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Strategy sessions III.8 > Secondary Education
World Education Forum
Dakar, Senegal 26-28 April 2000
After primary education, what ?
Issues Paper
Strategy Session III.8
Original : English
  The success of efforts to increase primary education enrolment after the Jomtien initiative is bringing thousands of qualified adolescents to the doors of secondary schools. Pressure is strong from these youngsters to continue schooling, but educational opportunities are scarce in many countries which are still struggling to provide primary education for all. Providing learning opportunities after primary education appears however essential to consolidate what has been learnt at primary level and to achieve the objective of human resource development. It may also very well be a condition for achieving universal primary education as children, realizing the lack of education or training opportunities after primary, may drop out before finishing the cycle. What to offer after primary education and how, with what help from the community will be the object of debates in this strategic session. This note outlines some of the issues that could be discussed.
 Expanding secondary education
An analysis of UNESCO statistics shows that forty four of 150 countries for which data is available have Gross Enrolment Rates at secondary level much below forty per cent. Net enrolment rates are not available, but considering the level of repetition and over-age enrolment, these are likely to range between 20% and 30% in these countries. Those who complete the cycle probably represent an even smaller proportion of the age group. Thus, in many developing countries, only a minority finishes secondary schooling.
Expansion of secondary schooling in selected countries would seem desirable for a variety of reasons. First, general secondary education is the cheapest way of providing post-primary educational opportunities to the largest possible number of students. It is also essential to ensure a higher quality teaching force for the first level. Second, upon graduating from primary school many students have only a shaky grasp of core competencies. Secondary education contributes to consolidating what was taught in primary school. Many countries in Asia and Latin America have thus extended basic education to at least 9 years full-time education, encompassing lower secondary as well as primary. Third, effective secondary schooling is qualitatively different to formal education at the first level. This is due to the capacity of older students to reason abstractly and to acquire complex competencies that are normally inaccessible to primary-age children. While primary education is oriented towards the acquisition of the fundamentals of reading, writing, and mathematics, students at the secondary levels are expected to develop intellectual skills and analyze problems using reasoning and thinking skills which are inaccessible to younger children.
Fourth, an appropriate level of quality secondary schooling seems essential to any balanced national development strategy. It is difficult to imagine a strategy which would promote a transition from subsistence agriculture to higher value-added agriculture, more industrial manufacturing, and more competitive service industries, without having at least ten to fifteen per cent of the workforce with a completed secondary education. Several studies have indeed shown that secondary education plaid a pivotal role in the economic growth of East Asian countries . Finally, secondary education is increasingly viewed as essential for achieving democratic governance and civic participation.
Two thirds of the countries with the lowest Gross Enrolment Ratios at secondary level are in Africa. Others are in Central America and South Asia. In most of these countries the rates have not increased in the last ten years. Since many of these countries have yet to struggle to implement universal primary education it is fairly unlikely - under present economic conditions - that there will be a great increase in resources to support secondary expansion. Ways have to be found to do more with very much the same resources. International comparisons indicate that it is in countries where secondary enrolment rates are the lowest that secondary schooling is most expensive in relation to national resources. In these countries the ratio of secondary to primary unit costs is much higher than elsewhere, as is the proportion of GNP per capita these unit costs represent. The reasons for these relatively high costs have to be analyzed in each of the countries concerned and solutions found which reduce costs per pupil without necessarily endangering quality. This includes encouraging day secondary schools attached to primary ones, cutting on boarding costs, introducing double shifts, using better existing resources including teachers etc.
Apart from reducing costs, several strategies can be developed which range from increasing the share of government resources for education, thanks, for example, to debt forgiveness schemes, to increasing internal efficiency to allow greater access, encouraging private education and developing cost-sharing mechanisms to co-finance more enrolment and, finally, mobilizing other partners such as financial agencies. Many such options have been implemented by countries which successfully expanded their secondary education. What the various options open are in different countries and what their impact on the quality of education is on one hand, and on equality of opportunity, on the other, can be discussed. To what extent is it acceptable, for example, to allow various types of secondary sub-systems of varying quality co-exist, catering to different social groups?
Reforming the secondary school curriculum
Expanding secondary education as it is, is not an adequate solution. Students are often taught on the basis of an out-of-date and overly academic curriculum. They may include as many as twelve to thirteen subjects taught by different teachers in an uncoordinated way. Teaching methods are also very traditional in the majority of schools. Such curricula may have been appropriate when secondary education concerned a small minority of children, destined to continue to higher education but they need to be reformed if secondary education is to be relevant for a much larger proportion of the age group. In addition, content has to be revised if they are to prepare youngsters to live in a society marked by explosion of new knowledge in science and technology, by information and communication.
