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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 folder3. An Expanded Vision of Basic Education for All
Open this folder and view contentsA. Shaping the Vision
Open this folder and view contentsB. Requirements for Implementing the Vision


The preceding analysis of basic education and the prospect for meeting basic learning needs clearly indicates the significant challenges facing the world today. The basic learning needs of millions of people are not being met fully or well, and will not be if current conditions and trends persist. The challenge for all countries is to devise a feasible way to meet the basic learning needs of their population.

This requires more than a recommitment to basic education as it now exists. What is needed is an “expanded vision” that builds on the best of the present policies and practices but goes beyond existing resource levels, institutional structures, curricula, and conventional suppliers and incorporates whatever is needed to meet the basic learning needs of all. The structure and content of learning activities should be determined to equip all children, youth, and adults with the knowledge, skills, values and attitudes they need to survive, to improve their quality of life, to empower them to participate fully and responsibly in the life of their communities and nations, to initiate and to adapt to changing circumstances - and to continue learning according to their individual needs and interests.

“An expanded vision” commensurate with the extent of the basic learning needs of children, youth, and adults can be conceived in terms of the following components:

· Universalizing access and promoting equity;
· Focussing on learning;
· Broadening the means and scope of basic education;
· Enhancing the environment for learning;
· Strengthening partnerships.

(i) Universalizing access and promoting equity

Basic education should be provided to all children, youth and adults To this end, basic education services of quality should be expanded, and consistent measures must be taken to reduce disparities. For basic education to be equitable, all children, youth, and adults must be given the opportunity to achieve and maintain an acceptable level of learning.

The most urgent priority is to ensure access to, and improve the quality of, education for girls and women, and to remove every obstacle that hampers their active participation. All gender stereotyping in education should be eliminated.

An active commitment must be made to removing other educational disparities. Underserved groups should not suffer any discrimination in access to learning opportunities: the poor; street and working children; rural and remote populations; nomads and migrant workers; indigenous peoples; ethnic, racial, and linguistic minorities; refugees; those displaced by war; and people under occupation. The learning needs of the disabled demand special attention. Steps need to be taken to provide equal access to education to every category of disabled persons as an integral part of the education system.

Box 3.01. Educating Girls: An Investment in Development

Improving and widening access to education has been a major goal of education policy in most developing countries in the past two decades, reflecting the broad recognition of education's contribution to development. Evidence is overwhelming that education improves health and productivity in developing countries, and that the poorest people benefit the most. The evidence further shows that when schools open theirs doors wider to girls and women in particular the benefits multiply. A more educated mother raises a healthier family. She has fewer and better educated children. She is more productive at home and in the workplace and is better able to get further education. Indeed, failure to raise women's education to a par with men's exacts a high development cost - in lost opportunities to raise productivity and income, and improve the quality of life.

Yet, female educational attainment is lower than for males in most developing countries with wide differences between male and female can read; in a handful, only five percent are literate. And the education gender gap generally is widest in the poorest countries. If the benefits of educating women are so great and the costs of failure to erase inequities so high, why do wide differences in male and female education persist?

The answer lies in a complex mix of economic and cultural factors. Education costs include direct expenses such as tuition and school supplies, opportunities costs of lost work by daughters at home or in the marketplace, and cultural costs of going against society's (...) of female behavior. Because of cultural and labor market restrictions on women's work in many poor countries, the perceived private benefits to the family that pays for a daughter's education are often not large enough to offset the costs. To be effective, governments must take all these costs into account while gradually educating parents about the benefits of sending girls to school.

Governments, international donors and NGOs are beginning to find innovative ways to deal with a wider range of constraints. In addition to increasing the supply of school places, many countries have experimented with incentives such as scholarships for girls, to persuade parents to send their daughters to school. But much more needs to be done. For example, evidence in many islamic countries shows that culturally appropriate and safe facilities and the presence of female teachers often remove disincentives for parents to enroll daughters. In addition, labor-saving technologies or flexible school schedules that reduce the time lost to household work of girls appear to be promising measures to adopt. Lastly, in countries that have achieved some success except for specific segments of the population, targeting becomes a key issue. Often, efforts to increase female enrollment should be targeted at families living in low-income and rural areas, where the benefits of educating girls are greatest.

