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close this bookTowards Responsive Schools Supporting Better Schooling for Disadvantaged Children - Education Research Paper No. 38 (DFID, 2000, 270 p.)
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View the documentListen to those who use the schools - Civil society and education policy - A case study from Peru

Listen to those who use the schools - Civil society and education policy - A case study from Peru


analysis: Patricia Andrade Ricardo Villanueva, Martin Kelsey, Emma Cain
writing/editing: Emma Cain

What are the problems for children?

The provision of state education in Peru has expanded steadily since the 1950s. Basic education provision was seen as an essential pan of the state-led development approach of successive governments and achieved rising enrolment figures and falling levels of illiteracy. Nevertheless, these achievements were eroded during the 1980s and early 1990s by the reduction in real terms in education spending as a result of population increase, economic crisis and structural adjustment policies.1 Education expenditure as a proportion of GDP stood at 3.2% in 1970 falling to 2.22% in 1980 and made a weak recovery to 2.86% in 1996. whereas annual expenditure per pupil declined by 78% in real terms in the period 1970 to 1990.2

Although education spending has recovered somewhat in recent years (including increased investment in education by the World Bank), there have been growing concerns about the relevance, quality and effectiveness of primary education provision given increasing rates of drop-out and repetition of school years. For example, the repetition rate for primary schools was 14% in 1991 rising to 21% in 1996.

The changing political and socio-economic climate in Peru has impacted on attitudes to education as well as the ability of families to access the education on offer. The prolonged economic crisis, combined with the effects of internal conflict (the terrorist MRTA and Sendero Luminoso movements of the 80s and early 90s) have put strain on family survival strategies as poverty, displacement and rural-urban migration have increased. Where family income is falling or becoming less secure, children not only need to work to supplement family incomes, but also seek a wider range of practical skills and experiences which will ensure a livelihood in the future. In this context, a traditional, academic approach to education seems less relevant or useful to children.

A diagnosis of primary education in 1993 (carried out by World Bank, UN Development Programme, German Technical Assistance, UNESCO and the Ministry of Education)3 concluded that state education provision was deteriorating and highlighted 4 main characteristics of this decline:

· lack of basic facilities and materials, and inadequate teaching methods in schools;

· low teachers' salaries (leading to a situation where the profession is demoralised, new recruits are less well qualified and teacher training standards are falling);

· inefficient and over-bureaucratic financial and administrative management;

· breakdown of Ministry of Education capacity to operate at a national level (sphere of influence to the metropolitan area of Lima/Callao).

There are strong links between the changing political and socio-economic context and the deterioration in effective education provision. The above diagnosis identified a number of key factors which, over the previous two decades, had impacted on education provision:

· population explosion and rapid increase in demand for educational provision

· public finances did not increase in line with the increase in coverage of schools

· changes in national political situation which reduced traditional democratic structures and practices in favour of a more centralised and authoritarian style of government which was reflected in educational policymaking

· economic crisis leading to a drastic programme of stabilisation and structural adjustment policies demanded by international monetary organisations which impacted negatively on social spending and policies including education

· the growth of the terrorist organisation Sendero Luminoso which had an important influence in the teaching profession. Teachers and educationalists viewed with suspicion by the state

· institutional weakness within the Ministry of Education due to the restructuring of the state apparatus and the departure of the most able and qualified civil servants to the private sector.

· lack of continuity in the Ministry of Education: 7 changes of minister in 5 years and resulting constant change in policies (training, school texts, curriculum, structure of MoE etc.)

Education policymakers at the national level, as well as the World Bank, have recognised that state education is currently failing many children, and educational reform is under way. Initially, this process was predominantly based on analysis gathered by consultants working for the Ministry of Education or World Bank. It resulted in an education policy between 1990 and 1995 which focused on school construction and a management reform programme which sought to decentralise funding by providing state funding per pupil at school. The policy was later abandoned due to strong opposition from teachers, unions, educationalists, the church and public opinion, concerned about the quality of education. During this period the majority of World Bank and Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) social credits for education were spent on construction projects, including a high-profile schools construction programme in the run up to the 1995 presidential election.

Since 1995 there has been a major shift in education policy including: a wide-ranging reform of the overall education system (pre-school to tertiary); addressing issues of quality in primary schools; training of teachers and school managers. This fundamental change of approach was due in part to increased World Bank funding for primary education and improved institutional stability within the Ministry of Education. In addition, as explored in the following sections, the increased role of civil society in identifying educational needs and developing appropriate policy responses has been an important factor in this process of change.

The origins of 'Foro Educativo'

Foro Educativo has its origins in a Save the Children seminar, 'Human Development and Education', organised in June 1992 by a group of educationalists and other members of civil society who shared a concern about the quality and relevance of state education, and a conviction that a more effective and responsive education system was fundamental to social development. The very factors which had contributed to the decline of the education system also conspired against an NGO-led response of this kind, as severe recession, violence, and political crisis polarised Peruvian society and put NGOs in a precarious position vis-a -vis the government:

'1992 was the worst year in Peru's political history in the last half of the century. Shining Path, Fujimori's coup d'etat, recession; all those factors make the political environment fragile and highly unstable. Despite all this, (here was) a small group of people coming from the spectrum of the political rainbow and involving themselves in a seminar to discuss long term policies for education! It was a groundbreaking experience after years of biased partisanism, in that most of the NGOs were still hard line supporters of 'popular education' (i.e. non-formal education).' Ricardo Villanueva, Save the Children Peru Coordinator

An outcome of this seminar was the establishment of Foro Educativo, originally set up as a think-tank of educationalists working in both the state and non-governmental sectors with the objective of identifying educational needs and making concrete recommendations for state education reform. The creation of this new NGO was based on the conviction that in order to develop and put into practice effective educational reform, it was essential to promote wider participation of members of 'civil society' in educational analysis and policymaking. As its work developed, Foro Educativo also evolved into a national network through which actors at all levels (educationalists, NGOs, teachers, school directors and students) were encouraged to form an alliance and participate in educational policy debate and policymaking. This has now been formalised within Foro Educativo's structure in that it operates both as a national network and as a research/influencing NGO with a core team of paid professionals who conduct research, produce publications, and develop the network. The NGO is managed by an elected committee made up of members of the Foro Educativo network.

