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 I. THE CHANGES OF THE DECADE AND THEIR IMPACT ON EDUCATION

 1.1 DISPARITIES AND CONVERGENCE'S

   The delegations gathered here today represent a vast region of the world, whose diversity would at first sight appear to be accentuated by their geography and recent history.

   Until 1990, the stability of Europe was assured by a bi-polar form of organization, which of course ended with the fall of the Berlin Wall, a highly symbolic event, and one which was powerfully projected as such by the media. Since then, more than half of the countries of Europe, with few exceptions, have embarked peacefully on a period of accelerated transition which has caused transformations and upheavals on a scale unimaginable only a few years ago.

   This movement has profoundly reshaped our space, caused old connections to reappear and brought about new convergences.

 1.1.1 REALITIES AND CULTURAL ISSUES.
  
   Some examples: the inheritance of a core of shared culture, as can be seen, for example, in the richness of our European heritage; the population migrations which have made Europe and North America regions of coexistence, cousinhood and interbreeding of populations and cultures; and the fact that national and regional identities have nevertheless remained strong, as expressed in particular by the vigour and diversity of modern languages and of traditions.
   One fact which has sometimes been lost sight of should no longer be overlooked: the fundamental characteristic of our region is its human diversity, which we must learn to manage in all its dimensions - ethnic, cultural and linguistic. With today's developments in mobility, exchanges and the flow of information, we shall witness the construction of a space that is increasingly open, distinguished by its multicultural and multilingual dimension.

   Our societies, while retaining their distinctive roots, must adjust to this trend.

   It may be perceived as a threat or as an asset. If Europe wishes to regain its stability and influence in the long term, it can do it only by developing a body of values founded on respect for others, the acceptance of differences and recognition of others' membership of the community. We should therefore ensure that it is "basic" for all to adhere, both in school and outside the formal school system, to the values of tolerance, respect for others and solidarity, all values which are by nature deeply democratic, and form one of the pillars of citizenship. This will be the subject of Round Table No. 6.

   In addition to the aspects that we have just mentioned, it seems particularly important to bear in mind two points: since the very beginning of the eighteenth century, our region, especially the more westerly part of it, has been the centre of democratic innovation, both through the work of its intellectuals and through the concrete emergence of the earliest systems of parliamentary democracy; similarly it has been at the source of all social theory, and its first testing ground.
   This explains without any doubt the profound attachment of our fellow citizens to concepts of equality and social justice, as well as to the responsibility for public service which is required of the State. To take an example from education, it is clear that many of our countries expect their governments to guarantee access to education to all citizens, and to reduce inequalities of all kinds, especially those with financial causes - which explains, as we have seen, the deep-rooted attachment to free provision of education - to control the quality of the education provided, and finally to promote the effectiveness of education as an instrument of social advancement. These historical and cultural roots weigh heavily, as we know, on the education debate in many of our countries.

 1.1.2 POLITICAL, ECONOMIC AND EDUCATIONAL CONVERGENCE.

   As we have recalled above, the countries of the westernmost part of the region are anchored in an ancient, well-established democratic tradition. Broadly speaking, they have enjoyed the benefits, over a long period and almost without interruption, of stable institutions, of parliamentary or presidential electoral systems, and freedom of expression, association and enterprise. Albeit with subtle differences from country to country, they also have long-established market economies (although distinctions could be drawn between the strongly liberal Anglo-Saxon alternative and a European variant known as "market socialism").

   This stability has made it possible to accumulate experience which as a rule has been translated into processes of pragmatic reform in the implementation and fine-tuning of even the most innovative policies. This is essential, and explains why, in these countries, educational issues are generally approached in terms of initiatives, projects or targeted reforms but never as reforms of the entire sector.

   On the other hand, in the eastern parts of the region, change has occurred more globally, and faster: considerable reforms were put in place in an extremely short time, sometimes deliberately as strategic breaks with the past. This period, known as one of transition, was characterized by the setting up of democratic institutions, and by very rapid conversion to a market economy.