In nearly every society, specific social groups have historically lacked the social conditions necessary to meet basic learning needs. Adequate supply of basic education programmes such that all members of society have access to them is a necessary but not sufficient condition for meeting the basic learning needs of all. Factors conditioning demand, such as the appropriateness of programmes to learners’ needs, their design and delivery in accordance with learners’ circumstances, and an environment that provides incentives and rewards for learning, all impinge on efforts to meet basic learning needs. Eliminating disparities in basic education will require that equity effects be taken into account in the design, implementation, management, and evaluation of all basic education programmes.

Box 3.02. Alternative Primary Education in Bangladesh

For children in Bangladesh, as in many countries of the world, schooling is likely to be little more than a moment that ends too soon: 50 percent of youngsters of primary school age are actually enrolled in school but fully three fifths of the youngsters in first grade leave two years later, without basic literacy or numeracy skills.

The Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC), is trying to change that by educating children - especially very poor rural children - who canot be reached by government schools or, once reached, do not stay in school. In 2,500 villages throughout Bangladesh, youngsters between the ages of eight and 10 study under the BRAC Alternative Primary Education programme. In the equivalent of first to third grades, they learn to read and write, to work with numbers and are taught science, social studies, health, and hygiene.

More than 95 per cent of students enrolled in the BRAC programme actually attend classes and more than 98 percent of those who enroll in the first year complete all three years; almost all continue their education in government schools. Sixty per cent of the BRAC students are girls, just as 60 per cent of the teacher are women (compared to eight percent of the teachers in the formal school system).

The Alternative Primary Education programme offers a curriculum appropriate to rural culture and needs, one that can be taught by paraprofessionals recruited from the community and that parents are eager to support with their time and labour. The learning environment does not alienate rural children: school hours are adapted to local conditions, and parent groups supervise the organization and management of each school centre.

The success of the programme shows that paraprofessionals can be trained effectively, provided they are given sufficient support. Although BRAC teachers are paid one-quarter of the average formal school salary and receive no benefits, they gain a sense of accomplishment and are respected in their communities. Fewer than two percent of teachers leave each year (most because their families are moving from the community).

The programme currently costs about US$15 per students per year, but the per-pupil cost will drop when the system expands to 5,500 schools in 1991 (although some donors have urged that expansion be speeded up). It is not yet clear whether BRAC should simply replicate its successful programme or continue to try new ideas for reaching those still without schooling.

BRAC's success has fired demand, as people see the possibilities for their children and their villages, but complete success would depend on a radical restructuring of national priorities and educational objectives.

(ii) Focussing on learning

Whether or not expanded educational opportunities will translate into meaningful development - for an individual or for society - depends ultimately on whether people actually learn as a result of those opportunities, i.e., whether they incorporate useful knowledge, reasoning ability, skills, and values. The focus of basic education must, therefore, be on actual learning acquisition and outcomes, rather than exclusively upon enrolment, continued participation in organized programmes and completion of certification requirements. Active and participatory approaches are particularly valuable in assuring learning acquisition and maintenance, allowing learners to reach their fullest potential. Therefore, it is necessary to define acceptable levels of learning acquisition for educational programmes and to improve and apply systems of assessing learning achievement.

This focus on learning acquisition should help prevent policies which encourage access for all but adequate learning only for the more advantaged. For school systems in many developing nations and in disadvantaged areas of some developed nations, the danger is that the sacrifices in quality that have occurred in recent years may not soon be removed or ameliorated. At the very least, continued educational expansion without attention to learning achievement will raise substantially the eventual cost of providing quality learning opportunities to the most disadvantaged populations. The other aspects of the expanded vision should help promote the expansion of basic education without the sacrifice of necessary learning achievement.

The focus on equitable achievement of learning outcomes includes, but is not restricted to, measurable cognitive gains. Demonstrable achievement in other areas, such as attitudes, values, and behaviour, can be part of each country’s definition of acceptable learning acquisition for all. The nature of learning will vary by country, and within countries, by age groups and by level and purpose of instruction. Basic learning opportunities may be designed to meet intrinsic individual needs, to facilitate meeting other basic human needs (e.g., health, nutrition), and/or to provide learning which is instrumental in achieving larger community or societal concerns. Whatever the purposes of learning, evidence of demonstrable effects can help justify the sacrifices made by individuals and society to support learning.