The consensus leading to the initial seminar and subsequent creation of Foro Educativo grew out of an existing dialogue within an already established civil society including educationalists and NGOs, both national and international. Save the Children's decision to fund both the original seminar and the establishment of Foro Educativo as an NGO was based on existing contacts; the then Save the Children Deputy Director was one of the original group who conceived and organised the 1992 seminar and took the initiative forward to establish a permanent forum. It is this ongoing dialogue with key educationalists which led to a shared outlook and approach to improving the quality of state education in Peru, and the initial consensus on which the work of Foro Educativo has been based (this is explored more fully below under The role and development of an education forum').



An essential part of Foro Educativo's work has been to reflect upon and analyse the educational context (social, cultural and political as well as economic) within which they, and the policymakers in government, operate. This section looks at factors identified by Foro Educativo as determining the educational context and limiting the development of 'relevant' educational policies which can respond more effectively to children's needs. This interpretation has been developed (and continues to be debated) through discussion, research and analysis by the core team of Foro Educativo with input from the other members of the network (the mechanisms for ensuring wide participation in this process are explored later under The role and development of an education forum).

The purpose of education

The purpose of the Peruvian state education system has traditionally been seen in terms of producing good citizens who will contribute to and benefit Peruvian society. This view has been reflected at all levels, by policymakers, teachers and parents:

'The main characteristic for a relevant education is that it should contribute to local development... an education system which prepares the student to play an active role in the local economy' Teacher in Piura

'In general, parents in rural areas do not want their children to have the kind of education they had. They want changes in the education system, but they see it more in terms of a child going through the formal education system in order to benefit the family; for example, whether they will come out better prepared to be good fishermen...' Teacher in Piura

While this view of the purpose of education is legitimate, it often differs from the views of children themselves: 'We have our dreams and plans, but the teachers don't let us carry them out' (Girl in Piura). An education which focuses solely on preparation for future economic development at the local and national levels tends to ignore the present reality, needs and dreams of the subjects of the education system, the children themselves. This approach implies that children's own personal development and their current social role (as children) is less important than, and even unconnected to, their future role as productive adults.

Through a series of papers developed in consultation with all levels of civil society, Foro Educativo has been able to challenge this traditional Peruvian view of the purpose of education, defining a relevant education as one which places emphasis on the reality of children's present as well as their future opportunities.

Centralised planning/national diversity

A perspective which sees education principally in terms of preparing future citizens for their role in national society also begs the question of how this 'national society' is defined. Given the diversity and complexity of Peruvian society, and the rapid changes under way, it is impossible to define a single, homogenous vision of national identity, culture and society. An exclusive focus on an abstract future 'goal' characterised by uniform national identity and aspirations has hindered the development of a relevant educational system which is able to respond to the differing realities of children's experience and opportunities:

'They still make the mistake of planning from Lima, without considering that there are different places and environments, and therefore different adults and children... urban interests are completely different from rural interests, and the perspective of a child on the coast is completely different to the perspective of a child in the mountains or the jungle: so it's very easy for the planner to focus on an area of certainty such as knowledge, rather than looking at wider individual development because this is too abstract.'i Interview with President of the Piura regional education network

i Piura is a northern coastal city which was heavily affected by the 'el niño' storms.

The dominant perspective of Peruvian society generally shared by policymakers within the state structures is one which is principally urban, Spanish speaking, based on 'Western' culture, and 'modern' aspirations. This view is both a cause as well as a symptom of a centralised approach to planning which ignores the cultural, linguistic, religious and ethnic heterogeneity of Peruvian society, leaving large sectors of the population alienated from 'mainstream' culture within the education system:

'The users of the Peruvian education system found themselves in a hidden conflict with an educational system which favoured an imaginary national society and which ignored individual needs and interests while excluding the elements of ownership and identity of those who did not fit in with the identified cultural, linguistic, religious and ethnic norms.'4

While educational reforms in the 1970s sought to recognise and respond to cultural diversity in Peru, the underlying aim was to seek effective ways of facilitating the integration of different groups into an overall national framework: 'The emphasis of educational reform was based on a vision of an ideal society which the different state reforms were working towards creating. Although modified, the same concepts of nation and citizenship determined the course of Peruvian educational policy.5

Limited participation in policy-making

As well as being geographically and culturally centralised, the process of education policy-making has also been politically centralised in terms of lack of participation of the different actors and stakeholders involved in the education system, including teachers, parents and children themselves. In common with most countries, education reform has traditionally been seen as the responsibility and domain of the state. In the past, seeking the agreement of teachers (those, after all, responsible for putting policies into practice at the classroom level) has not been seen as a priority by policymakers. The importance of teacher participation in the decision-making process to ensure that reforms are relevant, workable and effective has been even less recognised. This approach has led to a situation where teachers on the ground may be unaware of new policies, or may simply decide to ignore them, regardless of their usefulness.

Parents have also been ignored as potentially important actors in policymaking. both by government and the teaching profession. Their participation tends to be considered by teachers and educationalists as at best irrelevant and at worst disruptive, a view voiced by this teacher in the Andean department of Cusco:

'The best parent is the one who sends their child to school and then doesn't make a fuss, doesn't come in to school, or doesn't appear. On the other hand, a bad parent constantly comes in, follows his/her child around and constantly asks questions and shares opinions.'

In all areas of social policymaking, there is growing recognition of the value of wider civil participation, both in terms of giving legitimacy to new policies adopted and ensuring that those policies are appropriate. This approach to policymaking is still new and practical ways of facilitating the process are still being developed and tested, (as described in greater depth in the following section). As part of this process, the value of the participation of children and adolescents is only just beginning to be recognised. Children are still seen as passive beneficiaries of social policies, including education reform, rather than actors in their own right: 'I don't think it's a problem of a lack of channels for participation or forms of organisation, but a lack of confidence in the ability of children to take part themselves.' Interview with member of Foro Educativo.

