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Working document

  Ten years ago, at the initiative of UNESCO, UNICEF, UNDP, UNFPA and the World Bank, the World Conference on Education for All (EFA) was held at Jomtien, Thailand (5-9 March 1990). This Conference, attended by delegates from 155 countries - of which the majority were countries of our region - adopted the

"World Declaration on Education for All".

   In the first words of its preamble, the Jomtien text refers to Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948, which states that "everyone has the right to education". By positioning education as a universal, inalienable right, the text adopts a resolutely democratic perspective. This is of particular importance for our region: indeed, in spite of its history of over-frequent conflict, Europe has also been, since the eighteenth century, the crucible of democracy and social progress, as well as the site of the earliest experimentation and struggles. In several European countries, education has become an important democratic issue - and has often been debated with passion. For these reasons, we are particularly concerned with the democratic dimension of education as written into the Declaration, and how it has been implemented in our countries over the last ten years.


  One of the most important points of the Declaration is the assertion that education is: "a fundamental right for all people, women and men, of all ages, throughout our world". In making this assertion, the Declaration embraces certain principles, and consequently calls into question to some degree the education policies in operation in our countries.


  The reference to education as a fundamental right, together with certain other details, thus establishes a general principle of non-discrimination, which can and must serve as an aid to decision-making in the development of education policy.
  The scope of this principle is both extremely broad and sensitive. For example, how can one not see that discrimination based on gender has negative consequences on population, health and education issues, especially for young children?
  In the absence of such a principle, how can we allow populations "with special needs" to risk not receiving "special treatment"? And how can we prevent populations weakened by unemployment and poverty from being ignored, and from being denied the very specific support which is essential for them? These few examples show clearly how the assertion of this principle of non-discrimination refers us back to the fundamental responsibilities of those in authority, which are to guarantee social justice and cohesion - and this, in terms of education policy, means that there is a twofold need for equity and solidarity.


   In the text of the Declaration quoted above, two other points deserve attention: the right to education is valid "for all" and "of all ages". These words pose a number of basic problems which impact on all our education policies.

   The words "for all" obviously refer to the objective of achieving universal access to education, and indeed, for several decades, this has been one of our countries' principal objectives. This objective seems relatively clear, insofar as it is presented as an entirely quantitative one. However, it is necessary to take account of many variables, and to take the measure of the drop-out rate during schooling. It is thus not so easy to assess the situation, and we shall need to investigate to what precise extent the objective of making a certain level of education universally available has been achieved, and whether it has always been maintained.

   The words "of all ages" pose a quite different type of question, namely, that of determining which period of life should be set aside for education. Indeed, the general tendency is to equate basic education with the period of compulsory schooling which, in our countries, runs in general from age 6-7 years to age 15-16 years, and sometimes to age 18 (in Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany).

   We shall show that this poses a problem for the very concept of basic education, which is not necessarily the same as compulsory schooling.
   But more particularly, the wording of the Declaration refers to the extremely complex question of adult education, which often corresponds to very different visions and forms of action:

- Adult education is often seen as a "compensatory" measure or a form of "maintenance" and development. In these cases, the need is to remedy a deficiency in schooling and to restore an acceptable level of literacy, or simply to maintain or develop a capacity for general knowledge by means of multiple activities ranging from extra-curricular programmes to access to information technologies. In most cases, these initiatives are taken by voluntary associations, generally with the support of national, regional and local authorities.
- Adult education is also a kind of "repair work", when those concerned are socially deprived or illiterate, and the task for representatives of the public services concerned, social workers and teachers, etc., is to mark out a personalized course for the reconstruction of the individual, and sometimes of the family, in order to combat exclusion and personal disintegration. Clearly, in this process, making possible a return to literacy is essential.

