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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

A. Introduction

On the threshold of the 21st century, the world faces major global challenges characterized by the threat of economic stagnation and decline; widening economic disparities among and within nations; millions of people dislocated and suffering from war, civil strife, and crime; widespread environmental degradation; and rapid population growth. These challenges pose problems of direct or indirect concern to all nations, although the nature, extent, and incidence of the effects of the problems vary according to each nation’s specific conditions and societal context. These challenges have the potential to constrain the development of individuals and even whole societies, and are already retarding the ability and willingness of governments, nongovernmental organizations, communities, families, and individuals to support new investments in basic education, the very foundation of human development.

Fortunately, the present time also presents a unique opportunity to redress this situation. Global movements towards peace, the dramatic reduction in cold war tensions, and the positive aggregate growth patterns in many countries in recent years combine to create a more co-operative and committed international climate in support of human development, which views the well-being of all humans as the focus and purpose of societal development efforts. Human development itself involves an interactive process consisting of psychological and biological maturation as well as learning, enabling individuals to improve their well-being and that of their community and nation. It is broader than, but inclusive of, human resource development, which relates to the development and conservation of manpower to contribute to social and economic development.

There is a growing consensus that human development must be at the core of any development process; that in times of economic adjustment and austerity, services for the poor have to be protected; that education - the empowerment of individuals through the provision of learning - is truly a human right and a social responsibility. Never before has the nature of learning and basic education been so well diagnosed and understood in its psychological, cultural, social and economic dimensions. Today, the sheer quantity of information available in the world - much of it relevant to survival and basic well-being - is exponentially greater than that available only a few years ago, and the rate of its growth is accelerating. This includes information about obtaining more life-enhancing knowledge - or learning how to learn. A synergistic effect occurs when important information is coupled with another modern advance - our new capacity to communicate. The financial, technological, and human resources available on a world scale to meet basic learning needs today are unprecedented. When these factors are combined with the reaffirmation of political commitment to meeting basic learning needs, the next decade and the new century can be seen to provide an opportunity for human development sufficient to help meet the real and serious challenges the world faces.

During the four decades since the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights affirmed the right of everyone to education, substantial and sincere efforts have been made by the countries of the world to implement this right. Now, concurrent with International Literacy Year (1990) and in line with the objectives of the World Decade for Cultural Development (1988-97) and of the Fourth United Nations Development Decade (1991-2000), there is a need to reinforce and extend basic education to bring into being forms of sustainable national development that reconcile cultural and technological change within social and economic development.

The current optimism about basic education is not founded on name assumptions that education is the sole determinant of individual or societal change: various prerequisite and concomitant changes are required in general political, social and economic structures and processes. Neither does the optimism ignore the seriousness and significance of the challenges that remain. However, the very challenges that constrain new basic education efforts reinforce the importance of these efforts. While not sufficient by itself to resolve the larger social and economic challenges faced by the world’s nations, more and better basic education is a necessary part of any resolution of these challenges.

(i) Economic stagnation and decline

Over the past decade, per capita gross domestic product (GDP) has fallen from 10 to 25 percent in much of sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America. South Asian countries on the whole have maintained more steady macro-economic growth, but substantial parts of their populations still live in absolute poverty, with food and nutrition problems among the most serious in the world. Although the incidence of unemployment is worse in developing nations, unemployment rates in the industrial market economies of Western Europe rose to over 10 percent in the 1980s. These economies are now home to over 13 million of the world’s estimated 100 million formally unemployed. Also, substantial disagreement exists over the sustainability of current growth levels among the developed economies, particularly in view of their interdependence with the weakened economies of developing countries and environmental degradation.

(ii) Economic disparities

The 1980s have seen economic disparities widen both within and among nations (see Chart 1 for regional trends). Rising debt burdens, falling prices for commodities, and policies restricting the free flow of trade have created a net outflow of as much as US$60 billion per year in capital and other resources from developing countries to wealthier nations. Industrial countries, in turn, face shrinking markets for exports, with negative effects on their own labour markets and on prospects for fiscal revenue. With the unprecedented expansion of knowledge during the past decade, inequitable access to formal education and other learning opportunities has engendered even greater economic disparities among people within a single nation. The wealthy become more educated; the uneducated grow poorer.