Since the introduction of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, there has been a growing recognition in Peru, and throughout the region, of the importance of children's right to participation, reflected through initiatives such as the creation of a youth parliament. However, the nature and level of children's participation through such initiatives is often ambiguous, limited and symbolic, with the voice of children defined and channelled in adult terms and through adult structures. Within the education system, even where children are encouraged to voice their opinions, the extent of their participation is often limited by adults, as highlighted by children themselves: 'The adults listen to us, but when it comes to making decisions they don't support us'

Existing attitudes to children and perceptions of their role and abilities are deeply ingrained and slow to change. The process of change is complex and challenging, even for those adults with the best intentions:

'Everybody; teachers, parents, people who work with children, do so with the best intentions. So what is it that makes all of us surpress the autonomy of children? I think we have to look more closely at what it means to be a responsible adult in terms of how we deal with children, because what happens in practice is that if someone gives liberty and independence to children, he/she is seen as irresponsible'. Interview with member of Foro Educativo

The next section outlines how Foro Educativo has embarked on the process of building up a broad-base for participation in education policy-making and changing attitudes towards children.

The 'culture of childhood'

The attitudes to children (and their participation) discussed above stem from what Foro Educativo refers to as the predominant 'culture of childhood' which needs to be explored and challenged if more relevant approaches to education are to be developed. In Peru, children have not only been absent from the process of educational policymaking, but also from the process of education itself.

As mentioned above, the ratification of the Convention of the Rights of the Child (CRC) has served as a catalyst for stimulating national debate on children and their role in development policy. However an enormous gulf between the provisions of the CRC and the reality of children's lives persists, and rights relating to children's participation continue to prove the most challenging for adults to accept.

'The spirit of the Convention appears formally in the policies developed, but it is not connected to the cultural changes which are required, or the elements which are needed in order to create new attitudes and ways of conceptualising the role of children and the relationship between children and adults.' Ricardo Villanueva, Save the Children Programme Coordinator, Peru

Traditional attitudes to children in Peru are characterised as authoritarian and protective. Childhood is defined as an inferior state of human development - children are seen as incomplete adults in the making while adults are mature and superior. Because children's needs tend to be defined in terms of what they lack, their weakness and limitations, the rights focus tends to relate to provision and protection. A focus on these rights alone, while ignoring the right to participation and development, runs the risk of legitimising an authoritarian and hierarchical perception of the relationship between adults and children:

'Not only children, but also adolescents in different social sectors suffer repressive and negative conduct from the authorities, their parents and teachers in a bid to subjugate their will to the iron will of adults. They are seen as rebels, badly behaved, insolent, lacking respect and violent'6

'Too much protection and emphasis on provision can compromise the independence of the child, his/her development, discovery, the establishment of the norms needed to live with others, making decisions and taking part in putting them into practice.'7

This view leads to an assumption that children are, or should be, passive and dependent within the educational process, and that the problems faced by children can only be tackled by adults. This attitude is part and parcel of an outlook which sees the role of formal education as preparing children for a future in an adult world (as yet unknown, but predicted by adults) and ignores how children deal with challenges in their daily lives.

Within the formal education system, this outlook translates as the provision of different items or sets of knowledge deemed relevant to each age group, rather than building on the skills which children bring to the classroom and are developing to address real problems and social situations.

'knowledge is given out in doses based on an idea of what the children can or cannot do, without giving them challenges to resolve... The idea of taking into account the previous knowledge of children (not just in terms of information, but rather the body of theoretical and practical knowledge, values and attitudes which influence their way of thinking, feeling and acting) in order to make links between what they know and what they are learning is not yet widely practised.'8 Ramirez De Sanchez Moreno. A view of children as passive victims of their circumstances leads to the predominant 'deterministic' view of childhood which sees the future development of children as determined entirely by the constraints presented by their environment such as poverty, isolation, etc.

'The opinion that environmental conditions alone determine a child's development opportunities has led some authors to conclude that the high risk conditions which 70% of Peruvian children live in, affect beyond remedy the possibility of a healthy development.9

While it is important to recognise the challenges that children face, it is also important to recognise that these challenges provide opportunities for children to develop their own problem-solving skills. An approach that focuses on what children lack and responds by 'providing' the knowledge adults think they need can even become a self-fulfilling prophecy: children identified in terms of their 'problems' can become children with learning difficulties, poor self-esteem, insecure, conflictive etc.

Linked to these assumptions about the capacities of children are a range of gender-related assumptions; for example, that girls have less capacity for abstract reasoning than boys, or have more limited aspirations. These kind of assumptions make up the prevailing 'culture of childhood' and need to be identified, unpicked and challenged if that culture is to be shifted.

Given that the capacities of children and the realities of their lives are currently absent from the process of formal education itself, it is hardly surprising that policy-makers and adults generally find it difficult to recognise the potential of children as key actors in educational policymaking, and to find ways of facilitating their active and effective participation.

'When we talk about policies we are talking about decisions which involve or should involve the whole of society. One of the biggest obstacles in promoting change in the educational system is a culture of childhood and education shared by the media, families, teachers, pupils, academics, teacher trainers, international bodies and technical teams in the Ministry of Education. We need to involve every one of these sectors, in one way or another, in the process of building consensus.' Member of Foro Educativo

The Response

A shared vision of development

The point of departure for Foro Educativo was a vision of development which places the individual at the heart of policy, as opposed to approaches which focus principally on economic growth. In terms of education, the focus of Foro Educativo's work from the outset has been on human (and therefore child) development in defining both educational objectives as well as processes.

This focus on human development argues that basic education provision should respond to a range of key human needs shared by all individuals throughout their lives. In order to structure this approach, the Foro Educativo team has adopted the analytical framework of Chilean economist Manfred Max Neef10, who identified the following basic human needs:

· survival
· protection
· affection
· understanding
· participation
· recreation
· creativity
· identity
· liberty

As explored below, Foro Educativo's focus, analysis and recommendations have evolved as a result of the input of a wide range of actors through the network. Nevertheless, the basic principles outlined above continue to form the foundations of its thinking, and the organisation's achievement has been to bring others on board and build a shared understanding (what Foro Educativo calls "building consensus") among those involved in education in the governmental and non governmental sectors as well as those working on the ground.

Building a national consensus on education

The first stage of Foro Educativo's work was to start a process of internal debate within Peruvian civil society, with the objective of building a consensus on the purpose of education based on the vision of human development in education outlined above. This was carried out in two phases:

· Phase 1, 1994-5: formulating a set of educational principles and approaches based on a diagnosis of the basic needs of Peruvian children and adolescents, with input from a wide range of actors involved in education.

