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The findings > Children in Difficult Circumstances
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Full report :  Fullversion (.doc)
 Each One Counts. The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) affirms the right of all children to relevant and good quality education. It confirms and extends the belief of many cultures that there is a social contract and moral commitment of the part of States to ensure the equity and well-being of all citizens. It brings the moral weight of an international instrument to propel a major shift in perspective for States and donors as they implement action to achieve Education For All;
 The CRC reconfirms the EFA imperative of an "expanded vision"of education: that all children have the right to learn at all stages of their development, and to do so in ways which are appropriate and easily accessible. It reconfirms that this learning must be such that it contributes to children's physical, psychosocial, emotional and intellectual development. It should enhance their capacity to earn a living, participate in the decisions of their society and live in peace and dignity. Increases in the percentage of children reached are important, but are no longer sufficient. Quality counts. All children have the right of access to effective opportunities for learning. Exceptions cannot simply be argued away on the basis of "especially difficult circumstances".
 The exclusion of children constitutes a broadly-based and intricate web of human rights violations. The exclusion of children is in itself a broad-brush phenomenon. Millions of children are made vulnerable by living in circumstances of poverty, socio-cultural marginalization, geographic isolation, racial and/or gender bias. They are further encumbered with corollary burdens of disease and disability, sexual exploitation, indentured and injurious labour, or forced involvement in civil and military conflict. The exclusion of these children from education is simply one more manifestation of this web of rights violations. But it is a particularly tragic one. Without access to good quality education, children are denied the opportunity to acquire the knowledge, capacities and self-confidence necessary, as children and later as adults, to act on their own behalf in changing the circumstances which are excluding them.
  Exclusion is interactive and comprehensive. It touches all aspects of the lives of affected children, resulting either in their having no access to education or in their being poorly served when they are enroled. In consequence, they repeat, drop-out or graduate without actually learning. Being excluded from education is not a single event in a child's life; nor is it a single process. Rather, exclusion from education involves a pattern of personal, socio-cultural, economic and institutional factors which together act to keep a child from participating in effective and organized learning experiences .

 Three broad types of dimensions or factors are involved in this syndrome of exclusion; it is in the specific characteristics and interactions of each of these where the causes, consequences, the scope, severity and dynamics of exclusion in any one setting will be found:

1 contextual: environmental and demographic pressures, institutional structures and technological infrastructure, and especially political and economic systems;

2 socio-cultural: belief and value systems, indigenous knowledge and skills, family structures, community arrangements; and .

3 relational: decision-making systems and communication, resource allocation patterns, negotiation and conflict resolution mechanisms, gender and age relations.


 Further, exclusion happens at every level of society: children, their families and communities; schools and education systems; national education policy communities; the society as a whole. International agencies are also influential in each of these, of course. Specifically:

  Children within the family and the community

  The school within the education system

  National education policy within the society and international community

  Exclusion at the Micro Level: The School

Schools exclude at the micro level when they are not learner-friendly, do not support their teachers as professionals and do not welcome families as partners.

Schools exclude when they fail to create a culture of peace; when they fail to take affirmative and uncompromising action to end all forms of harassment, abuse and violence.

 Schools exclude when they do not reach out proactively to the families of children who are most vulnerable.

 Schools exclude these children by not taking their families into account; by not creating programmes expressly to link them into the educational processes their children are experiencing.

 Schools exclude when they fail to concern themselves with those children who do not turn up.

 Schools contribute to exclusion by not putting systems in place for formally noticing and tracking the non-attender or truant.

 Exclusions happen to both individuals alone and to individuals as members of groups or categories of children.

 Schools exclude by costing too much, directly and by implication.

 Schools exclude by not being sufficiently accountable -- to their teachers, students or parents.

  Exclusion at the Meso Level: The Education Bureaucracy

  The education bureaucracy excludes at the meso level by failing to recognize the diversity of learners within its purview.

 The education bureaucracy excludes children when it fails to provide their teachers with the learning and professional status they need to be effectively competent, responsible and motivated.

 Education systems exclude when they fail to provide teachers regular in-service professional development and moral support from qualified and learning-oriented supervisors.

 By failing to provide teachers on-going professional support, education systems most seriously exclude through a message that says "conscientious teaching is the least prominent and most thankless of the activities they (teachers) are expected to perform."

 Education bureaucracies exclude by being "predicated on the achievement of the 'successful', rather than on an inclusive education which aims to improve the problem-solving and critical learning skills of all pupils and not just a select few."

 Children already at risk are made more vulnerable to exclusion when the system's testing procedures fail to reflect their individual learning characteristics and home backgrounds and to accommodate teaching to these.

 The education bureaucracy excludes children when it persists in creating inappropriate and irrelevant curriculum and materials of poor pedagogical quality.

  Exclusion at the Macro Level: National Education Policy

 Government and education policies exclude at the macro level in two broad ways. By commission, they actively deny children's right to education through the regulations they apply -- restrictive enrolment criteria, for example, or policies which segregate children with disabilities into institutional arrangements without professionally competent staff, effective co-ordination with the mainstream education system or support to parents. They also exclude by omission, failing to make "education for all" a broad societal philosophy and articulated priority; or failing to implement any pro-child policies which do exist in serious, systematic ways.

National government and education policy-making bodies exclude by not seriously or comprehensively identifying barriers to education for families and children at risk, or creating opportunities to enable their participation.

National systems exclude when they purposively segregate children with special learning needs.

Macro levels exclude by failing systematically to assess variations in learning achievement across the country.

Education policy-making excludes when it segregates the formal "legitimate" school system from the less-worthy "rest".

