have seen how the concern to integrate early childhood
care and pre-primary schooling into basic education,
or to extend compulsory schooling to the end of secondary
education (by including vocational training), corresponds
to a concern to reinforce and improve the quality of
basic education. But the quest for quality in education,
at all levels, is an ongoing concern, and is the aim
of much innovative action. Some of these actions are
particularly stressed in the country reports from the
3.1 FOCUSING ON THE PUPIL
One of the main purposes of the "expanded
vision" of basic education is, as we have seen, to develop
the full potential of the individual. This personal
development dimension has long been emphasized by the
educational community, decision-makers, researchers
and teachers. In practice, this "focusing on the pupil"
results in a diversity of content, teaching methods
and modes of organization of school life.
It is more and more generally admitted
that the quest for a higher quality of education necessitates
recognizing pupils' diversity and their different rates
of learning, and hence taking account of each pupil's
This observation has given rise to many
innovative practices in recent years, whose common point
has been that they seek to introduce as much flexibility
as possible into the curriculum and into the organization
of school life. Thus in France, the concept of "cycles"
is stressed, rather than a division of the educational
process into school years, and the recent thinking on
"the school of the twenty-first century" stresses the
necessary flexibility of curricula, which must be perceived
in terms of objectives to be reached rather than as
a succession of rigid instructions, the thinking being
directed primarily at workloads and the organization
of school work.
It is possible to see in the country reports
the confirmation of a marked tendency to recognize how
workloads and courses vary: from a situation in which
pupils are forced to yield to the rules of the institution,
we are coming to the idea that the institution must
adapt to each pupil, by applying the principle of "differentiated
In countries like Poland, Portugal, Italy
and France, implementing this flexibility has meant
developing the autonomy of individual schools. Each
school is thus granted the right to adapt the national
curriculum according to the specific characteristics
of its pupils, their immediate environment, and the
needs of their communities.
Thus to the quest for quality is added
the search for equity. Processes like these also aim
to take account of the inequalities which exist at the
start of a child's schooling, and to treat them in the
most personalized way possible, so as to equalize opportunities.
By differentiating pupils' school careers, it is hoped
that all members of an age cohort will have been able
to acquire, by the end of their basic education, a set
of basic skills and knowledge, common values and those
forms of behaviour and attitudes which are considered
to be essential to the activities of social life. This
dimension tallies exactly with the "expanded vision"
of basic education as defined in the Jomtien Declaration.
3.2 CURRICULAR REFORMS
Among the various possible avenues of research
into ways of improving the quality of education, curriculum
reforms are one among the most significant. This movement
began in the Anglo-Saxon countries in the 1960s, and
have become widespread throughout the world, albeit
with considerable variants. The quest for quality in
teaching by means of curriculum reform often involves
determining teaching content, drawing up teaching guides
which are fairly restrictive, or defining national standards
- which schools are encouraged to attain, in particular
by the application of financial incentives - as is the
case in the United Kingdom, or in the United States
with the "Goals 2000" programme. In the Latin countries,
stress is more often laid on the acquisition of knowledge
and skills by pupils.
Beyond these cultural variants, the premises
of this approach to quality by acting on the curriculum
can be clearly seen: for any given society, it is a
matter of determining the knowledge, skills and attitudes
that are needed, and therefore the standards that it
must enforce, in order to make possible the satisfactory
integration of the individual.
Most of the countries of Europe and North
America either introduced curriculum reforms into their
basic education systems in the 1990s, or plan to do
so in the near future. Everywhere, the approach has
been to rethink how children and young people should
be taught in the aftermath of immense social, economic
and political changes. It would be illusory to try to
account for all the innovations introduced into all
curricula in all regions. It is, however, possible to
identify certain marked tendencies.
Personal development, individual potential and self-reliance
The stress laid on individuals' self-reliance
is a key characteristic of the educational approaches
of western countries. This tendency can now be seen
in the reforms in progress in the eastern countries.