· Phase 2, 1995-7: based on the educational needs identified in the first phase, production of a series of documents, exploring and proposing policy changes in early, primary and secondary level education in Peru.

Under Phase 1, more than 2,000 people in 18 of the 24 departments of Peru participated in a series of 'National Educational Debates' to discuss an initial 'proposal' formulated by Foro Educativo's technical. These people represented different sectors of civil society including teachers and other education professionals, as well as with Ministry of Education representatives, to ensuring that input reflected a wide debate around educational issues.

Through these consultations, participants took part in identifying key needs of the population in relation to education and fed in comments and suggestions from both national and local regional perspectives. The consultations aimed to explore not only the problems that children and adolescents face, but also the resources which they draw on to tackle these problems, as well as exploring adults' and children's attitudes to and expectations of education in responding to these challenges.

This process culminated in the production of a publication Bases para un Acuerdo Nacional por la Educación (Foundations for a National Consensus on Education) in 1997, which was then presented and debated in a national conference on 'Education for Human Development'. In addition, the final document was debated at smaller regional conferences organised by Mesas Regionales (local education networks) which have been set up or strengthened, as a result of the consultation process initiated by Foro Educativo. Through the participation of these networks in the main regions (Cusco, Iquitos, Piura) it has been possible to ensure the development of educational proposals sensitive to local regional needs.

The extensive process of consultation and national debate on educational issues has generated a climate of excitement and renewal within both governmental and non-governmental educational institutions. The proposals produced have been well received by the technical teams of the Ministry of Education who were involved in the consultation process and thus share a sense of ownership. The recently published Basic Curriculum for Primary Education now includes within its theoretical framework a focus on human development and attention to the basic needs of children:

'Education should be orientated towards human development, including within this concept, the integrated development of the abilities, skills, competencies and knowledge needed to face a changing world. As part of our commitment to the national population, early years and primary education should take account of the needs of children and contribute to satisfying them'11

In practical terms, this means the development of educational provision which responds to the needs of children and adolescents in their daily lives and helps develop the skills needed to secure a better future for both the individual and the country. There is, for example, a growing consensus around the need to develop a series of educational approaches focusing on 'life skills' such as problem solving, risk assessment, initiative, and the tools needed for the 'modern world' such as English and information technology.

The consultation process sought to give equal weight to both academic (educational specialists, Ministry of Education etc) and non-academic (teachers, local education officials etc) input, and this distinctive approach proved successful in stimulating national debate. As a result of the consultation process, Foro Educativo has come to be regarded as a legitimate representative of a wide range of perspectives in the field of education.

Building capacity for wider participation of civil society

As the process which led to the production of the Bases document evolved, Foro Educativo and its members became increasingly aware of low levels of participation of key stakeholders. In response, the organisation has developed a number of initiatives aimed at encouraging broader, more effective participation.

Once Foro Educativo recognised that participation of teachers and local authorities in the first stages of their work had been limited, efforts were made to bring them in more closely to the second phase, through the local Mesas Regionales (local education networks). Foro Educativo established a wide ranging information network, and initiatives such as teachers' workshops designed to promote the active participation of those working on the ground in testing new policies. Direct input from parents and children, however, was still absent, and the need to find ways of including them in the process of national debate on education was identified as a priority.

· Information network

To improve information exchange across regions, Foro Educativo pioneered the establishment of a fax-based information and policy network. The network makes accessible information on education policy initiatives which does not normally reach local education professionals and schools, and in turn also provides a channel for grass-roots responses to be fed into the national debate.

Twenty institutions are involved in managing the network, working in the regional departments of Ayacucho, Cusco, Cajamarca, Ica, Iquitos, Lambayeque, Piura and Puno as well as the metropolitan department of Lima-Callao. Information is disseminated and exchanged through Contacto Foro, a bi-monthly publication which presents and analyses up to date information on educational policies. It is targeted principally at teachers, who use the information to introduce changes at the classroom level, and education authorities at the regional level who also use it as a resource in decision-making and the introduction of educational innovations:

'I have tried to link the information I receive (through Contacto Foro) with the reality here in Cusco. For example, I have begun to use some indicators developed by Foro Educativo in supervising the work of early years teachers. We have developed a 'sheet' so that the young children can tell us in a spontaneous way their views about their kindergarten, their teacher, and other things that can give us an idea of what the children themselves want. We include the information gathered using this 'sheet' in sessions arranged by the Local Education Authority where teachers learn from one another using a range of worksheets and resource packs which help them to turn these ideals into practice.' Interview with Nohemí Estrada, Specialist in Early Years Education at the Local Education Authority in Cusco

Box 1: Selected themes covered under Contact Foro

Contacto Foro No 8 is entitled 'Barefoot Youngsters with Empty Dreams', and tries to put forward the 'other face' of youth. Under the title of 'Youth and adolescence; nothing more than violence?' this issue covers university brigades who have spontaneously organised themselves to offer practical assistance to those left homeless through the 'El Niño' floods and storms throughout the country.

'It was challenging to face people's prejudices about young people, like, for example, when they say we don't care, or that we won't be able to do what we say we will - it was sad and disappointing to find so many doors closed because of lack of confidence in us, but we realised that we could achieve a lot when we worked together, and that we are able to get together.' (interview with member of university brigade for Contacto Foro)

Contacto Foro No 11, 'Vulnerable but not beaten', aims to challenge perceptions of children. Under the editorial title 'Education in difficult situations' the following questions were explored: 'Is it possible to educate in situations of risk or disadvantage? Is it possible for girls and boys who are undernourished, who work, who are victims of violence or who come from poor homes to get on in life?'

'We are 9 siblings, but not all with the same mother. In my house I live with my little sister. I have lots of animals: duck, cock, dog, iguana, white mouse. I breed and sell iguanas at 5 soles each, 10 for a pair. I set the price. But I won't sell the mouse. It's called Willy and goes about on my shoulder. My family sell pigs and I help with the selling. I like the religion and pastrymaking classes. We sell them and they give us some of the earnings. I invest my earnings in buying animals. I'd like it if there was a secondary level at this school so I could study languages' (Johnny, working child.)