   In the field of education, many countries (Poland, Romania and Russia, for example) undertook global reforms of the sector, in order to build an education system appropriate to the democratic and economic changes. Education explicitly appears as a major factor in the construction of a new society. Thus the Russian Federation aims not only to develop its people but "to create a new society by bringing about the necessary changes in ideology, content and teaching methods". Bulgaria sees the fundamental mission of education as "to prepare young people for a full and active life in a democratic society and a market economy". Poland is equally explicit, seeking as it does to distance itself from a neopositivist model of education marked by the primacy of information over the acquisition of skills, by collectivism to the detriment of personal development, and by a compartmentalization of disciplines and highly specialized vocational training. A complete overhaul of the system is presented as essential in order to adapt to new institutions and the new international context. Most of the country reports incline towards this view.

   These brief examples show a clear tendency: the will to establish a "democratic school" (and the references to the Declaration of Jomtien are frequent), to be simultaneously the means and the result of the strengthening of the democratization of institutions. On this point, there is a strong element of convergence with the philosophy and purposes of the education systems of the other countries of the region, and the emphasis laid on the personal development and self-reliance of individuals is very clear.

   On the other hand, the idea that education should be largely geared to economic needs remains very prominent, and the concern to integrate into European and world economic circuits, and to take advantage of communication and information technologies in particular, constitutes a strong trend in those countries "in transition".

 1.2 DIFFICULTIES OF TRANSITION, DIFFICULTIES OF ADJUSTMENT

   However, while it is true that the transition in the eastern part of Europe has proceeded peacefully, except in the Balkans, it has not been achieved without many economic and social difficulties. Of the countries of this region, only three today enjoy a level of GDP comparable to or higher than that of 1990. Rapid privatizations have simultaneously increased unemployment, enriched certain segments of the population, and impoverished the masses. The problems encountered have thus been particularly formidable in all sectors and at all levels: in the field of education, these economic difficulties have weighed heavily on the protection of past achievements in terms of access, which has been maintained overall, but undoubtedly to the detriment of the quality of education, as the UNICEF study suggests.

   In the western part of the region, and in particular in Europe, the same difficulties have appeared, owing to rapid economic adjustment: the liberalization of the economy, begun in the 1980s but considerably accentuated in the 1990s (GATT Agreements) has caused many mergers and the reorganization of whole sectors, and the loss of activities as they have been moved to countries with cheap labour, without being replaced by other, higher technology activities, as was the case at the end of the 1980s in the United States. Many European countries have suffered, and continue to suffer (although there have been some clear signs of improvement) from high unemployment affecting young people, women and older workers in particular. In spite of the introduction in many countries of increasingly costly social support and remedial measures, these countries had to face acute social problems: increases in serious poverty, rising social violence, especially in the suburbs around large cities, and the weakening of many families. This context has, of course, weighed heavily on the education system, on the one hand by giving credence to the idea that schools can no longer guarantee social advancement, and on the other by penetrating the educational milieu: the number of children and teenagers in difficulties has increased, as well as failure and drop-out rates, while violence has become a phenomenon in a number of schools. This rise in social tensions poses considerable problems, and we shall see what attempts have been made to respond to it. These problems linked to poverty and exclusion are the subject of Round Table No. 5.

  1.3 FALLING DEMOGRAPHIC PRESSURE: A GENERAL TREND

   One of the characteristics common to the whole of our region is the radical change in the structure of its population, and in particular of the age pyramid. What has often been called "demographic decline" in fact masks a complex reality: we find a general drop in the average European birthrate, from 1.2% in 1993 to 1% in 1999, and from 1.6% to 1.4% in North America during the same period. Young people under the age of 15 now represent a declining proportion of the age pyramid: from 20% of the total population of Europe in 1993 to 18% in 1999. The same phenomenon is observed in the Russian Federation (from 23% to 20%), and in North America (from 22% to 21%).*
  
   There is sufficiently broad agreement that this phenomenon is the consequence of several trends: a profound transformation of lifestyles, particularly the general tendency for women to work outside the home; widespread use of birth control techniques, now well accepted by couples, and especially by women; and finally the rise in the general level of education, which has contributed to the development of the first two phenomena.