Particular efforts will have to be made to maintain basic learning skills once they are acquired. Such post-basic education efforts should make more efficient use of existing media, such as the rural press, radio, television, etc. Isolated or marginal populations (e.g., in rural or mountainous areas, and in urban slums) will need reading materials that are relevant, stimulating, group specific, and culturally acceptable. Similar efforts are needed to further develop their writing and numeracy skills.

(iii) Broadening the means and scope of basic education

The diversity, complexity, and changing nature of basic learning needs of children, youth and adults necessitates broadening and constantly redefining the scope of basic education to include four components. These components should constitute an integrated system - complementary, mutually reinforcing, and of comparable standards, and they should contribute to creating and developing possibilities for lifelong learning. First, as learning begins at birth, this calls for early childhood care and initial education. These can be provided through arrangements involving families, communities, or institutional programmes, as appropriate.

Second, the main delivery system for the basic education of children outside the family is primary schooling. Children who complete this level successfully should possess essential life skills and the capacity to benefit from further education. Achieving universal primary education will be the goal for many countries in the 1990s. For a large number of developing countries, however, it is unlikely that enough primary schools can be built, equipped and staffed at an acceptable level of quality to provide a place for every child in the immediate future.

Other vehicles for primary education, such as religious and community-based instruction, radio, television, and learning activities in clubs and libraries, also can meet the basic learning needs of children. Provided that the same acceptable standards of achievement are applied to all vehicles of primary education, it is possible to encourage such diversity in delivery without creating differential learning effects. The lack of adequate access to schools need not prevent any child from attaining a common educational foundation for life and for further learning.

Third, the basic learning needs of youth and adults are diverse and should be met through a variety of delivery systems. Literacy programmes are indispensable because literacy is a necessary skill in itself and the foundation of other life skills. Literacy in the mother-tongue strengthens cultural identity and heritage. Other needs can be served by: skills training, apprenticeships, and formal and non-formal education programmes in health, nutrition, population, agricultural techniques, the environment, science, technology, family life, including fertility awareness, and other societal issues.

Finally, all available instruments and channels of information, communications, and social action could be used to help convey essential knowledge and inform and education people on social issues. In addition to the traditional means, libraries, television, radio and other media can be mobilized to realize their potential to meet basic education needs. All of these can serve to provide direct instruction to children and adults, as well as to train instructors and supervisors. The success of one technology over another is rarely generalizable, as local conditions inevitably shape the choice and effective utilization of technologies. In their most effective applications, such technologies have generally been adapted to supplement conventional delivery systems such as the classroom teacher, the literacy worker, and the agriculture, health, and family planning extension agent.

Box 3.03. Improving Primary School Performance, Nutrition and Health

Past efforts to improve the accessibility and quality of schooling in the developing world have focused primarily on school-related factors such as location of schools teacher quality, availability of teaching materials and institutional management. Educational policy makers and planners have directed little attention to quality characteristics of children, such as their nutrition and health status and the way in which poor nutrition and health status and the way in which poor nutrition and health may be rendering children “unteachable”.

The adverse effects of malnutrition and poor health on education may indeed be jeopardizing children's readiness to enter school, their ability to learn, and the duration of their schooling. Addressing children's nutrition and health could make a difference in terms of improving educational performance. Recent studies underscores a high prevalence in developing countries of damaging nutrition and health conditions among school age children, such as undernutrition and short-term hunger, lack of essential micro-nutrients, and parasitic worm infections that are inhibiting children's learning, and thus directly hindering many countries' efforts to provide effective learning opportunities to all their children.

To promote better awareness and understanding of the relationships between nutrition, health and educational performance at the primary level, Unesco has launched an international initiative which attempt to situate problems of nutrition and health within the complexity of factors determining educational participation and performance. This initiative seeks, on the one hand, to gather sufficient developing country experiences in analyzing how nutrition and health problems affect educational participation and, on the other, to test different types of approaches to address such conditions through school-based interventions which are cost-effective to reach school age children.

Communications media and other information dissemination systems are of particular importance. Media can have a planned and structured application in support of learning activities or, more commonly, can have an indirect impact through informal learning processes. In some industrialized countries, children may spend on average five hours or more per day exposed to modern mass media, especially television, an exposure which rivals their attendance in formal education. In developing countries, where imported foreign products often constitute as much as eighty percent of overall media programming, it is the image of the world conveyed by such media that feeds children’s imagination and largely conditions their perceptions of cultural identity. The mass media have become major agents of learning, even though this learning is usually unstructured, unintentional, and sometimes socially harmful.

