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Friday, 5 May, 2000, 16:29 GMT 17:29 UK
Global education: Are we failing our children?
The international campaign for improved educational opportunities says there are now 125 million children in the world who do not have a school to attend. They calculate the cost of achieving universal primary education is $8bn - the amount spent on weapons in a week.
A UN-sponsored education conference in Senegal has called for universal access by the year 2015. But where will the money come from?
Aid agencies say the world's children are being betrayed. They say education will never be universal as long as individual families are expected to pay.
We have taken your questions and comments but you can add to the debate using the form at the bottom of the page.
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Also In response to Dr S's comment about begrudging foreign countries money as their governments are "squandering it" ,let me remind him that it is in fact the rich countries e.g. Britain who have crippled the poor countries for generation with debt increasing their poverty even more. Lets go back to the REAL cause of the problem before we try to "fix it"
Every child in Britain is offered a good and free education.
The problem seems to be to me that it is children's attitudes to learning that seems to be a problem.
In a world where children are glued to computer games and TV screens every minute of the day and parents who allow them to do so, I expect school must seem rather boring, but children should be made to understand it's importance.
Education is part of what makes us who we are. We may think that being bombarded with facts is irrelevant, but is it?
I am now 28 and wish I paid more attention at school. I feel I know very little about the world around me and it's history, without that how can I make valid points about today...possibly including education issues!
So-called obsolete computers
could be extremely useful
in third world schools if combined
with simple but intelligent
training materials made global
public domain available.
These should be run from
local computer hard discs, not
over internet because of
phone availability and cost.
This CBT would include all
school subjects, not just
maths or computing.
It's interesting to begin the discussion. If we ever hope to solve global problems such as overpopulation, overuse of resources, hunger, etc... Education of the world's poorest populations will need to occur. Otherwise, tyrants and those who seek profit at the expense of others will continue to manipulate the ignorance of the majority. Of course the first world has very little interest in educating those it needs to subjugate in order to continue it's economic domination.
We all share common concerns in general, although our specific ones differ. Rather than lay blame on those people and systems that we perceive responsible for the difficulties encountered in education globally I suggest that a positive, proactive approach and attitude be adopted. By working together to educate ourselves and each other, looking at what does work and why, perhaps we can affect a change for the better. To quote Mother Teresa, "Don't wait for leaders. Do it yourself, person to person."
1. Who will decide what should be taught? Should poor
children in rural Africa learn the same material as urban
I am a teacher, and I agree completely that knowledge is
power, and that education is a necessary beginning to take
control of one's life. Forced education managed by
foreigners will not accomplish this, however.
I've been working at school for 30 years but it is only in recent years that I see lots of children of school age out of classes. Statistically, there are around 2 million of them in modern Russia.
What is responsible for the state of affairs in the third world countries is a staggering amount of corruption and getting beyond that is going to be the key to success in the Third World.
Joel E. Wischkaemper, USA
I suggest that rather than spending time and energy on bemoaning the causes of the situations that deprive children of education we should take the situation as it is and begin from there. The UN would be better advised to properly fund the launch of a series of pilot projects such as the one mentioned in India and to evaluate their effectiveness. Ideas and plans should be invited from all walks of life, not only from the field of education, with a view to examining the practicality of each in different situations.
I think global education is impossible and will never be possible with our present culture dominated by our politicians who got used to duping people they suppose to serve. Let's not waste our time arguing about things that will never happen.
For example, the school system where I got my elementary, secondary and my high-school education was planned to undermine my ethnic back ground. I was not allowed to write and read in my language. The system does not allow me to speak in my language in school campus. As a result, most of the kids of my age were discouraged by that and so they drooped from the school.
I got a right to read and write in my language after I left my home country, Ethiopia to Canada.
Thanks, to Canadian system of democracy, now my son is attending heritage language program in my native language.
I am sending this note to protest against the comment made by Dr. S. UK.
Allow me sir, to disagree with your statement on the third world country children education- because their "Governments are squandering money on luxuries".
