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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.