Macro policies exclude by insisting on centralized and inflexible control over standards, approaches and methods which are not relevant to vulnerable communities.


  How education systems exclude children potentially concerns all children, to some degree. The concern of this paper, and critical for the focus of global action in support of education during the next 15 years, however, are those children who are affected in a major way by these exclusionary forces. They are the children, chiefly (but not solely) in developing countries, living in conditions of extreme poverty and social marginalization. They are children who, whether on their own or through their families, are unlikely to be able to break the exclusionary downward cycle. They are, therefore, the children for whom national systems and the international community must take significant affirmative and persistent action both to changethe basic conditions of poverty and exclusion in their lives overall, and to design and implement inclusive, effective education.

More specifically, they are children who:

are not considered to "fit" into majority-based classrooms: ethnic minority and scheduled caste children; children of different cultures, speaking other than a national language; or whose dysfunctional or broken family or life on the street lead them to be stereotyped as children incapable or unworthy of learning and appropriately kept out of school.

contradict accepted norms of who can or should learn: girls in general and pregnant girls in particular; children with disabilities or affected by HIV/AIDS.

cannot afford the cost or the time of schooling: children from chronically poor urban and rural families or for whom economic crises have created newly-jobless families; working and street children; children who are the fall-out of SAPs.

are not free or available to participate: geographically isolated children in coastal fishing communities or remote mountain areas; child soldiers; unregistered migrants; children of transients, seasonal workers and nomadic communities.

are living in the context of disaster: children in war, refugee children and children displaced by destruction of their physical environment.

 What does exclusion look like? Somewhat arbitrarily, these have been grouped according to who the children are, where they are (i.e. the circumstances in which they find themselves), and what they are doing. These categories are not mutually exclusive. The excluded child is, for example, a girl who is working as a flower seller on the street of an impoverished Brazilian slum; he is an adolescent boy from a hilltribe community forced to serve in one of the drug militias of the Golden Triangle. The differentiation into the who, where and what of exclusion is intended to provide perspective, to make the concept more accessible and actionable in terms of thinking about specific focus, constraints and entry points.
 "Who" these children are, then, concerns those characteristics which are effectively "given", the essence of the child: gender, ethnicity and race; age (for that period); basic intellectual and physical capacities; background experience and personal history. These are the bases on which the child must be accepted as a learner, and around which the society, education system and school must organize to ensure a relevant and effective learning experience. They are characteristics which cannot be used as justification for exclusion.
 "Where" concerns the context in which the child lives, or has been placed. It concerns the surrounding conditions which exclude children by failing to allow for their (and their families') basic rights and needs, including access to good education. It shifts the focus from the child to those responsible for ensuring the protection and development of this and all children, pursuant to the commitments of the CRC. It forces consideration not of how the child must change to fit into school, but of how the barriers presented by the school and the wider socio-economic, cultural and political environment can be removed, or their negative impacts mitigated, so as to ensure the child's does "fit".
  "What they are doing" concerns both the who and where of exclusion. It concerns how children, based on the individual and social resources and personal interests they bring, are managing or coping with the conditions of their lives. This includes consideration of how ready the child is to engage in learning and/or to participate in education, given the other activities and concerns he or she faces. The focus here is on collaboration. It concerns how those responsible for children's well-being can most effectively know, and co-operate with, those children to design and implement action appropriate to ensuring their effective and relevant education (as well as health care, social services, justice etc). A perspective on what excluded children are doing forces situation analyses and interventions to be more refined and tailored; to consider, for example, what working children are working at and where, with what risk and how much "space" they have for learning. It forces interventions to consider specifically what a child is doing on the street, in a conflict zone or in an isolated rural school. It forces consideration of how education can be made to suit children as they are now, and to help them move forward.
 Globally, under all categories, the answer to this is that, most frequently, the excluded children are girls. Gender continues to be the major causal factor in children being left out, and pushed out, of school. The denial of a girl's right to education remains a pernicious and persistent characteristic of many societies on a purposive basis, by reason of culture and family choice-making.
 The basic question of exclusion is simple enough: "why is it that schools throughout the world fail to teach so many children successfully?" (MONEE:52). Beyond saying that societies are not trying hard enough, the answer is not so simple. Exclusion is a layered phenomenon. Underlying conditions keep children out: poverty, discrimination, communal violence. Systemic factors push them out: unsafe and insecure schools, unqualified or unmotivated teachers, inflexible schedules and irrelevant curriculum. Individual and family situations hold them back: values or other priorities which push formal education aside.

 While there has been progress since Jomtien in extending the quality and scope of education to many children, progress for excluded children would seem only marginal. The questions at least are clearer, and by extending the decade the world has given itself more time to try to answer them. Some of the more persistent threads of debate include:

focusing directly on excluded children and/or more broadly on the disabling causal conditions.

 creating high quality and accessible formal school systems and/or broadening the framework to recognize early childhood and nonformal programmes as integral parts of an expanded vision.

 intervening through national-level advocacy and/or through direct context-specific action with families and communities.

 working within closely-controlled, well-resourced pilot programme and/or venturing directly onto the level of open-ended, real-life "scale".


In extending the EFA dead-line another 15 years, Amman gave the world more time. It also acknowledged the world's failure to respect the right of all children to an education. In effect, the new deadline of 2015 legitimises the loss of another generation. In addition to debates, then, there are challenges:

  Deal seriously with poverty.

 Make the affected children visible.

 Generate better analyses of what is happening in the field.

 Make these analyses participatory.

 Make the framework wide enough.

 Focused action is necessarily co-ordinated action.

 Engage in serious and sustained introspection.

Anne Bernard 24 November, 1999 .
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