Education for all is the key to a liberated, classless humanity. Internationalism and global co-operation to achieve the aim of education for all is one of the keys to the enlightenment of humanity.
You surely cannot separate education from other aspects of a society and an economy? If people are starving, education may not be their first priority.
This necessitates helping people to look after themselves, in ways appropriate to their circumstances, and this includes choosing an appropriate approach to education.
Ian L, UK
I got my "English teacher" degree in Minsk, Belarus. Now I am a student of US University, and I can clearly see the difference in motivation of being a teacher. Financial part is a core of the problem: the more money we invest in education, the better results we will get down the road.
There is no doubt that the failure of education in Africa particularly, is attributable not to the parents but to the political leaders. How can the president of a country in Africa can be a multi-billionaire while the school infrastructure of the country is in total disarray?
How ever big is the desire to send children in school, if the conditions are rudimentary and the outcome after college and university is bleak because of the personal greed of African presidents, parents will be reluctant to send educate their children. The failure of African children is under the criminal responsibility of its leaders.
Ronnie Feldman, Israel
Education must be enabling and not disabling, inclusive and not exclusive, encouraging and not discouraging. What the third world needs is applied and practical education and creative education to give the skills that the people need to use the resources in
their land and environment to create and produce the things they need for
their living and comforts. Education that cannot be used to solve the
problems by those who have it is useless and should be discouraged.
Of course most African governments are failing the children and even posterity. I'm specifically talking about my government forsaken country, Zambia. There is one particularly annoying cliche: 'Education for All'. 'All' referring to who? We are in the year 2000 but education opportunities have continued to be a preserve of a privileged few, such as ministers' and the president's children. Certainly not for poor people, who are in any case in the majority - about 80 percent in Zambia.
Lack of political will by the Zambian government to invest in education is clearly endemic. These people have almost succeeded in killing the psyche or intellect of the majority of ordinary people.
In Zambia we have a situation where by illiteracy is self-generating. It is simply sad.
Global education especially in my country Zambia is a total failure because of the government's lethargic attitude to the country's education system. As it is, many pupils are failing to go to school due to high fees yet our government can afford to pay expatriate doctors a lot of money that can be used to subsidise the school fees. As if that is not enough, we happen to have a president who spends three quarters of his time travelling out of the country and attending to foreign affairs at the expense of the overburdened tax payers who cannot take their children to school.
With the high rate of poverty and HIV/Aids infections taking their toll, global education will never be attained because governments are unwilling to remove the core problems that are preventing parents from taking their children to school.
I don't need anymore taxes taken out of my hide for the soft to waste in their hopelessly impotent, non-specific, political ideas.
Yinka Ibidunni, London
Universal education in Africa will remain a pipe dream as long as we have illiterate and ignorant people
in government. I do not believe that African countries are too poor to fail to provide education to their children. They have the money, but much of it is being misused on trivial projects such as buying latest cars for political leaders. Zambia is a classical example.
There are three assumptions which are I think are worth questioning. There is a basic assumption among those who are talking about basic education that there is one model of development, one model the whole world should pursue. The other thing is that education is being equated with schooling, literacy and teaching. The third is that the learner in this discussion is being seen as a passive recipient of information. If we talk more about learning diverse modes of development and diverse learning spaces we would have a model of education that would cater for communities' real needs.
All pundits sit around talk about education and access to it thereoff. However, they all seem to persistently overlook the very salt of education - civic sense and social intelligence. Without the necessary levels civic sense and social intelligence imbedded in the individuals of the society, no amount of academic achievement is going to alleviate the social suffering in our world.
In our case, girls have been coming into schools....therefore mothers have been educated and this has impacted on mortality rates and better hygiene and health. Infant mortality has dropped. It has real impact and the population growth rate has dropped to 2.1. When women are educated it impacts on these things.
There is no universal right of others to draw upon my labour and resources to educate their children. That is the obligation of those people who choose to produce children. I cannot control what kind of education the children of others will receive. As Josef Stalin said, "Education is a weapon, whose effects depend upon who holds it in his hands and at whom it is directed."
