for example, are being offered a traditional Mozambican curriculum in Portuguese with the aim of preparing them to return to their homeland.

Educating the children of refugees and displaced peoples is ultimately in the best interest of governments and the international community. Having learned to adapt to a changing world, these children are characteristically highly motivated and open to new forms of knowledge. Since the Second World War, there have been more than fifty civil wars and the numbers of displaced and refugees throughout the world have steadily increased. The world cannot afford to let the victims of these conflicts suffer ignorance. They will be the ones who must learn to make peace and reconstruct anew.

Meeting the basic learning needs of all has become of greater importance than ever, not only because of technological and other rapid changes in most societies, but also because of the increased global interdependency of nations in their cultural and economic activities. As a prerequisite for social, cultural, and economic development, education contributes to reducing disparities and building common understanding among people of different countries, socio-economic origins, and cultural identities. Effective education is a unique means to promote participation of all individuals in their local communities and in this global society.

Box 1.03. The Highlander Center

In 1980, toxic chemicals from the tannery in the town upstream from Larry Wilson’s farm turned Yellow Creek black. Fish died, and some Wilson’s calves did, too, after drinking the polluted water. Most people in the hills hollows that border this Kentucky creek in the southeastern United States were afraid to speak out, certain that their lack of education and poverty were no match for the tannery’s science and not as important as the town’s prized industry.

Wilson rallied his neighbours in form the Yellow Creek Concerned Citizens: they conducted health surveys, lobbied the federal government to intervene, and finally forced the tannery to stop abusing the environment. The town, prompted by Yellow Creek Concerned Citizens, has built a new sewage treatment plant and the creek waters are clear again.

Aware that they needed organizing and research skills if the community was to survive. Wilson and other members of Yellow Creek Concerned Citizens attended educational workshop at the Highlander Resource and Education Center in New Market, Tennessee. For the past 10 years, Highlander’s programmes have centred on the environmental effects of hazardous industries, mainly as a reflection of the concerns of the community groups it serves.

Highlander works in Southern Appalachia and the rural areas of the deep South - a third world in which infant mortality rates are higher and literacy lower than anywhere else in North America. Highlander’s educational process builds on the culture shared by group members: oral history, songs, drama, dance, to build confidence and determination. Its educational programmes help local groups understand the problems they face, learn from others who dealt with similar problems, experiment with new ideas, and build organizations that will encourage responsible development.

Although content varies according to the groups being served, the format is consistent: residential workshops of from two days to eight weeks, involving between 15 and 40 participants from diverse communities, but sharing a common concern. That was the way Highlander operated in the 1950s and early 1960s, when it became known as the educational centre of the U.S. civil rights movement. It is used today in Highlander’s Southern Appalachian and Leadership Training: SALT is the most successful leadership training programme in the South, a series of six weekend workshops that cover such subjects as creating learning plans, communication skills, community analysis and research, problem definition, and project design. Although Highlander does not grade seminar participants, one criterion of success is whether they carry out decisions made in workshops.

Marginalized populations depend on their knowledge and problem-solving skills to deal with the hardships created by war, civil strife, and crime, as well as discrimination. Basic education is one means of attacking the root causes of these conditions (by promoting equitable development) and, at the same time, of providing immediate knowledge and skills for dealing with their effects. Increasing the level of basic learning helps alleviate conditions of disadvantage and thus contributes to reduction of social disparity.

Marginalized populations need basic education to prepare them for effective migration, social and occupational mobility, access to new information and markets, and adaptation to new environments. Meeting the basic learning needs of these groups will not solve their problems, but it must be a part of the solution. In particular, nonconventional forms of basic education are needed for those whose lives have been disrupted by forces beyond their control. These problems affect all countries: the growing levels of functional illiteracy in the industrialized economies show that they too are not immune to such problems.

To combat environmental degradation, people must not only understand the effect of their actions on the environment but also accept responsibility for them. They must not shift the costs of their actions to people in other geographical areas or to future generations. Increased basic knowledge helps to inform individuals of the real costs of environmental damage and to promote social acceptance of regulations to restrict environmentally damaging acts and measures to promote ecologically sound development.