Far from implying that environmental conditions do not impact on children's development, this issue underlines the danger of assuming that, because of their circumstances, underprivileged children cannot benefit from education and get on in life. This issue of Contacto Foro highlights the capacity which a group of working children have for maintaining their humanity and dreams for the future. The publication concludes that however hard children try, if the education available to them assumes that they are not capable of moving on, they will effectively be condemned to repeat the cycle of poverty and its associated ills.

Contacto Foro is circulated to some 4,000 people - it is also circulated by each centre that receives it, so the full extent of coverage is higher and yet to be calculated. Information from different sources (statistical data, official information from the Ministry of Education, specialised information and interviews with teachers and pupils) is presented accessibly in each 4 page issue covering a specific theme. Themes covered to date include:

· Taking the pulse of PLANCAD (teacher training plan)
· The start of the school year
· How much does school cost and who pays?
· Survival and protection: the needs of children and adolescents
· An educational information network based on the perceptions of children
· And after school...what? Educational options
· Barefoot youngsters with empty dreams
· Competencies...the key word in the new curriculum
· Youth and adolescence: nothing more than violence?
· Vulnerable but not beaten. Education in difficult situations
· A living school which learns from children

· Teachers' workshops

Teachers' workshops have been an important tool in making links between policy and practice. Through these workshops, teachers learn about new policies and practical educational approaches which can help them identify the needs of the students in their classes, and put forward their own ideas for workable responses to those needs.

These are not workshops on teaching methodologies or concrete innovations to be tried out in the classroom, but an opportunity for teachers to rethink the purpose of the education they are giving their students. Teachers are encouraged to analyse the policies developed by the Ministry of Education, as well as their own views of the purpose of education, their role as teachers and that of their students, their practical approach to teaching, and different ways of interpreting and implementing new policies.

Giving children a voice

As discussed earlier in this case study, one of the greatest challenges for Foro Educativo and its members has been to find effective ways of promoting the participation of children in the monitoring, analysis and development of effective education policy. Inextricably linked to this process has been the process of challenging adult perceptions of children and the prevailing 'culture of childhood', discussed below.

Children have a dual role in the process of developing educational policy: they represent a key point of reference for analysing the impact of the education system, but are also actors in their own right with opinions of the education system and their requirements from that system. Foro Educativo has developed the following strategies to facilitate children's involvement in these two processes:

· A set of child focused indicators

The term 'child focused' is used to describe approaches which take as a starting point what children experience. Foro Educativo's child focused indicators have been designed to evaluate educational quality based on an analysis of children's needs. Based on the basic needs identified at the start of Foro Educativo's consultative process (survival, protection, affection, understanding, participation, recreation, creativity, identity and liberty - see Section II, part 1.1), a set of indicators were developed to test how the education provided addresses children's basic needs. Seven indicators were identified for each basic need, including the following examples:

· students who work
· schools that offer occupational skills workshops
· students who drop out of school due to pregnancy
· children who are insured against accidents happening within school
· teachers trained in sex education
· teachers who call their pupils by their first name
· teachers using active teaching methods in their classes
· student counselling offered by the school
· number of pupils who belong to a youth organisation
· schools which offer extra-curricular activities
· number of recreational facilities/resources per student
· schools which use the mother tongue as the principle teaching language
· schools which use self-assessment as an instrument of evaluation
· schools which develop activities based on student initiatives

The indicators evaluate factors related to what a school can offer (e.g. number of schools that offer occupational skills training workshops) as well as factors which relate to educational demand and which, while affecting educational opportunities, are not necessarily linked to the school system (e.g. number of students who drop out of school due to pregnancy). In this way, factors previously seen as abstract or secondary, such as the relationship between teachers and students and student participation are included in an approach to evaluating educational quality for the first time in Peru.

'It is not enough to analyse the possibilities available to groups or individuals in addressing their needs, but it is also important to examine how the context limits or encourages, the development of those possibilities by the groups or individuals.' Max Neef, Manfred12

The focus on children's needs as a starting point for evaluation represents a new departure from more orthodox approaches used by policymakers and investors (i.e. local and national government as well as international bodies such as the World Bank) which have focused on indicators such as repetition and drop-out rates, or factors related to economic investment in education such as infrastructure, materials, teacher training etc. within a framework of inputs and outputs.

The new set of child focused indicators are currently still being tested and Foro Educativo is exploring ways of incorporating them into work with schools through the network. In the long term, it is hoped that they will be taken up by the Ministry of Education (some senior MoE officers have already been involved at the development stage) and other key policymaking and funding bodies such as the World Bank. The use of child focused indicators in evaluating and developing education policy are part and parcel of a new way of looking at childhood and the purpose of education, the process of their uptake by policy-makers is liable to be long and slow.

· A mechanism for children's participation: The 'Dream Game'

The Dream Game is a board game which facilitates the active participation of children in the policy debate, gathering their opinions and perceptions of education. The dissemination of this information provides policymakers, education officials and teachers with a basis to incorporate children's perspectives into new educational approaches. The game was developed and piloted by Foro Educativo (initially with 7 to 11 year olds) and has since been used with children and adolescents at both state and private schools in Lima and other urban and marginal urban areas of the country (Iquitos in the Amazon region, Piura on the northern coastal strip, Arequipa in the arid region in the south).

Through an activity which is designed to be enjoyable and non-threatening, the children and adolescents express their dreams, interests and perceptions of their own experience of school, providing reference points for the analysis of educational policies. For example, a secondary school pupil playing the game in Iquitos had the following to say about the curriculum:

'A subject I would add in the first place is guidance for young people to help them with some of the problems they have, like gangs' While the same child suggested dropping the following subject: 'religion, because everyone has their own belief and school, through religion classes, can sometimes create divisions. I would let everyone choose for themselves.'

· Youth consultations

These give adolescents the opportunity to express their opinions on the education they receive, as well as their needs. The meetings promote open dialogue on the problems and challenges faced by young people now and in the future. Discussion is stimulated through a range of newspaper cuttings: the young people choose the subjects of most interest to themselves and discuss the issues raised, reflecting on how changes in educational policies can contribute to addressing these issues and challenges.

As an example, the government is currently proposing the creation of a further two years of secondary school (the 'bachillerato' - equivalent to sixth form in the UK). A fifth grade student had the following response: 'why don't they increase the number of classes instead of adding an extra year? Because those 2 years might be a waste of time for lots of young people. We already go to school for 11 years which is tiring enough, and now they're going to add two more! I think they should think very carefully before they impose the 'bachillerato'. It would be better to improve what we've already got, taking into consideration the views of the students and teachers.'