I can see no justification for advancing the interests of those who will be future enemies of my own children.
Here is my world dream for educational goals. Have elders heavily involved. Show kids their community knows how to grow food. Make their environment love the children, and the children love their environment. Adults/society at large...KEEP LEARNING: show children learning is something to love to do - only way to motivate them - and, actually so
Governments in Africa surely can't afford to pay entirely by themselves for education programs, unconditional assistance from colonially-obligated countries is welcome. They are, to some extent responsible for our present situation.
I' ve been working at school for 30 years but it is only in recent years that I see lots of children of school age out of classes. Statistically, there are around 2 million of them in modern Russia. Teachers are paid indecent wages, there is no money to
repair school buildings or renew technical appliances. Not a single school building was commissioned in the last decade in my place. Is it because Russia is poorer than 20 years ago? Absolutely not. Moneys are spent on other things.
Bharat Bhushan, Berlin, Germany
A public education system for all is one issue but what about the quality of
education? Without a globally effective teaching standards organisation in
place, many children will be getting a parrot style education, which is only
marginally better than no education at all.
With the experience I have gained here, I have noted that most secondary
school children actually get marked down in examinations when they write a
non-standard answer as they were supposed to memorise from their ancient
I'm originally from Bangladesh and was educated there and later I came to Japan as a student at a university. Japan was also poor one day but they came up to this level. How? By exploiting one thing, human resource. They taught everybody, that's why got the chance to express what they had in them, everybody.
I am attached to the UN related international school in Thailand. I have wide experience in teaching in Africa, Europe and Asia. My point on education is that the quality of education has to be raised with all over the world with some incentives to learn. Most students believe that there is no light at the end of the tunnel after education. Even students
from developed countries do not have the basic skills of reading, writing and counting.
Uganda has made gigantic strides towards the achievement of basic education
for all the world,schildren. Since we started the Universal Primary
Education(UPE) only four years ago, school enrolment has jumped from only
2million children of school going age to now slightly over 6million.
President Museveni made the provision of basic education a cornerstone of
his Presidential campaigns in 1996 and from the assessment of Uganda's
friends and foes alike it seems he has delivered.
Of course the provision of UPE is not without problems. There is still a
deficit of over 40,000 classrooms. Children in many parts of the country still
attend classes under trees. The teacher pupil ratio is still too high. There
is still lack of basic scholastic materials like exercise books. Teachers
salaries are sill way to low.
Does UNESCO believe that teachers should be credentialed? Does Bangladesh have anything to teach other countries on this subject?
It would be a lot cheaper to pay for the instalment of electricity and computers in the long run, as opposed to paying teachers lifelong salaries. One teacher could be used to teach several hundreds of children all over the world via something similar to video conferencing. Imagine a large screen in a large hall local mothers or fathers could take it in turns
to watch the children for discipline whilst the tv teacher does the rest.
Your comments before we went ON AIR
The question no-one seems to ask is what is education for? Obviously everyone should have the right to a basic education and be given good numeracy and language sills. But because education is a good thing does it necessarily follow that ever more education must be even better.
Speak to anyone who, like me, has been through the educational mill and passed their exams and got there degree and ask them how much of what they studied is applicable to their jobs and they will nearly all tell you that none of it is - you forget it all after a couple of years anyway - so what is the point ?
Not only are the world's children being betrayed but we are also betraying their uneducated living parents and grandparents (adult education). At the same time we are laying the seeds of betrayal for the children of the uneducated yet to be born.
I have been lucky to have had parents who decided to
forsake their todays for my tomorrows. Even though my
parents were not very rich I was educated in Public
Schools in India (equivalent to Private Schools in the
USA) wherein the monthly expenses for the education
expenses on me and my two sisters were a very
significant percentage of my fathers salary.
I think Western powers should help because it is now glaring that the willingness and ability in most African governments to reduce illiteracy rate is completely lacking. In Sierra Leone teachers at whatever level were up to last year the least paid. At present, if teachers don't resort to industrial actions, they won't get paid. Even now, as I am talking to you, some teachers are presently going without pay for the last eighteen months. But politicians in offices are the very first to get pay at the end of every month.