(iii) Marginalized populations

Armed conflicts and civil disorder continue to command public attention and resources in many countries. More than 14 million people, uprooted from their homelands, lived as refugees in foreign countries in 1987, and some 13 million of them reside in the most impoverished countries of Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia. War, human rights abuses, and natural disasters have created an even greater number of internal refugees who are displaced within their own countries and have little recourse to international protection or assistance. Increased urbanization and unemployment, with the concomitant problems of crime and illegal drug use, have created intolerable living conditions for millions more people the world over. In addition, historical conditions of ethnic and linguistic minorities and the poor have created disadvantaged groups within many societies.

Chart 1: Regional Economic Trends

Gross domestic product per capita by region of the world 1980-86 (1980 = 100)

Source: UNICEF.

(iv) Environmental degradation

Exploitation of the natural environment and pressures on the land from the growth and relocation of populations have accelerated the rate of environmental degradation alarmingly. Improper waste disposal, unregulated use of toxic chemicals, and industrial accidents imperil the biological integrity of land, air, and water. Deforestation from commercial logging and the cumulative effects of many subsistence activities have caused environmental destruction from landslides, flooding, desertification, and reduced production of oxygen. The environment knows no national or regional boundaries: a natural resource depleted in one place is lost to the world. Pollution tends to spread both geographically and over time, and the costs of environmental repair, where repair is possible, far exceed the costs of prevention.

(v) Rapid population growth

Population growth continues to exacerbate economic, social, and environmental problems, particularly in the poorest parts of the world. In 1987, the world population exceeded the 5 billion mark, an increase of 1 billion in less than fifteen years. Ninety percent of this growth took place in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, and most of it was in the countries least able to care for or utilize the additional population effectively. The harsh reality of absolute poverty, with its guarantee of high infant mortality and a precarious livelihood for the sick and the aged, encourages high rates of reproduction that further entrench a lifestyle of poverty among the growing numbers of the poor. Demographic trends in industrial countries follow a different aggregate pattern, but even there the more disadvantaged groups are growing at a higher rate than the population as a whole.

C. Constraints on Human Development

The global challenges impose constraints on human development in several ways. First, they create a competition for resources to meet various social needs, all of which appear urgent and legitimate. There is a need to provide the poor and disadvantaged with basic subsistence needs, to remove the sources of social dislocation and disadvantage, to protect the environment, and to control excessive population growth. All these demands on a nation’s public and private resources can, and sometimes do, take precedence over the learning needs of the population.

In addition, the austerity measures adopted by governments suffering from inadequate financial resources can cause disproportionate cutbacks in societal development efforts. The education sector, because it produces knowledge and skills, and the health sector, because it protects and extends the value of the population, are critical for development. However, government spending on health and education has declined - in relative and, in some cases, absolute terms - in many of the world’s poorest countries. In twenty-five out of thirty African and Latin American countries for which comparable data are available, the share of the government budget going to health and education has declined in the 1980s. In the world’s thirty-seven poorest countries, spending per capita on health has declined 50 percent since 1980, while per pupil expenditure on education has declined by 25 percent. In this context, the momentum of many societal development efforts has stalled, leaving hundreds of millions of people in conditions of absolute poverty. They are without adequate nutrition to sustain learning or labour, susceptible to diseases that could be controlled, unable to read or write, and so denied access to the very knowledge and skills that could improve the quality of their lives dramatically.

Economic development does not automatically increase the quantity or quality of human development. A society must decide for itself to devote resources to education and other learning opportunities. The development experiences in the 1980s have demonstrated that social advancement is a fragile process. Without sustained efforts to improve the circumstances of the poorest members of society, overall development gains are undermined. The enormity of the global challenges and the differences among rates of national and individual development now threaten further deterioration in the quality and equity of life chances. Unless dramatic and effective steps are taken to address these threats, the future may bring even greater poverty and growing polarization within and among societies. A world in which only an elite few will live in health, safety, and prosperity must be avoided; all people deserve the opportunity to fulfill their human potential and contribute to shaping their society. In times of economic decline, austerity, and competing social and economic demands, basic education must be protected through overt measures. Otherwise, generations will be lost and whole segments of the population excluded from the development process.

The phenomenal expansion of the national education systems since the 1950s has continually increased the number and proportion of children in school and of adults with basic literacy skills. However, the absolute number of out-of-school children and youth and of illiterate adults has also increased dramatically in the past thirty years. Today, more than one-quarter of all adults still can neither read nor write (see Table 1). The more than 105 million children who are not in school mean adult illiteracy will remain a common problem into the next century.