Box 1.04. Population Education

By the mid-1980s, over 80 countries included population education in their schools. Population education contributes to the relevance and quality of education by:

· developing an awareness and understanding of population issues, thereby giving learners a degree of control over the shape of their future;

· introducing new teaching/learning methodologies and topics, i.e. population issues, which relate directly to the daily lives, concerns and futures of learners (both at personal and societal levels); and

· encouraging the development of analytical skills, using population issues as a point of reference to enable learners to adapt to a changing world.

Population education also has an important role to play in facilitating the understanding of women’s issues and fostering the improvement of the situation of women. Through role play, games, elementary research and other techniques, negative stereotypes and myths can be exposed and values changed, especially with young learners. This is one of the most important concepts which can be dealt with through population education at the primary school level.

Another concept which is important for young learners to understand is that decisions result in action and that individuals are responsible for their actions. Even very young children should learn that it is possible, and desirable, for babies to born as the result of a decision, in an atmosphere of love and commitment. It is very important that young children learn that they can have a degree of control over some aspects of their lives, and that childbearing is one of them.

Pre-adolescent learners benefit from population education that helps develop their self-esteem, an important factor in academic success, retention in school, and the prevention of adolescent pregnancy.

Adults and out-of-school require understanding of the immediate relevance of population issues to their daily lives. These learners are already at reproductive age and need sufficient information to enable them to control their own fertility and to make other population decisions such as those relating to migration. Meeting their learning needs adequately requires an integrated approach so that young adults, especially couples about to be married, will receive appropriate information about family planning methods applied in their community.

The replenishment of ecologically imperiled lands can be set in motion by tapping the traditional environmental knowledge of the land’s inhabitants. People with local knowledge of food production under harsh conditions, medicinal practices, literary and artistic forms, and local institutions and community processes, are a rich cultural resource. To bring this precious knowledge to bear on contemporary problems of the environment, the people who possess it must be equipped with the basic knowledge and skills that will enable them to function effectively in their societies.

Education, particularly of girls and women, does a great deal to control rapid population growth by promoting collective health and wellbeing. Educated women and men can make informed choices about when to have children and are better able to maintain their own and their children’s health. This benefits the society by curbing excessive population growth and improving the overall health of the population. Research has demonstrated that women’s educational attainment is strongly related to reduced rates of maternal and infant mortality, and to improved nutrition in the family.

The process by which basic learning affects population growth is complex and varies among countries. Normally it involves several interrelated factors, such as better understanding of family planning options, increased resources, changes in attitudes, and reduced infant mortality. Where population growth remains a serious barrier to real economic growth, education will offer a significant means of dealing with the problem because of its effects on fertility.

Box 1.05. Environmental Education: The Thai Magic Eyes Concept

There is mounting concern that the pare of environmental destruction is advancing so swiftly that there is not enough time wait for the next generation to be environmentally educated. Fortunately, reaching children effectively can be a means to reach adults, thereby changing the behavior of two generations at once.

The Thai Environmental and Community Development Association (TECDA) a non-governmental organization (NGO), began five years ago with the aim of educating the people to be environmentally aware. It was hoped that awareness would lead to action - initially in one’s own domain, and then to participation in developing the community and the country as a whole. The ultimate aim was to develop a respect for, and attachment to, one’s environment, so much so that the individual would longer quietly allow others to conserve the environmental problems simply and to show how they affected individuals.

TECDA’s basic mass education began with the “MAGIC EYES” HELP KEEP THAILAND CLEAN CAMPAIGN: a series of cartoon advertisements on television directed at children - persuading them to put rubbish in its proper place, and encouraging them to “police” adults and spur them to do the right thing with the words, “AH-AH! DON’T LITTER! MAGIC EYES SEE YOU.” From this anti-litter campaign TECDA has expanded to the problems of water pollution and forest destruction, for example, the Love Chao Phya River clean-up programme which began in January, 1990.

TECDA’s unique and joyful approach to educating Thais to improve local environmental conditions has been tremendously successful. Annually, the number of people who participated in TECDA’s various programmes - including school children, government officials, marker vendors, private company employees and other community residents - grew from 15,000 in 1984 to over 400,000 in 1988. A public sector advertising survey found that 89 percent of those surveyed said the MAGIC EYES campaign contributed “quite a lot” to society.