At the same time, communications media - both mass media, and smaller, community-based formats - can be important adjuncts and supports to education and development processes. They can be employed within formal education as a means of direct teaching or enrichment; they can provide alternative delivery systems in such contexts as distance education. Linked with computerized systems, they can help improve both the volume and quality of information accessible to learners. In some nations, these new forms of information dissemination, when combined with incentives for information acquisition and utilization, constitute an effective channel for basic education. In summary, all available means and technologies for communications, information, and social mobilization must be utilized to disseminate basic learning and to educate the public about such concerns as health, nutrition, family life, sanitation, child care, population, environmental protection, agricultural techniques, and drug prevention.

(iv) Enhancing the environment for learning

Basic education should be planned in relation to the preconditions and concurrent requirements of learning. The preconditions of learning include the health, nutrition, and physical and intellectual stimulation to which the learner has been exposed prior to the learning activity. Some negative preconditions, such as disease and malnutrition, can exert powerful constraining effects on the capacity of the learner to benefit from a learning opportunity. Positive preconditions, such as supportive parents, siblings, and peers, can raise the entry-level capacity of the learner and enable learning activities to achieve more substantial and extensive results. More attention needs to be given to preventing disabilities among young children and to developing their faculties for learning.

One must also consider the concurrent requirements for nutrition, health, and stimulation. If these concurrent requirements are not met, the achievement of basic learning objectives will be limited. Therefore, basic education initiatives should be designed to promote a supportive learning environment in the home and community. The social, cultural and economic contexts play a role in defining basic learning needs, in motivating individuals to learn, and in determining the capacity of the society to initiate and reinforce learning programmes. Knowledge and skills that will enhance the learning environment of children should be integrated into community learning programmes for adults. The education of children and their parents or other caretakers is mutually supportive and this interaction should be used to create, for all, a learning environment of vibrancy and warmth.

(v) Strengthening partnerships

National, regional, and local educational authorities have a unique obligation to provide basic education for all, but they cannot be expected to supply every human, financial or organizational requirement for this task. New and revitalized partnerships at all levels will be necessary: partnerships among all subsectors and forms of education; partnerships between education and other government departments, including planning, finance, labour, agriculture, communications, health, social welfare, etc.; partnerships between government and non-governmental organizations, the private sector, local communities, religious groups, and families. Recognition of the vital role of families, teachers and other educational personnel is particularly important. In this context, the terms and conditions of service of teachers and their status, which constitute a determining factor in the implementation of education for all, must be urgently improved in all countries in line with the joint ILO/UNESCO Recommendation Concerning the Status of Teachers (1966). Genuine partnerships, which contribute to the planning, implementing, managing and evaluating of basic education programmes, are at the heart of the expanded vision and renewed commitment called for in the World Declaration on Education for All. (See Appendix for the final version of the World Declaration on Education for All adopted at Jomtien, Thailand on 9 March 1990.)

The scope of unmet learning needs also requires partnerships among countries (1) to exchange information, experiences, and innovations; (2) to collaborate on activities so as to reduce costs and pool human and financial resources; and (3) to provide technical assistance and financial support. The World Conference on Education for All can serve as the cornerstone for this process of international partnership and co-operation. The objectives of the Conference were to create a new awareness of basic learning, to produce a broad consensus on a feasible definition of the basic learning concept, to create new commitments to the goal of meeting the basic learning needs of all, to define a framework for action, and to mobilize worldwide support and resources. The realization of these goals will broaden dramatically the range of partners involved in meeting basic learning needs and will help orient and organize their efforts.

(i) Developing a supportive policy context

By itself, basic education can help meet the intrinsic needs of learners, assist them to meet other basic human needs, and promote social and economic development. However, these latter two effects cannot be achieved in isolation of other public efforts. The knowledge and skills concerning health and nutrition, for example, are effective only when the concomitant resources and means are provided. Without a primary health delivery system, access to water, or availability of necessary foods, knowledge and skill alone will be insufficient.

Similarly, it is not adequate to orient education to prepare people for employment. Government and private enterprise must institute the appropriate rules, incentives, and support that will encourage wider demand for educated labour and more efficient utilization of it. More broadly, the effects of basic education are determined by the interaction of the full complex of government and private sectors - such diverse activities as agricultural pricing, political participation, entrepreneurial regulation, cultural practices, and infrastructure development all help determine the usefulness of the education individuals receive. The planning and management of education must consider the full range of learning opportunities needed and relate them to the full range of other government and private activities necessary to make the learning opportunities effective.