For example, Romania's Education Act of 1995 stipulates
that education must contribute to the free and harmonious
development of the individual and the building of an
autonomous creative personality. Elsewhere, as in Poland,
the acquisition of self-reliance is translated into
educational content as the need to develop abilities
and skills in self-expression, communication and comprehension
("understanding the world"), using methods which emphasize
exchanges, expression and communication.
The aim includes teaching individuals to
be good citizens. Often limited in the east to civic
education classes, this is much more apparent in the
west, where it often underpins the entire educational
process. It is a transverse concept with respect to
the usual disciplines, and is transmitted to pupils
not only through teaching common values, but also through
teaching history, the mother tongue or foreign languages,
economics, etc. The acquisition of civic attitudes can
also be achieved by means of periods of self-expression,
exchanges and meetings, between pupils and teachers
or with people from outside the school.
Acquisition of new knowledge and new
skills for a modern society based on exchanges As
societies become increasingly complex, the question
arises: how can the acquisition of certain types of
knowledge considered to be fundamental, such as knowledge
of the environment or economic issues, be reinforced?
In this connection, one may instance the
introduction of new information and communication
technologies, which can be effected either with
purely technical training in the use of the machine,
or more often, through a more broadly-based overall
reform of content and methods leading to interdisciplinarity,
using IT as a means of access to knowledge, exchange
and communication, and a way of developing an analytical
mind and the critical faculty. These reforms include
the objective of reducing inequalities of access to
knowledge and employment, and an attempt to avoid a
new kind of illiteracy: "computer illiteracy". This
approach is seen most notably in Italy, France and Romania.
Early training in foreign languages
is also being developed in primary education, to improve
performance in later life. It is perceived as an issue
of developing mobility, of European openness, but also
of improved economic competitiveness. It is part of
the training of the individual as an active participant
in civic life, but also as a preparation for a more
mobile professional life.
Developing teaching methods which
gradually leave behind the mechanical learning of concepts
in favour of a rationale of understanding. It is a question
"of learning to learn", as advocated by the UNESCO International
Commission on Education for the Twenty-first Century,
chaired by Jacques Delors. Although this process does
seem to be the way ahead, it should not, however, let
us lose sight of the idea of determining a minimum core
of knowledge that would serve as a knowledge foundation
common to all, valuable both for the individual personally
and for the individual's participation in the world.
In several cases, this basic aspect seems to be regarded
as secondary, and poses a problem, namely, that schools
must remain places for the acquisition of knowledge.
3.3 WAYS OF MANAGING THE SYSTEM
An examination of the country reports reveals
a very strong measure of agreement and even a real consensus:
the reinforcement of basic education and its quality
requires a major redistribution of the roles of all
its actors, whether they are public authorities, local
communities, private actors or associations, including,
of course, the parts played by teachers, families, and
more widely, the social environment.
The issues at stake are clear: we must
mobilize all the actors, in order both to consolidate
the central place of the school in society, and to ensure
that, in return, education is perceived as a major component
of society, not just one more public utility among others.
The thinking in our region seems to have
moved in three major directions:
Many of our countries possess federal structures,
or have organized themselves into autonomous regions,
or have introduced a high degree of decentralization.
Others, particularly in the eastern part of the region,
plan to do this within the framework of the institutional
reforms currently under way.
These policies correspond to a general
trend which consists in giving more and more responsibility
and initiatives to those actors who are "close to the
point of delivery", whatever the sector, and therefore
also in education. Let us simply note here that this
tendency is deeply rooted in the very nature of democracy
and its underlying values.
These policies can present a real danger:
that responsibilities may be transferred without appropriate
accompanying administrative, and especially financial,
provisions to enable the decentralized levels to cope
with these new possibilities in a concrete way. This
problem is quite real in the countries of the eastern
part of Europe, as the UNICEF document emphasizes.
But they also present the enormous advantage
of proposing a framework in which the "res publica",
that which belongs to the public - and in particular
education - can become, by delegation of responsibility
to the level of the reality of everyday problems, the
"res omnium" or that which belongs to all.
3.3.2 Autonomy and partnership
Within the framework of the implementation
of these policies, several marked tendencies become
- The autonomy of schools, as regards their
financial management, their approach to teaching and
their freedom to be creative and to take initiatives,
which are entrusted to the teaching staff.