Changing attitudes to childhood

As already discussed, for participation of children and adolescents to be truly effective a shift in the 'culture of childhood' is needed. Paradoxically, as the work of Foro Educativo highlights, the current 'culture of childhood' can be challenged by the very process of child participation itself, both in terms of focusing on their educational needs as well as including them in the policymaking process.

The importance of child participation and of challenging perceptions of childhood in order to build a more effective and responsive educational system was not recognised by the members of Foro Educativo when the organisation was established. It only became increasingly clear as the consultative process developed. This area of work represents a new departure for Foro Educativo, and new approaches are being explored:

'Foro Educativo started out with a focus on developing proposals for educational policy reform, teaching practice, management etc. But placing children at the centre of their work was not there at first It comes out in the books on indicators and early years education. This is an important step, but... I don't yet see a permanent focus at the heart of Foro Educativo's work on this issue of the 'culture of childhood' or child participation and protagonism... it's not completely there yet.' Member of Foro Educativo

Nevertheless, the development of Foro Educativo's work to date points towards a clearer focus on children, based on the initial focus on the development of the individual, the identification of basic needs, and the focus on the potential and capacities of children. This focus is evident in Contacto Foro, both in terms of the underlying purpose of the information network as well as through the themes covered by the publication.

Partnership and the role of an INGO

As we have seen, Foro Educativo's approach is to link the grass-roots and policymakers by building local partnerships between government, local education authorities, academics, NGOs, teachers and students. Their relationship with international organisations is an extension of this approach and has the potential for influencing policy beyond the national sphere. Foro Educativo has working links with the World Bank and with UNESCO, as well as other INGOs who have followed and supported its work. This section looks more closely at the relationship between Foro Educativo and Save the Children.

Foro Educativo is a distinctively Peruvian initiative which came about at a critical historical moment as a result of local conditions. Nevertheless, from its inception in 1992, Save the Children has had an important role in shaping the organisation and its work. Save the Children's initial decision to fund the first seminar, and subsequently fund the establishment of Foro Educativo as an NGO, was based on the existing dialogue with key individuals and organisations who shared similar concerns about education and perspectives on development. It is important to recognise that Save the Children staff in Peru are local actors in their own right and are well linked in to local networks and debates. This means that, through local staff, the attention of Save the Children as an INGO (working nationally, regionally and internationally) can be drawn to innovative and effective initiatives as they emerge, so that priorities can be identified and appropriate responses developed. The history of Save the Children's relationship with Foro Educativo is a good example of this process.

Despite the convergence of outlook and priorities, Save the Children was initially concerned that Foro Educativo would become purely a think-tank, divorced from the reality of children's lives and education provision on the ground. However, through renewed involvement with Foro Educativo since 1996, Save the Children has actively contributed to the development of the NGO's ideas and strategies, leading to the piloting of child focused approaches to analysing education needs and influencing policymaking through specific projects such as the children's board game (The 'Dream Game' - see above):

"This was groundbreaking work for Foro Educativo and in many ways for our (Save the Children's) work in South America, because it was investing in the design of a methodology to access young people's opinions.' Martin Kelsey, Save the Children Programme Director South America

In addition, through its partnerships with other local actors, Save the Children has also been able to give practical support to Foro Educativo as its work has developed. To balance the concern that, for logistical reasons, the focus of Foro Educativo's work to date has been largely concentrated in urban areas, Save the Children has facilitated links with another partner, ADAR (The Association for the Development of Rural Amazonia), to ensure that rural children are brought into the network.

The partnership between Save the Children and Foro Educativo represents a two-way process of discussion and mutual learning. As one of Save the Children's key partners in the region, Foro Educativo had an important role in helping Save the Children to define a new regional strategy which focuses on education as one of the key themes. The experience with Foro Educativo has shown formal education to be an area where Save the Children can work effectively with local partners to develop child focused indicators and methods for facilitating child participation in monitoring education quality and developing policy changes. It has also helped Save the Children to focus on these approaches and apply them to other areas of work beyond education.

By involving Foro Educativo closely in the regional strategy and programme, Save the Children also aims to ensure that the approach being developed in Peru achieves a wider impact in the region. As part of the regional strategy, Save the Children will embark next year on similar work with partners in Colombia and Brazil:

'What is important about the Foro Educativo project is that although it is obviously set in the Peruvian context, addressing very specific education issues in Peru, the methodology, how you work with small children in the classroom, thinking about information linkages, etc, is obviously a methodology which can be applicable in other countries... there is interest in both Colombia and Brazil to take that model and make changes as appropriate.' Martin Kelsey, Save the Children Programme Director South America

Challenges for the Future

Since its creation in 1993, Foro Educativo has been successful in stimulating debate around education and facilitating broad participation in that debate. The demand for participation has in fact proved greater than anyone had anticipated; as word has spread, schools in different pans of the country have requested to be linked to the information network, and offered themselves as 'nodes' (a regional centre for disseminating Contacto Foro, receiving feedback and channelling it back to Foro Educativo). Members of Foro Educativo consistently report a sense of excitement and new consensus on the purpose of education and a shared commitment to consultation at all levels of the education system.

The consultative style of Foro Educativo's work, based on communication, feedback and cross-referencing, facilitates the identification of gaps and limitations. It was through this approach that the importance of bringing children more actively into the policymaking process was identified early on. Other limitations to participation and representation have also come to light, raising new challenges for future work including the following examples:

· How can parents become more involved in the national education debate through the information network? One obvious way to approach this is through Parent Teacher Associations, but this would only involve parents who already take an active role in their children's education. Innovative ways of accessing parents who are more removed from the education system - those who either do not support their children's school attendance or decide remove their children from school - are being explored.

· How can children who are not in school (non-enrolees or dropouts) be involved in the process of consultation? Seeking the opinions of children in school may help explain why children lose interest and decide to drop out, but more effort needs to be directed towards accessing the educational attitudes and needs of children outside the system.

