Getting the reform strategies right
While neither underestimating the need to manage short-term
constraints nor disregarding the need to adapt existing systems, the Commission
wishes to emphasize the necessity of a more long-term approach if the reforms
required are to succeed. By the same token, it stresses the fact that too many
reforms one after another can be the death of reform, since they do not allow
the system the time needed either to absorb change or to get all the parties
concerned involved in the process. Furthermore, past failures show that many
reformers adopt an approach that is either too radical or too theoretical,
ignoring what can be usefully learned from experience or rejecting past
achievements. As a result, teachers, parents and pupils are disoriented and less
than willing to accept and implement reform.
The main parties contributing to the success of educational
reforms are, first of all, the local community, including parents, school heads
and teachers; secondly, the public authorities; and thirdly, the international
community. Many past failures have been due to insufficient involvement of one
or more of these partners. Attempts to impose educational reforms from the top
down, or from outside, have obviously failed. The countries where the process
has been relatively successful are those that obtained a determined commitment
from local communities, parents and teachers, backed up by continuing dialogue
and various forms of outside financial, technical or professional assistance. It
is obvious that the local community plays a paramount role in any successful
Local community participation in assessing needs by means of a
dialogue with the public authorities and groups concerned in society is a first,
essential stage in broadening access to education and improving its quality.
Continuing the dialogue by way of the media, community discussions, parent
education and on-the-job teacher training usually helps to create awareness,
sharpen judgement and develop local capacities. When communities assume greater
responsibility for their own development, they learn to appreciate the role of
education both as a way of achieving societal objectives and as a desirable
improvement of the quality of life.
In this respect, the Commission stresses the value of a cautious
measure of decentralization in helping to increase educational establishments'
responsibilities and their scope for innovation.
In any event, no reform can succeed without the co-operation and
active participation of teachers. This is one reason why the Commission
recommends that the social, cultural and material status of educators should be
considered as a matter of priority.
We are asking a great deal, too much even, of teachers, when we
expect them to make good the failings of other institutions which also have a
responsibility for the education and training of young people. The demands made
on teachers are considerable, at the very time when the outside world is
increasingly encroaching upon the school, particularly through the new
communication and information media. Thus, the young people with whom the
teacher has to deal, though receiving less parental or religious guidance, are
also better informed. Teachers have to take this new situation into account if
they are to be heeded and understood by young people, give them a taste for
learning, and show them that information and knowledge are two different things
and that knowledge requires effort, concentration, discipline and determination.
Rightly or wrongly, teachers feel isolated, not just because
teaching is an individual activity, but also because of the expectations aroused
by education and the criticisms which are, often unjustly, directed at them.
Above all, teachers want their dignity to be respected. Most teachers are
members of unions - in some cases, powerful unions -which are, undeniably,
committed to the protection of their corporate interests. Even so, there is a
need for the dialogue between society and teachers, and between the public
authorities and teachers' unions, to be both strengthened and seen in a new
Admittedly, the renewal of this kind of dialogue is no easy
task, but it is one that must needs be carried out in order to put an end to the
teachers' feelings of isolation and frustration, to make change acceptable and
to ensure that everyone contributes to the success of the necessary reforms.
It is appropriate in this context to add some recommendations
concerning the content of teacher training, access by teachers to continuing
education, the improvement of the status of teachers responsible for basic
education, and greater involvement of teachers in disadvantaged and marginalized
groups, where they can help to improve the integration of children and
adolescents in society.
This is also a plea for the education system to be provided not
only with well-trained teachers but also with the wherewithal for delivering
education of a high standard, including books, modern communication media, a
suitable cultural and economic environment and so forth.
Conscious of the situation in schools today, the Commission lays
great emphasis on the quantity and quality of traditional teaching materials
such as books, and on new media such as information technologies, which should
be used with discernment and with active pupil participation. For their part,
teachers should work in teams, particularly in secondary schools, thereby
helping to achieve the necessary flexibility in the courses of study on offer,
thus obviating many failures, bringing out some of the pupils' natural talents,
and providing better academic and career guidance with a view to learning
continued throughout life.
The improvement of education, seen in this light, requires
policy-makers to face up squarely to their responsibilities. They cannot leave
it to market forces or to some kind of self-regulation to put things right when
they go wrong.
It is on the strength of its belief in the importance of
policy-makers that the Commission has stressed the permanence of values, the
challenges of future demands, and the duties of teachers and society; they
alone, taking all the factors into consideration, can generate the
public-interests debates that education - since it concerns everyone, since it
is our future that is at stake and since education can help to improve the lot
of one and all - so badly needs.
This naturally leads us to focus on the role of the public
authorities. They must propose clear options and, after broad consultation with
all those involved, choose policies that, regardless of whether the education
system is public, private or mixed, show the way, establish the system's
foundations and its main thrusts, and regulate the system through the necessary
Naturally, all public policy decisions have financial
repercussions. The Commission does not underestimate this difficulty. Without
entering into the complexities of various systems, it holds the view that
education is a public good that should be available to all. Once this principle
is accepted, public and private funding may be combined, according to different
formulae that take into account each country's traditions, stage of development,
ways of life and income distribution.
All the choices to be made should, in any event, be predicated
upon the fundamental principle of equality of opportunity.
During the discussions, I made a more radical proposal. As
learning throughout life gradually becomes a reality, all young persons could be
allocated a study-time entitlement at the start of their education, entitling
them to a certain number of years of education. Their entitlement would be
credited to an account at an institution that would manage a 'capital' of time
available for each individual, together with the appropriate funds. Everyone
could use their capital, on the basis of their previous educational experience,
as they saw fit. Some of the capital could be set aside to enable people to
receive continuing education during their adult lives. Each person could
increase his or her capital through deposits at the 'bank' under a kind of
educational savings scheme. After thorough discussion, the Commission supported
this idea, though it was aware of the potential risks, even to equality of
opportunity. As things stand today, a study-time entitlement could be granted at
the end of compulsory schooling, so as to enable adolescents to choose a path
without signing away their future.
In general, however, if after the essential step forward taken
by the Jomtien Conference on basic education one had to point to an emergency
situation, it would be to secondary education that we would turn our attention,
given that the fate of millions of boys and girls is decided between the time
they leave primary school and the time they either start work or go on to higher
education. This is where the crunch comes in our education systems, either
because those systems are too elitist or because they fail to come to terms with
massive enrolments because of inertia and total inability to adapt. At a time
when these young people are struggling with the problems of adolescence, when
they feel, in a sense, mature but are in fact still immature, when instead of
being carefree they are worried about their future, the important thing is to
provide them with places where they can learn and discover, to give them the
wherewithal to think about their future and prepare for it, and to offer them a
choice of pathways suited to their abilities. It is also important to ensure
that the avenues ahead of them are not blocked and that remedial action and
in-course correction of their educational careers are at all times