   At the same time, the general health of the population is improving, life expectancy is growing regularly, and age is not necessarily any longer a handicap, particularly in societies with well-developed tertiary sectors, and even in the knowledge-based societies which some observers see taking shape today. This general trend is fully apparent, and lends both human and economic weight and legitimacy to the development of "lifelong learning". This vision needs, however, to be tempered by a reminder of how the medical condition of those families and groups affected by job insecurity or extreme poverty deterioriates. This is a real medical and social problem, which adds to the problems of educational decline mentioned above. Here again, it is governments which intervene, often assisted by the voluntary sector (Round Table No. 5).
    The effects of these demographic trends on education are of three types:

- a reduction in inflows into the education system can help to loosen budgetary constraints a little, and as long as the funds devoted to education are maintained overall, can provide additional room for manoeuvre to allow new actions to be undertaken. This aspect is emphasized very explicitly in certain reports, such as those of Italy and Poland. It can also help to mitigate the effects of funding cuts for the countries experiencing periods of financial difficulty;

- in economies which are once again experiencing sustainable growth, at least in the westernmost part of the region, the labour force is apparently shrinking: many experts agree that in many cases it will be necessary to call upon external labour resources. This phenomenon, if it occurs, will pose the problem of integrating the children of these immigrant populations into the education systems of those countries which adopt such policies, and will further accentuate their multicultural and multilingual character (Round Table No.°6);

- finally, these developments will undoubtedly be conducive to progress towards "lifelong learning", and will provide arguments, if any were needed, for those who see in the establishment and extension of this process one of the essential ways in which advanced societies may be developed, for "humanistic" reasons as well as on grounds of straightforward economic realism.

 1.4 SOME EFFECTS OF "GLOBALISATION" ON EDUCATION

   It seems impossible to be unaware of the subject of "globalisation", and in one way some of the observations reported above could already be imputed to this. We shall confine ourselves here to a few remarks of direct concern to questions of education.

1.4.1. As regards economics: it may appear irrelevant to mention the "globalization" of the economy in connection with a debate on basic education. Globalization consists, ultimately, in the expansion of a deregulated market economy which allows capital freedom of movement practically in real time, and enables people, goods and services to circulate at very high speed. However, it should be observed that the only rationale governing this expansion is that of excellence, and that one of the routes to excellence is the mastery of profitable, competitive, high-performance skills and knowledge.
    From the point of view which occupies us here, we shall restrict ourselves to observing:

- that such a rationale widens, and will widen still more in the future, the gap between competitive countries and the others, and that it contributes in a mechanical way to reinforcing economic marginalization and increasing poverty. This process involves obviously considerable risks, human scale as well as political. A first step in the direction of correcting this extremely worrying trend would be to make significant efforts to foster development in general, and more especially that of quality basic education. This is clearly an area for solidarity and high-priority cooperation.

- that for the advanced countries involved in this race for competitiveness, the fact remains that quality basic education, as well as the greatest possible educational and cultural awareness in their societies, constitutes the only true base on which to build strategies of excellence.

 1.4.2 As regards access to knowledge: of all that is often said on the subject of "globalization", one idea we encounter particularly frequently is that which consists in noting that "the school" no longer has a monopoly on the transmission of knowledge, because of the multiplication of information sources and the multiplicity of points of access (in particular the Internet, but also other media) which lie outside it. This subject deserves to be examined with caution.

   It is absolutely clear that the speedy development of information and communication technology has a considerable impact on the whole process of learning, within the institution of the school and outside it. It is probable, moreover, that this movement will only grow and diversify, far beyond anything we can imagine today. This calls for a twofold observation:
   - on the one hand, it is essential to take into account the impact of these technologies, and this undeniable reality justifies all the efforts made to introduce these technologies into the curriculum reforms undertaken in many countries, even if those efforts flow from appreciably different viewpoints and objectives, ranging from a response to the needs of the labour market (a marked tendency in Eastern Europe, undoubtedly due to the preoccupation with economic integration), to the development of exchanges and an interdisciplinary approach, to research and self-teaching activities (which appear more in the reports from those countries which lay greater stress on personal development). What comes to light in the country reports is a very clear perception of the tremendous variety of the possibilities on offer, provided that these new tools can be mastered.

    This range of possibilities also justifies the financial boost given to equipping schools.

