and Violence Leave Schools at a Loss|
universal availability of primary and secondary schooling in
Europe and North America has not solved the problem of unequal
access to education. Nor does it guarantee social cohesion.
western Europe grapples with issues of social exclusion and
the relevance of education to the job market, central and eastern
Europe struggle to cope with dwindling resources and the decline
of a formerly state-supported system of free education.
illiteracy, often called ‘the invisible problem’, is perhaps
the most eloquent illustration of the failings of basic education
in the region. Sue Torr, a school ‘canteen lady’ in the United
Kingdom, remembers trying to keep her illiteracy a secret: “One
night my mother-in-law said, ‘Sue, what’s on TV tonight? Could
you look at the newspaper?’ I pretended to look. ‘There’s nothing
much on,’ I said. ‘What’s on the second channel?’ she persisted.
‘Just a load of rubbish,’ I said, and ran upstairs.” Sue has
now learned to read, but up to a quarter of the adults in twelve
of the world’s richest countries still cannot make out a cheque
or read a prescription – a real indictment of mature education
in rich societies, education does not guarantee a job. The average
unemployment rate for under-25s in the European Union is 21.5
per cent. “You study, you make sacrifices, and in the end what
do you have? Nothing,” says Rachida Bensmili, 22, a Paris-based
mature education systems in the region offer 100 per
cent coverage in primary and secondary education up
to the age of 16.
universal coverage, there is a persistent ‘hard core’
of underachievers estimated at between 15 and 20 per
cent who fail to acquire basic skills at primary school
and fall behind in secondary school.
10 to 30 per cent of the adult population in the region
has difficulty with basic reading, writing and numeracy
Education Zones in France and Portugal are examples
of positive discrimination in underprivileged areas.
alienation of growing numbers of young people who have ‘fallen
through the cracks’ in society – neither in school or in employment
– needs urgent action, not least because it is perceived as
a threat to social cohesion. A 1999 survey of OECD countries
shows that their numbers range from 4.3 per cent in Denmark
to 19.4 per cent in the United Kingdom. School for them has
led nowhere. “It may sound extreme, but in some cases school
actually produces marginalized people,” remarks Svein Osttveit,
Executive Secretary of the Education for All Forum. He points
to the failure of rigid, unresponsive formal school systems
to cater to the learning needs of all.
to better equip early school leavers and under-achievers for
the job market are appearing in the region. They include programmes
in schools and vocational training institutions, as well as
work-experience projects run by private companies.
pilot scheme of ‘second-chance schools’, financed by the European
Commission and several public and private partners, is operating
in several EU countries. The scheme aims to provide 18-to-22-year-old
school drop-outs with job skills so they can make a fresh start.
and eastern Europe face a different set of problems. The regional
assessment confirms that the economic crisis has deeply affected
the quality of education. While primary school attendance has
remained stable, a combination of demographics and hard times
has sent early childhood education into steep decline, with
enrolment dropping from 21 million to 12 million from 1990 to
“Our heating system is antiquated and frequent power cuts make
it dangerous to use,” says Aishe Chabanova, a headmistress in
Ukraine who has constant nightmares about her school blowing
up. Tight budgets mean schools must rely on contributions from
families. But with unemployment and growing poverty, households
are also feeling the squeeze and have little to spare for education
that yesterday came free. Stories abound of dilapidated schools,
teachers waiting up to ten months to get paid, canteens closing
and classes held in freezing temperatures. To add to existing
inequalities, a two-tier system is taking root, where the best
private schooling is only accessible to those who can afford
central and eastern Europe,
stories abound of dilapidated
up to ten months
get paid, canteens closing and
classes held in freezing temperatures.
a result of increasing social exclusion, violence in schools
is rising in many countries of the region. In the United States,
the recent classroom killing of one 6-year-old by another shows
that the worrying increase in school shootings is not confined
to high schools. Alarm video systems and uniformed guards are
now part of many a North American school environment.
pupils have attempted to set fire to the school where Chantal
Collin teaches in a Paris suburb. Others already run foul of
the law. “Violence comes from low self-esteem and repeated failure,”
claims Chantal, who has responded by developing projects and
activities to restore confidence in her pupils. But not all
teachers have her resourcefulness, and most lack training to
cope with aggression. “Today, schools are ill-equipped to deal
with violence,” says Kaisa Savolainen of UNESCO. “There is a
strong need for non-violent strategies for conflict resolution.”