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Part III Prospects

11. Policy directions for the future

Conclusions from the assessment exercise regarding possible or necessary changes in policy and in modalities to advance more quickly and effectively towards the country's EFA goals . The assessment may outline new policies and measures being considered or planned by the Government. It may also present selected examples of best practices and examine their implications for public policy and investment and possible new partnerships.

Ten years after Jomtien, the policy dialogue on literacy and learning is set against a very different background. The last decade has seen an unprecedented series of UN Conferences addressing all major aspects of human development, ranging from environment to Human Rights, from population to women’s issues, habitat and food security. In their action plans, these conferences unanimously emphasize learning and education as a key factor for change.

On occasions as the 50th anniversary (1998) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 26) and the 10th anniversary of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (November 1999), the right to education and learning is being reaffirmed publicly. Even a political 'club' like the G 8 has been addressing 'Aims and Ambitions for Lifelong Learning' at its most recent summit, including calls for free basic education (Cologne Charter, June 1999).

With its advocacy campaign 'education now' (1999-2000), the international NGO-conglomerate Oxfam International has taken on the task of empirical scrutiny of major flaws, the most dramatic gaps and shortcomings in the provision of basic education since Jomtien. Oxfam has tabled a substantial policy proposal which combines debt swap with a mechanism of positive incentives for National Governments and qualitative conditionalities (as e.g. ceilings in military spending).

As there can be no 'master plan' for saving humanity, solutions have to come from the concern, the commitment and resourcefulness of millions of people. Their capacity to improve the conditions and quality of their lives depends on the availability of appropriate knowledge, values and attitudes. As a consequence, the current cultures and systems of learning and education have been re-examined in-depth by a substantial number of international education conferences and fora in the second half of the nineties, many of them convened by UNESCO, including the comprehensive work of the World Commission 'Education for the XXIst Century'.
The following conclusions of the Fifth International Conference on Adult Education (CONFINTEA V, 1997), the World Conference on Higher Education (WCHE, 1998) and the 2nd International Congress on Vocational and Technical Education and Training (1999) are of direct relevance to policy perspectives in 'Education for All':

• Ensuring the universal right to literacy and basic education requires a reappraisal of the notion of literacy. Literacy must be relevant to people's socio-economic and cultural contexts, linked to the aspirations of learners. Programs have to incorporate elements from fields such as health, urban and rural development, justice, the art of learning etc.
• Literacy enables individuals to function effectively in their societies and to fashion and shape them, developing their own knowledge and potential. It is a process in which communities effect their own cultural and social transformations. Hence, quality literacy programs need to link in with existing sources of knowledge, including traditional and minority cultures, and enrich the literacy environment (producers, publishers etc.)
• Large parts of the world have not been in a position to develop self-sustaining education structures and learning opportunities so far, enrolling children and youths for a minimum period (about six years) needed to acquire solid basic education. Research and Higher Education have hardly responded to this challenge.
• Quality of pre-school and school education remains inadequate and is even diminishing in many regions of the world. Investing in the training and professionalism of teachers is the single most promising means of turning this tide.
• Education of girls and women has been declared top priority repeatedly, also in statements by UNESCO, UNICEF, UNDP, UNFPA, the World Bank and others. However, academia and universities have not taken up this issue seriously and systematically enough to produce tangible results in research and teachers' training.
• The number of out-of-school-youths equals the number of youths attending school. The segregation between the world of school and the world of work hampers the learning opportunities of these youths in particular.
• Millions of people have been unable to sustain literacy skills, even in the twenty most prosperous countries of the globe. Important differences in literacy skills exist across and within nations, they are of social, cultural and economic significance. Governments have taken renewed interest in human capital indicators, academia and the research community have not responded to the magnitude of the challenge as yet (IALS, OECD with Statistics Canada, UNESCO and others).

Elements for future EFA policy directions, both nationally and internationally, can thus draw on a whole body of analyses, data and proposals which have been formulated since Jomtien. As has been stated repeatedly, tangible results will largely depend on political will and readiness to commit resources and facilities for research and implementation.

From the perspective of the German UNESCO Commission, the following aspects merit attention:

• As pointed out, the quality concept of literacy as a complex and ongoing cultural-social process in any given society needs to be placed center-stage. Interest on the part of media, parliamentarians and very active participation by the education community have been very helpful so far. The recent joint initiative to launch a national adult learner's week in 1998 and 1999 turned out to be a very promising tool to put literacy within the framework of lifelong learning policy. However, many more political and economic participants can and should become involved in the decade to come. Germany will join the launch of the UN week of Adult Learning on Literacy Day 2000.

• Building learning societies requires a multi-generation perspective. To achieve this aim, it would help to reflect upon this quality perspective in bringing about literate societies and stop the discurse of 'combating / eradicating illiteracy'. Despite all shortcomings, the real miracle is the sustained positive motivation of millions of parents and children around the globe who make their eagerness for learning a reality amidst the most adverse life circumstances.

• This highlights the challenge to choose the most efficient strategy in development co-operation to enhance the building of sustainable education and learning structures as a whole, developing a systemic perspective. Such a perspective comprises basic, secondary, vocational and higher education and their interactive synergies. This is not only a question of allocation of financial resources, but requires an open-minded and systematic examination of major shortcomings in educational structures developed so far. What kind of knowledge resources exist in different societies? How can they be best used and developed further? How do societies and individuals learn? How can the process of learning best be enhanced by the parties involved?- this is a set of guiding questions to move the policy perspective beyond the educational crisis.

• As pointed out, German public finances have not been excluded from the general streamlining and downsizing tendencies applying also in other OECD-countries. The challenge for the political leadership of the Ministry for Development Co-operation and the implementing agencies will be to optimize resources in balancing declared political priorities accorded to human development with existing budgetary constraints. Oxfam's proposals 'Education Now' merit careful study in order to identify possible common ground with the declared German policy priorities.

Bonn, September 1999


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