· How can the rural perspective be brought more closely into the process? To date, rural schools and children have been under-represented, although links have recently been established with organisations in the Amazon region. The challenge to open up the network more extensively to rural areas is important given that these are the areas where problems of non-enrolment, absenteeism and drop out are highest. Logistical problems of lack of resources and effective communication systems in rural schools are a limiting factor: Contacto Foro may reach rural towns by fax, but not isolated communities and schools. A first step towards addressing this issue is to find out more about how Contacto Foro is already being distributed informally beyond the established fax network.

· How can cultural differences, particularly where minority languages are involved, be taken into account by the network to ensure that it is more accessible to and reflects the concerns of children from diverse cultural groups? Minority languages and bilingual education are crucial issues within national education policy to which Foro Educativo has not yet given priority. The absence of new debate on these issues within the network may reflect the problem of reaching and engaging isolated and rural areas, both because of technical and resource limitations and the fact that the language of the network is Spanish.

A crucial challenge facing Foro Educativo, in common with all NGOs involved in the process of influencing policy, is how to track effectively the impact of its work on policymaking and, in the long term, on the educational opportunities available to children. As we discussed in the first section, since 1995 there has been a shift in education policy away from infrastructure development to more of a focus on the quality and effectiveness of education provided in schools. This shift has coincided with the 'proposals' published by Foro Educativo based on input through regional consultations and the information network. While it is known that key Ministry of Education officials are involved in the consultative processes and receive material produced by Foro Educativo, it is difficult - perhaps impossible - to measure the extent to which Foro Educativo's input impacts on the policy decisions made by the Ministry of Education. In an attempt to track the impact of their work, Foro Educativo systematically logs its activities and involvement on different education issues, setting them against policy decisions made by the Ministry of Education, but recognises that many other external factors also influence how decisions are taken.

A further problem in gauging impact is that while lip service is often paid to the proposals developed by Foro Educativo, this may not translate into changes in practice. For example, child focused indicators may generate a lot of interest, but are not necessarily adopted and used effectively. The very nature of Foro Educativo's work requires a long-term view: the fundamental goal of changing attitudes both to children and to education is part of a process which is necessarily long, slow, diffuse and difficult to track.

To date, Foro Educativo has concentrated its work within Peru and this provides a sound basis for it to build alliances with other education networks and organisations working towards similar objectives in the wider Latin American region. Building links, together with finding ways of engaging more proactively with influential multilateral agencies such as the World Bank represent new strategic aims for the organisation to take forward in the coming years.

The financial sustainability of Foro Educativo is also a major challenge. During its establishment, the organisation has been relatively dependent on Save the Childrenii. However the fact that it now has a growing profile and has demonstrated capacity to generate materials and reach a wide-ranging public stand it in good stead to diversify its funding base both through existing and future links with other agencies.

ii Foro Educativo raises funds through annual fees from associated members

Finally there are macroeconomic factors which could impact on the work of Foro Educativo (and all those involved in education reform) in the future. As economic recession looms, with Brazil already in financial crisis and instability set to spread across the region, there are fears that education may once again slip down the public spending priority list.

What has been learnt?

The Peru case study shows how a local NGO can play a key role in building connections between civil society and the government sector to open up the debate on education and stimulate a process through which education policy and practice can become more responsive to children's real needs. The study describes an approach which offers useful lessons on how to build capacity for broad-based participation on education issues and challenge existing attitudes towards children.

Making links between civil society and government

Operating within the structure of civil society at a time of social division and distrust, a local NGO can play a crucial role in rebuilding links between different individuals and organisations in the state and non-state sectors. In this case, the fact Foro Educativo was established by people with a long-term commitment to education gave it the legitimacy to engage with both users and providers of education systems and to pioneer a process of dialogue between the groups. Foro Educativo's catalytic role in this process demonstrates three important components:

· providing a starting point for debate (here a developmental vision of education)

· organising opportunities for dialogue and ensuring broad-based participation from both the academic and non-academic sectors (regional consultations, the network)

· managing the process of consultation and feedback and synthesising the outcomes into working outputs (education policy proposals)

Building capacity for broad-based participation

The process described above seized an opportunity, at a particular moment in the Peruvian political and social context, to develop wider social participation in policy-making. It encouraged stakeholders to see that they had a valid contribution to make to the education debate and similarly helped government officials to recognise the value of listening to teachers and users. Foro Educativo's experience demonstrates:

· the power of a common voice among stakeholders in influencing policy-makers

· the importance of a sense of shared ownership between civil society and government in relation to proposals for policy change

· the legitimisation of policies through broad-based participation in their development, ensuring that they are more responsive to children's needs and reflect regional and cultural differences

· the importance of participation of teachers and users in translating policies into practice in the classroom.

In terms of measuring the impact of its influencing work, Foro Educativo has faced a common problem: how far can policy change be attributed to the network's activities, and how far have other external factors influenced policymaking? Although there has been a shift in education policy-making in the direction of Foro Educativo's proposals, the organisation is realistic about the dangers of over-emphasising its role in this process.

As we have seen, Foro Educativo's experience also highlights some of the challenges and limitations of participation, alongside the opportunities it offers to review and adapt strategies. Some of these limitations are being addressed by, for example, shifting emphasis towards more parent and pupil participation. But Foro Educativo has yet to tackle some more complex issues, including how to engage out-of-school children and their parents in the process, and how to ensure the participation of groups which are most culturally marginalised or geographically isolated.

Promoting the value of children's participation and child-focused indicators

Achieving meaningful children's participation is notoriously difficult. The Foro Educativo experience demonstrates some common barriers to effective participation, namely social attitudes to children. The members of Foro Educativo are aware of their own limitations within the traditional mindset of Peruvian society which tends to perceive children as passive recipients of adult knowledge. It was largely the process of participation itself that provided the impetus to challenge assumptions about children and promote their active involvement in the education debate.

Foro Educativo is taking a lead nationally in developing ways of ensuring effective participation of children in the consultation process, and indicators of education quality which focus on the real lives and development needs of children. The growing willingness of government officials, teachers and parents to listen and respond to children's perspectives shows that an approach such as this which is interactive rather than didactic can offer real scope for changing ingrained social attitudes at all levels.