Lower secondary education is increasingly seen as a consolidation of basic skills and a deepening of the foundations for future learning. Offering a core curriculum is becoming the norm at that level with a priority given to such areas as national and foreign languages, mathematics, science and health, social studies, sports and aesthetic subjects. To facilitate pupils' learning as well as keep the cost down, the number of subjects provided is reduced and teachers are asked to cover several subjects.
A new trend is to specify curricula in terms of outcomes and levels of achievement, rather than content. This implies the definition of a common core of educational outcomes that are thought to be essential for all those completing the cycle. Adopting a common core of outcomes at this level does not preclude variations in the content and delivery of the curriculum to recognize heterogeneity in the student population. Many outcomes can be achieved through different routes with different content. In addition, minimum target levels of achievement applied to all need not be maxima. In many subject areas, common tasks can be set where different levels of achievement are expected.
At upper secondary, on the other hand, some diversification is a necessity to take into account the diversity of pupils' interests and capabilities and to make better use of students' potential. The policy choices are between tracking into different streams, or allowing students to choose from a variety of options or curriculum modules that can be accumulated in many different ways.
Several Latin American countries embarked into large curriculum reforms in the 1990s. Some of these emphasize a re-organization of school education as a continuum of cycles from primary to upper secondary. Secondary education itself appears as the school for the youngsters where it is a matter of mastering competencies instead of simply transmitting knowledge, which runs the risk of being rapidly out-of-date (emphasizing the capacity to communicate, to interpret information etc.), where social as well as natural sciences are given due recognition, and where youngsters interests and capacities are duly recognized.
How have such changes been introduced? To what an extent are these reforms implemented in all the schools, and not in a few selected ones, remains to be seen. How to train and retrain teachers and what support should be provided to them to implement the reform is another area worth discussing.
Alternatives to conventional secondary education
In low enrolment countries, financial resources will probably not be enough to create sufficient school places for the increased number of learners completing primary schools successfully, even when all possibilities of cost reductions have been explored. Qualified teachers may also not be available in sufficient numbers. Expanding secondary education in low population-density rural areas is particularly costly. In middle income countries, the challenge includes offering flexible schooling alternatives to young adults and recent drop-outs who are engaged in some income-generating activities but who need secondary education to secure a job. Non-conventional modes of delivering secondary education have to be explored.
Night shifts and evening schools exist in a number of Latin American and Asian countries. Originally intended for young adults, they are increasingly attended by youngsters of secondary school age who have to work during the day to make a living. They offer a second opportunity to those who could not attend ordinary schooling, but the quality of education is often poor and drop out rates high.
Self-financing community schools are another alternative form of secondary school provision. In several African and Asian countries, a good number of junior secondary schools are run by communities. The latter generate funds to construct building and sometimes recruit and pay their own teachers. Different partnership agreements exist with central governments whereby the latter may provide matching funds, or pay for one, or several teachers. Indeed, the cost burden of running a secondary school may be difficult to sustain in the long run, especially if the communities are already heavily involved in financing primary education. In terms of quality, many such schools use unqualified teachers and have limited physical facilities. Their curricula tend to shadow those in public schools as they prepare students for the same examinations. The involvement of communities in the management of the schools may lead to interesting innovations however, such as gearing content to the local environment, or using local artisans as trainers. Does this kind of education constitute an interesting alternative in terms of school management or on the contrary does it entail poor education for poor people? Another issue is how the government can support these initiatives for the benefit of all: through matching funds, training of teachers and supervision services.
Distance education and open schooling are other interesting alternatives to conventional schooling. In such programmes, much of the learning takes place using self-teaching material complemented with more conventional face-to-face tuition. Several countries as diverse as India, Indonesia, Argentina, Mexico and Zambia have experimented with various kinds of distance education systems. The approach is similar in the different countries: the learner receives a set of teaching materials and studies either individually or in a learning group under the supervision of a facilitator. What is the quality of the education provided? What is the level of drop out? Are the costs really significantly lower? These are some of the question to be raised.
Preparing youngsters for work?
According to the World Declaration on Educaton for All:

Every person shall be able to benefit from educational opportunities designed to meet their basic learning needs. These needs comprise both essential learning tools (such as literacy, oral expression, numeracy, and problem solving) and the basic learning content (such as knowledge, skills, values, and attitudes) required by human beings to be able to survive, to develop their full capacities, to live and work in dignity, to participate fully in development, to improve the quality of their lives, to make informed decisions, and to continue learning. The scope of basic learning needs and how they should be met varies with individual countries and cultures, and inevitably, changes with the passage of time.

As such, the Declaration states that in addition to basic academic competencies, individuals must be provided with skills that enable them to support themselves, and participate actively in the workplace. One of the paradoxes of the present situation is that while countries badly need qualified human resources to support their development initiatives, there are very limited suitable employment opportunities for primary and secondary school leavers. Due to permanently escalating educational requirements to enter wage employment, there are very few job opportunities open in the modern sector for those who have not completed twelve years of secondary. Unemployment rates are thus extremely high among secondary school leavers in several countries of Africa, Asia and Latin America.
In this context, families' and youths' demands for vocational and training courses are high, but the number of places in existing centres is limited, training being expensive and increasingly geared towards foreseeable employment opportunities. Many training courses also recruit their students at higher levels of secondary education. Many programmes which were created to facilitate the transition from school to work such as the Botswana Brigades or the Kenyan Youth Polytechnics hardly recruit any primary school leavers.
The informal sector has become the main source of employment for primary and secondary school leavers in many developing countries. How can youngsters be prepared for entrepreneurial self-employment? Several countries have introduced vocationalized courses, practical subjects and work orientation in their lower secondary education curriculum. Such courses are several times more expensive than general subjects are. In the 1980s, these programmes were often under-resourced and their message ran contrary to the predominant school culture; as such their results were disappointing, at least as far as preparation for the self employment and job creation was concerned. Does this still hold true in the 1990s? Does the fact that civil servants and teachers increasingly run small businesses in parallel to enhance their livelihood contribute to lowering student's expectations and to raising the attractiveness of such courses? More recently, some countries have introduced entrepreneurship education and entrepreneurship skill development at different levels. What does it entail? Where does it work best: in which context? In which institutions? In school or after school (such as afternoon training)? What are the implications for the organization of secondary schooling, for establishing linkages with enterprises, and for introducing more flexibility in the system? Is it in any case realistic to expect young school leavers to become entrepreneurs right after school, with no work experience?
A variety of non formal training programmes exist also which are organized by artisans, small scale enterprises and other actors of civil society: local communities, professional associations, and NGOs. Apprenticeship in the informal sector seems to be one of the most efficient ways of preparing youngsters to become self employed. Non governmental organizations also contribute to diversifying training opportunities offered to school leavers in both urban and rural areas. Many of them develop innovative approaches geared to the local environment. Some organize training programmes linked to development projects in rural areas; others encourage the creation of training workshops jointly with local authorities and professional associations, or contribute to strengthening traditional apprenticeship.
Programmes that provide additional education and training on an alternance basis to apprentices of the informal sector, in Mali and other West African countries, look promising. What can we learn from these and other similar experiences in both urban and rural areas? What are the conditions for their success? Experience shows that government agencies and organizations of civil society should co-operate more in the building of new training schemes and in adapting or supporting existing ones. How can governments, and international financing agencies contribute to such innovative training programmes, so as to facilitate the social and work integration of youngsters and contribute to development?
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Mr Gudmund Hernes, Director ,UNESCO International Institute for Educational Planning (IIEP)


Mr Keith Lewin, Director, Centre for International Education, University of Sussex, UK

Ms Cecilia Braslavsky, Coordinator Curriculum Policies Area, IIEP Buenos Aires, Argentina

Mr Ash Hartwell, Education Development Center, Amherst, MA, USA

Mr Cream Wright, Head of Education Department, Commonwealth Secretariat, London, UK


Ms Françoise Caillods, Co-ordinator of Decentralized Programmes, IIEP, Paris, France.

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