The difficulty of combating nonschooling and illiteracy is compounded by other problems. Many students drop out before completing their primary schooling; others complete school but fail to acquire the necessary learning. In addition, whatever their previous formal education, significant parts of the adult population have yet to acquire the basic knowledge and life skills that, in addition to literacy, would improve the quality of their lives at home, in their communities, and in support of their nations.

Table 1 - Illiteracy Rates by Region (Estimates and Projections)


No. denotes number of illiterates of both sexes, aged 15+ (in millions)
Rates denotes rates of illiteracy among both sexes, aged 15+ (in percentages)
Fem. denotes females as a percentage of total illiterates aged 15+

a. Data for Arab States also included in Africa and Asia.

b. Data for least developed countries also included in regions.

Source: UNESCO; projections based on 1982 assessment.

The critical problem facing governments and development agencies today is how to specify and meet the basic learning needs of all. These needs cannot be met by a simple quantitative expansion of educational programmes as they now exist although such aggregate expansion may be part of the solution in certain countries. Despite the efforts and real accomplishments of previous decades, more and more people have needs for basic learning that are not being met. Continuing human development means that future generations of children, youth, and adults will need greater access to and continued participation in primary schooling and equivalent learning opportunities that provide an acceptable level of learning attainment.

Given the number of children not currently enrolled in any school at all, it is imperative that each country identify these out-of-school populations, determine why they are not participating, and adapt or design appropriate educational programmes to their specific conditions and needs. In general, those out-of-school are likely to be female, to be poor, to be ethnic or linguistic minorities, and to live in urban or peri-urban slums and remote rural locations. To meet the basic learning needs of such groups, formal education and other educational interventions must deal with the realities of their life circumstances and stress effective measures to attract and maintain their participation and to assure their learning achievement.

Box 1.01. Street Children in Brazil

For seven million children, the streets of Brazil’s cities and towns are workplace and even home. The youngsters are everywhere: shining shoes, washing taxis, guarding parked cars, sorting through garbage for plastic bottles. But people would rather not acknowledge their existence and the authorities treat them as delinquents or misfits.

Of course, the problems of street children are not confined to Brazil: throughout Latin America’s middle-income societies the number of children living on the street continues to increase. In fact, it is estimated that half the world’s 90 million street children live in Latin America, but they appear wherever the world’s cities bulge with new immigrants from rural areas.

Throughout Brazil, hundreds of community-based organizations sponsor programmes to reach out to street children and try to find ways to helping them earn a living and, at the same time, mature intellectually, socially, and emotionally. In 1981, UNICEF, the government of Brazil, and the National Child Welfare Foundation began the Brazil Street Children Project to pool the knowledge gained by these diverse programmes; they also hoped to increase public awareness of the children by broadening community involvement and making government responses more effective.

The 70 programs directly involved in the joint project have different philosophies, objectives and activities, but they share several features: each seeks to gain the child’s confidence and to build a solid bond between child and programme, providing meals, income generating activities, health care, and discussion groups. Some programmes also offer more formal training or employment. From their inception, the educational methods being used have placed the primary emphasis on the child as decision-maker.

A 1986 evaluation of the Brazil Street Children Project, using such indicators as social skills, career skills, personal growth, and moral values, found that programmes are most successful when they respond to the children’s own needs, the first of which is for income. For example, the Salau do Encontro in the city Betim, Minas Gerais, produces a complete line of home furnishing and employs more than 350 young people. The production process is labour-intensive and emphasizes the use of local resources. In addition to manufacturing the products, young people actually manage the enterprise Salao do Encontro tries to build self-esteem among street children, believing that confidence creates a secure foundation for personal growth and development.

The nature and scope of the global challenges, and the effects of economic decline and fiscal constraints on investment in the social sectors, mean that a «business-as-usual» approach to basic education policies and programmes simply will not work. In the long-term, a failure to take decisive action to broaden the range, resources and suppliers of basic education opportunities would only deepen the present shortcomings and disparities, resulting in growing inequities in access to effective learning opportunities, increasing numbers of illiterate adults, and a growing population of youth and adults with inadequate knowledge and skills. Expanded forms of basic education for children, youth, and adults, and innovative modes of delivery and social mobilization to meet the broader scope implied by the term “basic learning” will be required, together with resources sufficient to reverse the declines that are occurring in some countries and to promote real improvements in all countries.