I think the western powers should involve in a different style.
They should not help with money and leave it at the mercy of the same African politicians. I suggest that they should be practically involved. in seeing the structures and assistance gets to the rightful beneficiaries. They should be actively involved with restrictions and punishments should their be any breach and diversion of funds from the intended purposes.
Higher education is definitely overrated but primary education is
absolutely necessary in the 21st Century. Unfortunately both suffer
from the "learn to spell forget to think" approach of many educators. Education can become a barrier to the
meritocracy. Who would choose the English Football
Team from PhDs in Sports Science? Exams, whatever they
measure, cannot predict effectiveness in real life.
That said, the easiest way to cut down the heavy weight of
doctrine that comes with educational programmes is to pay
the illiterate to read and enumerate to calculate. Measured
I say that why not put money into increased internet usage by third world countries? University courses plus primary school and secondary school courses are being put increasingly on the Internet!!! Plus, they are of a high class standards!!! Children in third world countries can then access the Internet and learn, but not only this they can communicate with the children of developed countries to gain a better understanding of the future.
Good teachers can make ordinary students curious and intelligent learners. But good teachers are becoming endangered species, exploited in almost every country without any reward or respect. In the American universities, the professor who brings the most research grants is the most successful staff member, no matter how poor his teaching skills maybe. I must also add that education has become so expensive nowadays that anybody who can afford to go to school probably does not need education.
I think that the greatest gift that any human being can give to another is the knowledge to develop him/herself. In this regard, every person must be afforded an opportunity to gain an education. To my mind, it is primarily the responsibility of the country's government to find ways and means to provide their citizens with that golden opportunity. Parents must also take the time to impress upon and demonstrate to their children the importance of a sound education, by being good role models, setting the example and encouraging their kids to emulate them. Without education man is doomed to repeat the mistakes made by our fore fathers, mistakes which were based on their superstitions.
Vickie Reeves, US
Unfortunately, in my own home country, Zambia, there are too many factors militating against provision of quality education to every child. Debt, HIV/AIDS, poorly paid teachers, school places and a host of other problems make teaching and learning elitist, sometimes sexist, often costly and usually out of reach for many children. As a professional school teacher, I am saddened that the public in most African countries does not ask hard questions.
The Dakar Conference will just be another talking shop if governments are allowed to give lame excuses about shortcomings in girls education, run-down schools,
inadequate teaching-learning aids, poor teacher supply, and funding. People need to ask and be given full explanations about what pupils are learning,
how they are learning, and what the learning outcomes will be.
Education is a matter of location. Living in England I do not necessarily need to be taught how to survive a desert situation but a person living in a desert environment would.
Stop assuming that just because someone has not sat down and read books in a classroom that they are not educated. In fact, education by natural growth is MUCH more important than rushing to teach developing countries about the latest in calculus methods. A country needs to develop by its people learning first how to survive, then to build and then to develop. If they are not learning these things tell them that they'd have more luck if they didn't sit around all day having babies. Then leave them to it.
The very same countries after planting a seed of instability left the masses of the third world to their own peril. How does one expect education to be developed when wars are ravaging on, wars which at one point were backed by the first world countries, concerned more with safeguarding their interest, rather than those of the local people.
Developing nations are not devoid of innovators, but rather a conducive environment does not exist for them to put their expertise to good use, hence transfer of manpower to the first world. The only way for improve education in the third world, is for international donors to scrub off moneys owed by the developing nations.
The schools is the USA are doing a lousy job, absolutely lousy, kids are graduating from high school that can't read even at a grade school level. And the teachers aren't much better. Our schools (except for the private ones of course) are producing a generation of imbeciles. People do not know how to think independently anymore. Money does not make kids smart. They learned quite well in the one room schoolhouse of a hundred years ago, or in the inner city school of forty years ago. If more money made kids smart, we'd have the best-educated kids in the world. We the taxpayers are getting ripped off. I'm all for testing of teachers to make sure they are qualified. What is more important than a child's chance at an education? But the teachers unions here don't want testing because they know their members will fail miserably. We need to get back to the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic (and decent behaviour in the school facilities should be insisted upon.)