  Lastly, adult education is often confused with "continuing education" systems, which most often are intended to provide additional specialist training to enhance job skills or to enable workers to change jobs.
   These scenarios form a complex geography, some aspects of which do not concern the issue we are examining, which is focused on basic education. Nevertheless, it is useful to mention them in passing, in order to place them in the context of the rising concept of "learning throughout life", which remains to a large extent a long-term prospect, but which is taking on increasing importance in the work of politicians in research and policy-making.
   Indeed, in several countries of our region, we can see that knowledge and the harnessing of knowledge constitute an essential force for economic development, and that simultaneously, the means of access to knowledge are growing in number through the sheer explosion in information and communications media which make available to everyone (or at least, for the present, to the more educated and better-off segments of the population) a huge variety of sources of knowledge. This far-reaching movement, which leads us to acknowledge the advent of a "knowledge-based society", and within that framework the development of true lifelong learning, is strongly encouraged by those responsible for education in a good many of our countries, as the communiqué of the Ministerial Council of the OECD Member States showed on 17 January 1996*.
   We shall not here enter into this debate, but shall simply note that all these dimensions call into question the role and place of the school as an institution, and the place of basic education in a learning process which is not only tending to take longer, if one considers only the criterion of compulsory schooling, but is also tending to become a continuous process outside the institution of the school.
   In conclusion, the question is whether and under what conditions basic education can and should constitute the platform for a process of lifelong learning.
(The debate introduced here will be the subject of Round Table No. 2).

* "Lifelong learning for all". Meeting of the Education Committee at ministerial level, 16-17 January 1996. OECD.


   If the concept of basic education cannot easily be equated with a period of compulsory schooling, or with a precise point in the course of a person's life, this is because its definition cannot be reduced to an expression in terms of administrative measures, or modes of organization, or even of approaches to the curriculum or teaching methods.
   Here, too, the Jomtien Declaration enlightens us: it proposes an "expanded vision" of basic education which corresponds to needs described as follows :
   "Every person - child, youth and adult - 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".

    Besides being a list, this text nevertheless clearly points out three essential directions:

- it stresses the aim of harmonious integration into an environment, at once as a person (how to develop the intellect, take enlightened decisions, improve one's quality of life, continue to learn), at work (how to survive and work with dignity) and in a community (how to take part in development). The aim here is clearly to develop the potential of the individual, and is expressed as the purpose and accomplishment of basic education.
- this stress on personal development is underlined by references to values, attitudes and skills.
- the reference to knowledge and content is, on the other hand, surprisingly discreet, since only the most basic "learning tools" are referred to, and "knowledge" of which, according to a later passage, it is said that "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".

  All in all, these "basic needs" which lie at the heart of the "expanded vision" place strong emphasis on personal development, the ability of the individual to be integrated into all aspects of life and its affective, social and occupational roles. There can be no doubt that making "informed decisions" refers to all these spheres of responsibility, but also to the decisions of civic life.
   The issue here is precisely at what point in time a person merging from a complex process definitively acquires full and complete self-reliance; in other words when, the learning process having been established sufficiently deeply, the person is able to function independently, or at least not regress.
   It is this process which lies at the heart of the concept of basic education and which constitutes the platform or the cornerstone on which later learning can be based, including the processes discussed today within the framework of "lifelong learning".
   It is apparent, then, that basic education conceived in terms of human, personal and social development, is defined more by attitudes and levels of competence than by the simple measure of content acquired.
   It is also apparent that, to take just a few examples, taking the above into account leads us to focus on the learner and the learning environment, the implementation of active teaching methods, different learning speeds, flexibility in the design of courses and modes of learning, and greater autonomy for educational institutions and their teaching staffs.
   Finally, it is clear how, on the contrary, excessive rigidity and too formal a relationship to knowledge and to ways of acquiring it can hinder or indeed stifle the pupil's efforts to achieve self-reliance, the ultimate aim of basic education, thus leading to difficulties or even to failure.
   These issues must be kept in mind as we begin to examine the advances made and the obstacles encountered in the past decade, and it will be necessary to assess to what extent approaches such as those mentioned above, which are directly derived from this concept of basic education, have inspired the implementation of our education policies.
   This review must be carried out taking due account of the events which have marked the decade in our region. Major changes have occurred, with direct consequences on the situation of education in our countries, sometimes making it easier to solve certain problems, sometimes causing others to appear.

   For this reason, it is proposed that the Conference examine successively:

- the impact on education of certain developments in the context of our countries;

- the achievements of the decade, the advances made and the obstacles encountered;

- the quest for solutions through the implementation of innovative policies;

- the issues raised by the persistence of certain problems;

- the lessons of the decade and the prospects for action by ourselves and in other world regions.

I.   The changes of the decade and their impact on education
II.  Inventory: Access to basic education

III. The quest for quality: Strengthening basic education

IV. Persistent Problems
V.  Prospects for Action: Capitalising on and sharing Experience

  International Consultative Forum on Education for All, 7, place de Fontenoy, 75352 Paris 07 SP, France. Tel: (33) 1 45 68 21 27, Fax: (33) 1 45 68 56 29, E-mail: Website:
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