World Social Forum - Porto Alegre, Brazil, 25-30 January, 2001

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Patricia Made


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EDUCATION: World Forum Agrees on Access, But Worries About Quality

by Nana Rosine Ngangoue

DAKAR, April 30 (IPS)- Participants at the World Forum recommitted themselves to making universal access to education a reality, and guarantee that such education will be of high-quality but many remained sceptical that all the elements of quality eeducation were in place.
The Dakar Framework of Action, adopted at the end of the conference held here in the Senegalese capital April 26-28, offers a rough guide toward attaining the goals of the Education For All by the year 2015, emphasising ''the necessity of making sure that children, especially girls, have access to a quality free, compulsory education''.

There is general consensus that Education For All programme, adopted at a world conference in Jomtien, Thailand a decade ago, has posted some positive results in improving access to education for both children and adults. However, all the emphasis on access has relegated the question of quality to the back burner.

''It is unacceptable that in the year 2000...the state of educational quality and the acquisition of human values and skills should still be so far off from meeting the needs of both individuals and their societies'', the Framework of Action states.

While experts may be unanimous on the need to incorporate standards into the Education For All programme, what actually constitutes ''quality'' is different according to one's needs and goals.

According to the Framework of Action a quality education is one that guarantees young people and adults the necessary ability and knowledge to find remunerative employment and participate fully in their society.

''It's difficult to deal with quality if you haven't first defined what the goals of education are'', stated Mokrane Ait Ali, of a French non- governmental organisation, Orientation and Re-education of Children and Adolescents.

According to Mokrane, a person with a quality education should be able to interact with his social, economic, and political environment. He should also have acquired critical thinking skills, which are essential for the advancement of democracy and progress.

Some observers define quality in relation to the specific problems of local communities.

In Africa, for example, new challenges, such as ethnic conflict, the AIDS epidemic, and refugees, have all had an impact on the educational system. A definition of quality education will have to take these new developments into account.

Dr. Abdulaziz Bin Othman Altwaijiri, of the Islamic Organisation for Education, Science, and Culture (ICESCO), defines quality education as one based on tradition, habits, and customs. The content of such an education needs to respond to the problems specific communities face. An educational system must be tuned in to those being educated, he said.

''The educational system should emphasise openness to human civilisation, religious values, peace education, human rights, and environmental conservation'', he summarised.

Mokrane, like Abdulaziz, believes that the quality of education in Africa will depend on how well the diversity of each community is kept in mind. Recognising the linguistic diversity of each country will also affect the calibre of education.

''Quality is defined by its respect for cultural identity. It is also a function of how well it honours people's linguistic integrity'', Mokrane indicated.

The school environment also plays a role in determining quality. In most African countries, the educational infrastructure has become completely dilapidated. Furniture, toilets, and running water are lacking. According to a joint UNESCO-UNICEF study of 14 African and Asian countries, 35 to 90 percent of school buildings need to be repaired or completely rebuilt.

Excellence in education requires social policies that also seek quality. ''Without social development, there is no economic development'', stated Marie Minna, the Canadian Minister of International Co-operation.

In this spirit, participants at the Dakar Forum called for improving the socio-political status of all communities. Education should promote health and nutrition, and the fight against HIV/AIDS and poverty, said Minna

The use of new information and communications technologies to reach the Education For All goals was cited as another factor which might contribute to improved educational quality.

Improving the motivation, professionalism, and living and working conditions of teachers were cited as additional factors.

In Dakar, governments, international agencies, and civil society recommitted themselves to establishing appropriate programmes which emphasise both the acquisition of knowledge and everyday life skills. Another goal was ''to improve the quality of education as it is currently practised in every way, so that clear and measurable learning outcomes will be available''.

The Dakar Framework of Action commits itself to ''meeting the needs of educational systems under fire due to civil conflict and instability''. The document states that nations, in collaboration with civic groups and other interested parties, need to conduct educational programmes which use methods that will promote peace, mutual understanding, tolerance, and which will prevent the outbreak of violence and conflict.

Observers say that the next step will be for nations to translate these rough guidelines into educational programs, something which will be no easy feat. (END/IPS/tra-fr/nrn/sz/cr/00)

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