- on the other, it is equally essential that schools remain places for teaching, learning and equality of opportunity: the much-discussed impact of these technologies and their enormous potential should not let us forget three essential points:


- first, schools have never had a monopoly on access to knowledge: families have always constituted the best place for acquiring and passing on knowledge, and this is still the case; and their degree of cohesion and level of general culture (and of equipment, in particular in computer technology) are still key factors in the academic success or learning difficulties of children and young people. We must therefore take care not to forget that neither these new instruments of access to knowledge, nor the old ones, nor any future ones, actually make a difference to the issue of guaranteeing equality of opportunity, which is one of the essential missions of basic education.

- second, we must guard against any "supermarket of knowledge" effect, whereby anyone would be able to come and select whatever they needed. To take full advantage of these new opportunities and to exploit them usefully, they must be controlled and integrated in an overall process of personal development. Basic education, in the sense intended here, must be the number one vehicle for such development.

- third, the question of multiple points of access to knowledge also refers us to broader problems, which have been studied at length in the World Bank's World Development Report in 1998-1999 entitled: "Knowledge for Development". One of the essential matters covered by this study relates to the access, management and sharing of knowledge: it makes it abundantly clear that access to knowledge, in the most traditional societies and practices, constitutes a powerful lever for change and development. If one tackles the subjects of international solidarity and cooperation, the question of access to and sharing of knowledge becomes essential, as it can be just as much an aggravating factor worsening inequalities between countries and regions of the world, as it can be an instrument for rapid progress. In any case, such strategies of access to and sharing of knowledge for development become meaningful only if a platform of basic education has first been established. This remark constitutes an additional argument for the development of basic education for all, and in our view is part of the worldwide set of problems to be addressed by the forthcoming Dakar Conference.

 1.4.3. As regards mobility: a final aspect of the major changes that have affected our region is that of receptive attitudes and physical or "virtual" mobility. Indeed, mobility is not limited to the movement of capital, goods and services, which is growing considerably. It equally concerns ideas and people, and should be made available to all, as widely as possible, and particularly to young people. As regards education, the UNICEF document emphasizes young people's thirst for openness in the countries of Eastern Europe. In the same way, the European programmes SOCRATES and LEONARDO include an important mobility constituent for teachers, students and young workers. The same applies to the YOUTH FOR EUROPE programme. Certain elements of these programmes, such as COMENIUS, encourage projects of common interest between schools, both primary and secondary, which are commended by some country reports (Italy, for example).

   Openness, mobility and the multiplication of exchanges constitute one of the strengths of the new situations of our region, and one of the vehicles for its development.
This is obviously valid for all economic sectors, but also for education at all levels: openness to the international dimension, and, as our first concern, to the European dimension, will probably soon cease to be a marginal aspect of education and become a major factor in the permanent enrichment of the education of everyone.

  1.5 BASIC EDUCATION: A FIRM FOUNDATION IN A CHANGING WORLD

   During the past decade, great changes have occurred in the world, especially in our region. The elements briefly mentioned above (the construction of democratic regimes, the transition to a market economy, demographic trends, access to knowledge, the increasing internationalization of exchanges) are converging: political, economic and cultural developments in the region have led, despite the stress laid on this or that aspect, to fairly convergent visions of the ultimate purpose of education, and of the role of basic education in the process as a whole: clearly, there is a search for coherence between political projects (democratic institutions), economic organization (the market economy) and education policies ("civic" education).
   
     A "civic education" must:

- recognize the right to education, without discrimination of any kind, and bring about all the conditions necessary for that right to be fully exercised;

- provide for the development of the person, in terms of autonomy, but also in terms of respect for the values held by the community, so as to bring about harmonious and active social integration;

- allow access by individuals to the knowledge, skills and qualifications required by the degree of economic and social development of their milieu.

  Our societies are moving - with subtle differences between them, owing to some cultures' being more individualistic than others, or subject to more pressing economic concerns - towards the pursuit of these objectives, which constitute the foundation of basic education and the cornerstone of all subsequent development.

   It is now necessary to measure the progress made in this direction, to take into account the advances made and the obstacles encountered and to identify the most promising initiatives and policies for the future.

*"Populations et Sociétés", INED (Institut National d'études démographiques), No. 282, August-September 1993, and No. 348, July-August 1999.


    Introductionn
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: t.murtagh@unesco.org Website: www.education.unesco.org/efa
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