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
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
THE RIGHT TO EDUCATION: THE JOMTIEN DECLARATION
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.
QUESTIONS OF ETHICS
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.
QUESTIONS OF GENERAL POLICY AND ORGANIZATION
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
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
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
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.
2. BASIC EDUCATIONAL NEEDS
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
- the lessons of the decade and the prospects for
action by ourselves and in other world regions.