A 'game-change' in Africa

What does this mean for the post-2015 agenda?

There are several demands that must be made in national forums, and by the collective international voice of teachers.

  • More resources are needed to finance the quality inputs and processes that give meaning to the targets for universal access to primary and secondary schools.  Targets must be set for access to 12 years of schooling of a quality which can propel social and economic development.
  • The provision of adequate resources to support learning is non-negotiable.  Teachers must be given the necessary support and resources that will enable them to provide education of increasing quality
  • The institutions through which education are delivered must be strengthened – this includes effectively led and managed schools and competent administrative nodes which are responsible for supporting schools
     

The challenges facing teachers who work in developing contexts are at their core similar to teachers everywhere: how to be in touch with the enquiring mind of every child and make professional judgments that nurture enquiry, and how to build self-esteem and deepen moral insight. Solidarity across organised teachers’ formations internationally such as Education International will show that however ‘exotic’ and marginalized locations may be – the essential humanity involved in teaching and learning is common.  The problems we face are not individual. Solutions for classroom and system problems can be shared.

If the post-2015 agenda can be focused on supporting teachers as valuable front-line workers in the battle for development, then perhaps a quality education for all will unlock the processes necessary for reducing poverty and inequality and for empowering citizens.

The governance and administrative mechanisms necessary to ensure that a portion of the wealth generated is used to build the capacity of the state to deliver services to its citizens are weak, reducing potential revenues.  Too often, instead of the benefits of mineral wealth growing community infrastructure, hospitals and schools, we see the strengthening of private armies to protect non-state financial interests. Instead of these resources being used to grow industrial development and agricultural processing and develop the skills needed to build employment and sustainable livelihoods and so reduce poverty and inequality, wealth is diverted wholly into private hands, bypassing the state entirely.

Education is key in developing a citizenry that can challenge these practices and hold government accountable for the use of the wealth of the country to reduce poverty, build houses, and increase access to water, improve health care, reduce child mortality and increase life expectancy.

Education – the failed promise

In  Dakar in 2000, 164 governments pledged to achieve a quality Education for All (EFA) children, youth and adults. Firm goals were set and governments, development agencies, civil society and the private sector pledged to work together to achieve six goals by 2015 of which the centrepiece was to be that all children would be able to access and complete primary education of good quality. The Millennium Development Goals(MDGs) adopted in 2000 by all 189 member states of the United Nations set a goal for education that all children should complete primary school. This goal was part of a set of mutually complementary and interdependent development goals.  In agreeing that education should be an MDG, member states acknowledged the vital role of education in giving access to the tools necessary for meaningful participation in civic and economic life and empowering citizens to engage with social problems.  

However, despite rapid expansion of access to education, the simple goals of access have not been achieved. In 2011, more than half of the world’s 57.2 million out-of-school children were in Sub-Saharan Africa. Of these, the majority has never attended school. Many have begun school, but have dropped-out before completion with gains in literacy and numeracy gains not being maintained.  Those most likely to be denied access have been the children of the poor children of the poor and rural families. The rich human potential needed to build society and the economic activity necessary to reduce poverty is stifled by the lack of access to education.

For those who have minimal or no access to education, the tragedy of wasted potential is considerable. But what is the experience of education of those who do access schools? An enrolment rate does not translate into meaningful learning unless both the quality resources and quality processes exist to create the ‘choices and freedoms that ignorance denies’ (Sen, 1999).  What is the quality of the learning opportunities that is accessed?  The Southern African Consortium for Monitoring Education Qualityhas shown that in the fifteen participating countries, children spend their time in school in large classes, without the necessary learning material such as textbooks and materials with which to write, and progression through the system is slow.  Attendance does not translate into opportunities to learn, especially for the children of the poor and those in rural areas. 

Poverty and hunger with its attendant educational challenges have created systematic ‘zones’ of exclusion (Lewin, 2007) at multiple points in the schooling system. Those zones include  those that drop out early in primary school, those that continue but are low achievers and those who repeat education without success and then become ‘over-age’ and drop out disheartened after years of disappointed effort and investment.

Teachers are in the Front Line of Development

It is teachers themselves who carry the social and educational burdens of poverty and absence of learning resources while laying the basis for individual and national development.  Often teachers work in conditions that require them to make this contribution without having the necessary resources or support to achieve their personal educational goals in order to meet the aspirations of the communities they serve. A teacher’s commitment to serve marks her with a special status as a community leader and a person whose educational privilege gives access to a world of information denied those living without access to the written symbols.  However in many countries this marks them as a target for repressive regimes which threaten them with violence.

The position of teachers in the context of underdevelopment and impoverished educations systems requires that they exercise moral leadership in advocating for the resources communities need for their children and adults to access the right to education in a meaningful way.  This generation of teachers must take the action that will change the game for subsequent generations by ensuring that education breaks the cycle of poverty and marginalisation, and that education’s potential to be an instrument of social change is realised. It is teachers through their organisations who must provide leadership for significant and sustained educational change.

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