Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Free report on #teaching to reach education for all

Reaching education for all has been on the lips of many developing regions and their policy makers, but the pace of that race is slow. As a distance learning researcher and specifically into mobile learning, I often support technology as an important factor to reach learners all around the globe. That fact gets disputed regularly at home as my partner is a teacher who pulls my feet back on the ground saying: in order to reach all students, you need to support and talk to all students. She is right, the only way to reach everyone and ensure education for all is to invest in teachers. Technology is only an instrument, and believing technology will help us all is as silly as saying that when everyone would have a spoon, we would all be eating. Without a fruitful soil, without teachers, without available content, any progress will only happen at low speed.

UNESCO is right on that train of thought and has recently published an extensive report entitled: Teaching and learning: achieving quality for all. I must admit I like the addition of 'quality' to the 'education for all' concept. The report is available in two formats: a 50 page summary (available in English | French | Spanish | Arabic | Russian |Chinese | Hindi | Portuguese) highlighting findings and strategies, and the full report (just under 500 pages as an  English Full Report French | Spanish (pdf.s)) for all that really want to dig in the details.

The report is divided into three parts. Part 1 provides an update of progress towards the six EFA goals. The second part presents clear evidence that progress in education is vital for achieving development goals after 2015. Part 3 puts the spotlight on the importance of implementing strong policies to unlock the potential of teachers so as to support them in overcoming the global learning crisis.

The report summary highlights some urgent goals that need to be obtained and reading the shortlist certainly got me thinking:

  • Goal 1: Despite improvements, far too many children lack early childhood care and education. In 2012, 25% of children under 5 suffered from stunting. In 2011, around half of young children had access to pre-primary education, and in sub-Saharan Africa the share was only 18%.
  • Goal 2: Universal primary education is likely to be missed by a wide margin. The number of children out of school was 57 million in 2011, half of whom lived in conflict-affected countries. In sub-Saharan Africa, only 23% of poor girls in rural areas were completing primary education by the end of the decade. If recent trends in the region continue, the richest boys will achieve universal primary completion in 2021, but the poorest girls will not catch up until 2086.
  • Goal 3: Many adolescents lack foundation skills gained through lower secondary education. In 2011, 69 million adolescents were out of school, with little improvement in this number since 2004. In low income countries, only 37% of adolescents complete lower secondary education, and the rate is as low as 14% for the poorest. On recent trends, girls from the poorest families in sub-Saharan Africa are only expected to achieve lower secondary completion in 2111.
  • Goal 4: Adult literacy has hardly improved. In 2011, there were 774 million illiterate adults, a decline of just 1% since 2000. The number is projected to fall only slightly, to 743 million, by 2015. Almost two-thirds of illiterate adults are women. The poorest young women in developing countries may not achieve universal literacy until 2072. 
  • Goal 5: Gender disparities remain in many countries. Even though gender parity was supposed to be achieved by 2005, in 2011 only 60% of countries had achieved this goal at the primary level and 38% at the secondary level.
  • Goal 6: Poor quality of education means millions of children are not learning the basics. Around 250 million children are not learning basic skills, even though half of them have spent at least four years in school. The annual cost of this failure, around US$129 billion. Investing in teachers is key: in around a third of countries, less than 75% of primary school teachers are trained according to national standards. And in a third of countries, the challenge of training existing teachers is worse than that of recruiting and training new teachers.

The one fact that strikes me the most is the lack of progress in adult literacy. It is all good and well to advocate free online courses, but if literacy is not reached, no matter what type of content we put out there it will not engage all learners (unless we make it non-textual and available in local languages, which would be a real bonus for all). And literacy efforts demand intense teacher and learner efforts as well (time, money restraints).

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