|The Courier N° 148 - Nov - Dec 1994 - Dossier: Education - Country Reports: Saint Lucia - St Vincent and The Grenadines (EC Courier, 1994, 104 p.)|
by Jean Claude Buchet
More than 90% of children in the Third World start primary school But in many countries, half of them abandon their studies before completing the four years of primary education, the minimum required for basic education: there are an estimated 100 million children today aged between six and 11, two-thirds of them girls.
In order to meet the worldwide challenge of education for all, implementation of a comprehensive, consistent, effective strategy on the one hand, and a firmer commitment by governments and all the partners on the other, are needed to broaden access to primary education for all children and to develop new educational approaches.
In the past, and especially in Africa, there was a close link between traditional reaming and the fundamental needs of each community. The wise men of the village were able to pass on know-how and a set of values needed to perpetuate the way of life. Emphasis was placed on collective rather than individual abilities. Today, high population growth rates and general economic decline jeopardise the future of families and children. The decline in the system of mutual aid within families, particularly in towns and cities, has made children more vulnerable than ever. The lack of stimulation and backing deprives the present generations of support from the family received by children in the old traditional society. For this reason, education itself assumes greater importance, since it is a matter - at least in part - of replacing the functions previously performed by the family.
Education, a basic right
In December 1990 in Jomtien, Thailand, 155 countries ratified the world Declaration on education for all. This Declaration stresses the need to place the emphasis on the acquisition of useful knowledge in primary school, rather than on learning by rote and traditional teaching methods. It also stresses that governments and partners must find both suitable and innovative means of enabling as many people as possible to be reached. This new vision of education stresses the necessity of incorporating - into primary education - the basic knowledge children need to achieve a higher standard of living and to meet the challenges of a constantly changing environment more effectively.
This view therefore gives priority to the development of skills which prepare children to lead more independent lives. In this field, special efforts must be made for girls, for they are the group most often left on the sidelines in the formal sector.
Primary education is in a state of crisis in most Third World countries, essentially as a result of cuts in expenditure on education in the 1980s. The combined effects of economic decline and high population growth rates led more or less everywhere to a deterioration in schooling conditions.
And when investment falls, books and equipment are no longer renewed and it is more difficult, if not impossible, for a school leaver to find a stable job. Hence the decline in enrolment rates since 1980 shows - in part - an acute loss of confidence in the relevance of the present system.
Crisis in the education systems
This crisis has today become almost general. The scope for governments to cater for the needs has declined. More classrooms and buildings would be needed every year to enable every child of school age to be given a place at a school. The reason for the failure of a large number of reforms to education systems also doubtless lies in the fact that they were confined solely to the teaching field. The failure to appreciate the impact of demographic or economic factors has gradually compartmentalised the education systems, which are anxious to perpetuate their own existence, without considering the real problem of how they are to fit into the economic system and be most effective within it.
Finally, failure to take sufficient account of the links between the development process and education has resulted in specific, limited approach" which have prevented the issues being dealt with as a whole. The various aspects of development cannot be dealt with effectively without considering a radical overhaul of educational systems.
Towards more appropriate forms of education
A basic question to which an answer must be found is that of the relevance of primary school curricula. Often altered, most such curricula are too full and their content is out of step with local reality. It seems today that it is not just one-off adjustments which need to be considered, but a complete rethink which questions their objectives and redefines their ultimate economic and social purpose. The objectives of education need to be looked at afresh. On leaving primary school, children must have acquired knowledge which enables them to cope with practical situations in everyday life. This point is a crucial one.
For children, the effects of the educational systems in most Third World countries today tend to mean breaking with their environment rather than successful integration into it. The present systems give priority emphasis to traditional education, limiting the development of children's understanding of the world about them.
It is therefore important for partners outside the school, in direct contact with the environment of the village or urban district, to be involved in drawing up the curricula and defining the educational practice of the school.
Schools do not function in isolation
Four approaches must be developed to promote this objective:
- there must be a response to a set of needs in the primary education field in order to increase access to school and to improve the quality of the teaching;
- practical and productive activities, drawn from local know-how and oriented towards the acquisition of modem tools and knowledge, need to be brought into school;
- the involvement of society as a whole in the life of the school needs to be boosted through greater involvement of the teaching staff, the parents of pupils and external partners;
- an interest needs to be taken in the social conditions of school attendance, i.e. the living conditions of children in their environment.
Any development strategy should be based on this essential principle: the school does not function in isolation, it is at the heart of a village or urban district and must lead to children being able to act on their environment later by transforming it.
Once this constant has been established, it should be possible to devise a fairer world, one which shows greater solidarity with children from the back of beyond.