Promoting communication between providers: the role of a network

The creation of a regional network in schools has been instrumental in improving practice at the classroom level and providing a body of practical experience to feed into the policy-making process. The network was pioneered through fax communication which has proved highly effective in facilitating rapid exchange of information, quickly building up momentum. It makes accessible up-to-date information on educational policies and examples of good practice and is considered a useful resource among both teachers and local education authorities. Its value is corroborated by growing requests from new schools to join the network and to channel information to and from other schools in their area. The scope of a fax based network remains restricted due to the isolation of certain regions and communities where fax may be inaccessible or unreliable, and ways of making the network more inclusive are being explored.

The role of an international NGO

In Peru, as we have seen, Save the Children was in the right place at the right time to support the development of a pioneering process of broad participation in the national education debate. This support has been concentrated in four main areas:

· Financial support: towards the establishment of Foro Educativo and its evolving work programme

· Capacity building support: sharing Save the Children's wider experience of developing child-focused analysis and methodologies

· Building links: at national and regional level with other educational NGOs and networks in order to share and inform the work of Foro Educativo

· Mutual learning: involving Foro Educativo in the development of Save the Children's regional strategic plan and drawing on the organisation's practical experience in order to inform Save the Children's work globally

Plans to make a more effective contribution to Foro Educativo's development and promote wider learning are currently being shaped as part of a regional strategy. In addition to broadening Foro Educativo's exposure to other organisations and networks working on education in the region, Save the Children hopes to use the experience of Foro Educativo to influence initiatives more widely. This process has already begun with a workshop (hosted by Save the Children in Brazil, July 1999) on practical approaches to influencing education, where Foro Educativo were able to share lessons learnt with organisations from Latin America and other regions.

Editors' Conclusions

· In a highly centralised education system, where national policy reflects the interests of powerful urban, Spanish-speaking groups, the NGO Foro Educativo has developed practical approaches to facilitate broader participation, such as its fax-based national information and learning network.

· Foro Educativo's initial approach was academic and centralised, seeking to develop its own "national consensus" on quality education. Although its vision of education was clearly child-centred, it initially ignored the fact that adults did not accept children as actors in their own right, and it was not attuned to the needs of groups not represented in Foro Educativo.

· However, through its consultative style and receptiveness to external ideas (including those from Save the Children), Foro Educativo was able to facilitate new debates and act on issues that came out of them. These included rural perspectives, involving parents and children excluded from the education system, the importance of minority languages, and the challenge to traditional views of childhood.

· The culture of assuming that children are passive recipients of education has been challenged both through facilitating debates and demonstrating children's own independent successes, for example the university brigades which gave practical support to people made homeless by the El Niño storms.

· Save the Children has explicitly sought to ensure that the learning process is two-way. Foro Educativo was involved in developing Save the Children's strategy and programme for the wider Latin America region.


1 Ministry of Education, World Bank, UN Development Programme, UNESCO & German Technical Assistance, 1993. Diagnóstico General de la Educación (A General Analysis of Education). Ministry of Education, Lima

2 Tovar, Teresa et al., 1997. Desde los niños/as. Análisis de la políticas educativas 1995-7, (From the children. An analysis of education policy 1995-7). Foro Educativo, Lima

3 Tovar et al 1997

4 Tovar et al 1997

5 Foro Educativo, 1997. 'Procesos de Reforma Educativa en el Perú', (Processes of Education Reform in Peru'). Internal document, Lima, Peru

6 Vlexer, Idel et al., 1997. La Educación Secundaria en el Perú. Realidad y prouesta da desarrollo pedagógico, (Secondary Education in Peru. Reality and Proposals for pedagogic development). Foro Educativo, Lima

7 Ramirez De Sanchez Moreno, Eliana et al., 1997. Hacia una Propuesta de a Educación Primaria para el Perú: Alternativas Pedagógicas y de Gestión, (Towards a Proposal for Primary Education: alternative approaches to pedagogy and management). Foro Educativo, Lima

8 Ramirez De Sanchez Moreno et al 1997

9 Foro Educativo, 1997. Bases para un Acuerdo Nacional por la Educación, Foundations for a National Consensus on Education. Lima

10 Max Neef, Manfred, 1997. El Desarrollo a escala Humana, una opción para el futuro, (Development at a Human Level: an option for the future). CEPAUR, Santiago, Chile

11 Ministry of Education, Peru, 1998. Basic Curriculum for Primary Education

12 Max Neef 1997


1 Parker, B., 1995. Ethiopia: Breaking New Ground, Oxfam Country Profile, Oxfam, Oxford

2 Save the Children, 1997. 'Evaluation of Community Resettlement and Reintegration Programme Activities', internal report, Save the Children, Ethiopia

3 Penrose, P. 1996. 'Budgeting in the Education Sector in Ethiopia', unpublished report commissioned by Department for International Development

4 Save the Children 1997

5 USAID, 1993. DeStefano, J. (et al), 'Ethiopia Education Sector Review, Part II', Addis Abeba, Ethiopia

6 Save the Children, 1998. 'Proposal for Banyan Tree Foundation: Basic Education Support Programme in Somali National Regional Sate, Ethiopia', internal report, Save the Children

7 USAID 1993

8 Penrose 1996

9 Farah, 1994. Internal report, Save the Children

10 Save the Children 1998

11 Save the Children 1998

This publication is the outcome of a co-ordinated research project by staff of Save the Children (UK), co-funded by the Department for International Development.

The editorial team

Three Research Officers managed the project for overlapping periods:

· Kimberly Ogadhoh (Sept 97 - Sept 98)
· Emma Cain (June - Dec 1998, and Sept 99)
· Bridget Crumpton (Oct 1998 - Aug 1999)

Marion Molteno, Education Adviser in Save the Children's Policy Section, was responsible for the design and management of the project.

Photo credits


Arts-based child rights workshop in Cusco, Peru (photo, Save the Children)


Children at a village community school, Garwhal (photo, Neil Cooper)


Children and adults carrying water to help build the school (photo, Neil Cooper)


Palestinian children playing in the refugee camp, Rashidieh (photo, Peter Fryer)


Boys in the Virginia care centre playing with local children (photo, Jenny Matthews)


Children at a school in Mopeia, destroyed during the war (photo, Lesley Doyle)


Girls and women stitching footballs, Sialkot (photo, Michael Sheridan)


Child in a kindergarten in Ulaan Baatar (photo, Jon Spaull)


Somalis in Chinacsen, Region 5 (photo, Liba Taylor)


Health education programme in Iquitos, a rural Amazonian region (photo, Eli Reed)