Supportive policies in the social, cultural, and economic spheres are required in order to realize the full provision and utilization of basic education for individual and societal improvement. Attaining basic education for all depends on political will and commitment manifested in appropriate fiscal measures, educational policy reforms and institutional strengthening. Suitable economic, trade, labour, employment and health policies will provide incentives for learners and enhance their contributions to societal development. Similarly, public policy should ensure a strong intellectual and scientific environment for basic education. This implies improving higher education, developing scientific research, and utilizing them to enrich the content and methods of basic education, particularly through the application of contemporary technological and scientific knowledge.

(ii) Mobilization of resources

To respond to the unmet learning needs, new resources will have to be sought from three sources: (1) a broader governmental base of support; (2) an increased financial effort from expanded participation by nongovernment agencies, communities, families, and individuals; and (3) assistance from external funding agencies. This entails identifying and drawing on the support of government, the private sector, nongovernmental organizations, local communities, and families. In most countries, all of these play some part in financing basic education - from government’s formal taxation and expenditure activities to the family’s sacrifice of labour so that the child can attend schools or the adult can acquire new skills.

A broader base of government support can be achieved by mobilizing the resources of all government agencies that deal with some aspect of human development. Agencies responsible for agriculture, health, labour, defense, commerce, industry, and other development activities can be encouraged to make specific allocations within their own budgets to support basic education activities. Whether by developing new sources of revenue (for example, taxes earmarked for basic education) or reallocating funds from other sectors or within the education sector, government will need to take the lead in expanding new basic learning opportunities.

Government resources alone will not be sufficient, however, to meet effectively the basic learning needs of all groups. Greater participation by nongovernmental organizations, communities, families, and individuals is needed. Examples of these forms of participation include support provided by local community organizations, employers, labour unions, co-operatives, voluntary organizations, and religious bodies. Often, existing programmes or services can be reoriented or enlarged to include an educational component or to support ongoing education and training activities. In some cases, facilities and materials can be produced by volunteers or donated. This diversification of participation also can encourage the broad commitment needed to ensure that society gives a real priority to meeting the basic learning needs of all, and thereby investing in its future.

In many cases, no matter how well a country mobilizes and allocates its resources, it still will not be able to meet the basic learning needs of the entire population. Because of their disadvantageous conditions, the least economically developed countries will not immediately have the capacity to supply the necessary quantity and diversity of learning opportunities. Only external assistance, of a significant amount and sustained over time, can meet the resource needs for basic learning in these countries. The long-term return on this investment, and the goal of external assistance, will be the eventual development of each country’s self-sufficiency in providing basic education.

(iii) Strengthening international solidarity

Meeting basic learning needs constitutes a common and universal human responsibility, requiring international solidarity and cooperation. All nations have valuable knowledge and experience to share in this field and much to gain in doing so. International consultation and co-operative action regarding basic education through the many existing structures and institutional arrangements need to be intensified.

The prospects for meeting basic learning needs around the world are determined in part by the dynamics of international relations and trade. A stable and peaceful international environment will facilitate socio-economic development and hence the prospects for expanding basic learning opportunities. All nations must continue to work together to resolve armed conflicts and to end military occupations. The world community has a particular responsibility to settle displaced populations or to facilitate their return to their countries of origin and ensure that their basic learning needs are met.

With the current relaxation of tensions and the decreasing number of armed conflicts, there are now real possibilities to reduce the tremendous waste of military spending and to shift those resources into socially useful areas, including basic education. The world community and individual governments need to plan this conversion of resources for peaceful uses with courage and vision, and in a thoughtful and careful manner.

To achieve education for all, substantial and longterm increases in resources for basic education will be needed. While most of these resources must necessarily come from within each country, the world community will need to act through multilateral and bilateral agencies to alleviate the constraints and deficiencies that prevent some countries from meeting the basic learning needs of their populations. The least economically developed and low-income countries have special needs which will require priority attention in international co-operative efforts during the 1990s.

Measures to reduce or eliminate current imbalances in trade relations and to reduce debt burdens will enable many low-income countries to rebuild their own economies and release and retain the human and financial resources needed for development and for providing basic education to their populations. In this connection, structural adjustment policies should protect appropriate funding levels for education.