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.

E. Defining Basic Learning Needs

From the preceding discussion of human development and its potential effects, it is possible to identify basic learning needs in general terms along both personal and societal dimensions. These needs comprise both essential learning tools (such as literacy, oral expression, numeracy, and problem solving) and the basic learning content (such as knowledge, skills, values, and attitudes) required by human beings to be able to survive, to develop their full capacities, to live and work in dignity, to participate fully in development, to improve the quality of their lives, to make informed decisions, and to continue learning. The scope of basic learning needs and how they should be met varies with individual countries and cultures, and inevitably, changes with the passage of time.

The satisfaction of these needs empowers individuals in any society and confers upon them a responsibility to respect and build upon their collective cultural, linguistic and spiritual heritage, to promote the education of others, to further the cause of social justice, to achieve environmental protection, to be tolerant towards social, political and religious systems which differ from their own, ensuring that commonly accepted humanistic values and human rights are upheld, and to work for international peace and solidarity in an interdependent world.

Basic education facilitates the ability to meet other basic needs - adequate nutrition, shelter and clothing, and access to health services and clean water. All of these basic human needs are interdependent, but basic education promotes accomplishment of, and increases the individual benefits from, the satisfaction of other needs.

The possession of basic learning also is a prerequisite and a complement to other sources of social and economic development. It can help resolve the problems of economic decline, widening economic disparities, dislocation and disadvantage, environmental degradation, and excessive population growth. Another and no less fundamental aim of educational development is the transmission and enrichment of common cultural and moral values. It is in these values that the individual and society find their identity and worth. Moreover, sound basic education is fundamental to the strengthening of higher levels of education and of scientific and technological literacy and capacity and thus to self-reliant development.

Basic education is more than an end in itself. It is the foundation for lifelong learning and human development on which countries may build, systematically, further levels and types of education and training.

Box 1.07. Korea: Providing Primary Education for All

Historically, Korea illustrates a country whose educational policies, particularly in the finance area evolved in support of their rapid industrialization. Korea was able to invest a large proportion of its GNP in education because of its commitment to, and broad and flexible approach to, educational finance. Including all sources of finance, the percentage of GNP going to education was 8.8 percent in 1996 and rose to 9.7 percent in 1970. About 71 percent of educational expenses were paid for by students and their parents. These were used for construction and operation of schools, as well as for out-of-school household expenses on books, school supplies, transportation, extra curricular activities and room/board. In the mid-1960s, out-of-school expenses accounted for 80 percent of household educational expenditures, close to one half of which were for primary education. A large share of these expenditures went for the purchase of textbooks at the compulsory education level since only a quarter of the students got them for free.

The central government concentrated expenditures on primary education. By allocating three-fourths of its national public education budget to compulsory education and relying on private schools and parents’ willingness to pay for secondary and tertiary education, Korea achieved primary education for all, while at the same time satisfying the strong and growing demand for post-primary education. In 1965 public schools accounted for 99 percent of primary enrollment, but they served only 45.5 and 27.4 percent of enrollment at the academic secondary and tertiary levels of education, respectively.

Korea also made use of local institutions in the finance and provision of primary education. As early as 1949, Parent-Teacher Associations (PTAs) played an important role in the finance of primary education. Despite the ambitions of the Education Law, the central government could provide only 15 percent of the revenues needed to finance primary education. Hence, the PTAs, which were originally organized to supplement teacher salaries and to increase parental involvement in school decision making, provided 75 percent of the funds for local schools, with local governments contributing another 10 percent. In the sixties local sources provided between 20 and 25 percent of the total amount of local education expenditure at the primary level. In 1970, PTAs were reorganized as the “Yuksonghoe” (voluntary parent-teacher association) with the same objective as before. With the reorganization, the Yuksonghoe fees amounted to 28 percent of the public budget for compulsory education in 1974.

Finally, the central government provided grants to local schools for compulsory education, amounting to 78 percent of total local government expenditures in 1970. Conscious of the inequality among communities, the national government has attempted since 1982 to equalize public expenditure among primary school districts across the country by means of formulas that distribute national funds on the basis of local need and ability to pay.

F. New Opportunities for Human Development

As the range and gravity of problems facing the world’s 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.