- Partnerships: these processes can lead to
contractual relationships with local authorities,
to partnerships with actors in the social sphere and
sometimes with private companies, and to innovative
projects often characterized by openness and transversality,
as is the case with the "COMENIUS" projects encouraged
by the European Commission.
- Cases of hardship: these partnership initiatives,
moreover, make it possible to deal at close quarters
with the difficulties encountered by a number of children
and adults: the setting up of a culture of listening,
decompartmentalizing the actions of public services,
community actions undertaken by associations - all
these initiatives can transform populations from being
recipients of assistance measures to individuals in
control of their own reintegration.
We shall return to these points in more
detail, illustrating them with examples of actions mentioned
in the country reports, as this is doubtless one of
the most innovative areas of this decade.
3.3.3 Management and evaluation
These highly innovative and flexible initiatives
nevertheless raise the question of general management
and how achievements should be evaluated.
At this level, the strategies in place
in the region are extremely varied, and this is undoubtedly
a particularly fertile field for research. We shall
content ourselves here with identifying two main tendencies:
on the one hand, that of countries like the United Kingdom,
which launches initiatives intended to stimulate and
revitalize those schools which commit themselves to
pursuing the goals defined in the action plans, which
always include a financial incentive. On the other,
the tendency observed in countries like the Netherlands
or France, which have developed national systems for
the monitoring and evaluation of pupils' results, the
performance of schools and that of the education system
in general, in order to be able to measure the progress
made and to improve identification of obstacles.
At this level of thinking, it is clear
that the interdependence of objectives, standards, evaluation
and certification will be a subject for considerable
study and action in the years to come.
3.4 TEACHER TRAINING
The process of improving the quality of
education cannot ignore the quality of service provided
by teachers themselves, the central actors in the educational
process. In this connection, stress was laid during
the 1990s on teacher training for all levels of the
education system, particularly for the primary and secondary
levels. Two tendencies can be observed, one very clear,
the other more diffuse.
3.4.1 Improving the standards of primary-school teachers
The overall goal of raising standards in
our societies finds expression in the diversification
of educational content, the inclusion at primary level
of new disciplines such as foreign languages, the entry
of computers into school and the drive to improve pupil's
performance. This broad trend means that a wider range
of knowledge and skills is required of teachers. For
these reasons, most countries in the region have reformed
teacher training, often simultaneously with the introduction
of new curricula into primary schooling. This argument
is generally the first to be advanced, as in the case
of Portugal, where, since 1997, kindergarten teachers
and those teaching in the three cycles of primary and
secondary education are trained to degree level ("licenciatura"),
i.e. five years of study at universities or colleges
of higher education.
The level of training required in the whole
of the region to qualify teachers to work in the first
years of basic education now amounts to two, three,
four or five years after graduation from secondary education,
either in higher teacher-training colleges, or at university
level in specialist educational science courses. Meanwhile,
continuing education for practising primary-school teachers
has often been strengthened, at least in the west of
the region, by more frequent sessions and the use of
more diversified and more modern teaching methods and
course contents, in particular using new technologies.
In some cases, systems to support teacher training quality
have been devised. In Italy, for example, since 1998
it has been the job of the coordinamento della formazione
degli insegnanti to reform and renovate the whole
continuing education system of the profession.
The present trend in Europe is to train
primary teachers in tertiary level institutions, either
at universities, or at specialized teacher-training
3.4.2 Courses linked to research in educational science
A second tendency developed during the
1990s, essentially in the west of the region: that of
linking teacher training with research in educational
science, in universities or similar structures where
such research takes place. The linkage has two related
aims: to reduce inequalities among pupils and to combat
academic failure by acquiring sociological insights
into pupils, their environment and the school institution;
and to disseminate and encourage innovations in teaching,
for which the best vectors are teachers themselves.
The example of the university-level teacher training
institutes created in France in 1989 is in line with
the spirit of these aims. Both objectives make it possible
to combine the need for quality with the demand for