In many parts of the world, education is a luxury. It is the parents' responsibility - if the adult population is impoverished, there should be no wonder why their children are illiterate. In this case, the International Community can step in and set up schools for the poor - but its funds come from the surplus of more fortunate countries, and their surplus is limited.
It all comes to simple mathematics. Some get education, some don't. Why can't we be brave enough to accept some laws of Social Darwinism?
Perhaps those would-be working parents in this country would do best to sponsor an already-existing deprived child before they consider adding to our spoiled, over-populated nation and having our Government rob our taxpayers to pay for it.
Judging from the remarkably inane comments from the majority of the contributors to this topic, one wonders whether they have received any education!
As for the question, since most of the third world countries have already benefited from a century of European support in developing municipal government and infrastructure, followed by half a century of significant subsidy towards developing it, plus the training of large numbers of their scholastically more endowed citizens, what more can they expect?
Once again it has become very convenient to blame the west for all the troubles of the third world.
Vishal Vashisht and Jose Fernandez, the west has stolen nothing from the third world. A lot of people in the richer countries are prepared to help
the third world countries with things like education, but we do not want to pay money to these countries just so their governments can buy more
guns and bullets. Also these governments must become more transparent in how they spend the cash given to them. The sad truth is that a lot of money given already has just gone into
the pockets of politicians and their friends.
I think Dr.S must be sarcastic. Hs/she probably wanted to excite reaction and it worked. In reality, Western countries have risen to the top of the hierarchy. In this position since we tend to dry out all resources, we have all started importing those countries' intellectuals as well. None of the third world countries stay to develop their own nations...they all end up here. Plus, it's very beneficial to have shortsighted gangster elites in other nations that use and abuse their own country and its people.
Education is that which distinguishes us from all other species, and as such is the backbone of all society. It is a universal human right and it is very depressing that so many are going without. We now have the technology to provide education and information to all. Let's use it!
Mr Vashisht is quite wrong. The reason for the West's success is not access to third world materials but the incredible minds of those who discovered what could be done with materials - the inventors and industrialists. Its that know how, those innovative inquiring free minds which the third world needs right now. Those people can then, individually and as families, help themselves rather than rely on the condescending alms of the west relieving an unearned guilt with their tax money. I would love to see the rise of facilities such as independent libraries and learning centres in the third world, and companies should have the foresight to sponsor them. I already contribute.
Jose Fernandez, Netherlands
The United States education system is far more practical because it is less traditional and formal. One has every right to disagree with their teachers. The U.S. educational system is far more
superior compared to other countries. It begins specialization without compromising on other subjects that matter when you actually launch your first job. First world countries should not be made to pay for others who don't seek to reform their own respective systems and insist on continuing to misallocate funds for unnecessary causes. Thats what gives some countries the edge over others and why not?
Dr. S, you should pay because those countries you are talking about have been "played" with for centuries. Western countries have "stolen" their natural resources and during the cold war the East and West took advantage where they could. Even now western countries complain about these countries buying weapons when it is them supplying the weapons and charging massive interest rates on the loans used to pay for the weapons. Third World Countries are owed a debt by more developed nations because it is the developed nations that owe these countries for where they are now.
In fact it's so expensive in the west it actually stifles opportunities to look for alternatives. What makes us think it will work elsewhere? Also, given the nature of politicians - would you trust them with your child's brain?
In Scandinavian and other Northern European countries (My kids went to school in Finland, UK and USA) things are pretty acceptable. In the countries where early specialising is favoured the education seems to produce robots that have no general knowledge or understanding in any human related subjects but definitely can design excellent circuit boards. In developing countries the priority should be to teach all children the basic skills like reading, writing and manners.
Why should it be our
problem? I would resent
having to pay for the
education of some foreign
kids whilst their
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26 Apr 00 | Africa
UN appeal for girls' education
03 Apr 00 | Education
Universal primary education by 2015
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