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  A number of initiatives have been introduced over the last 10 years, both in and out of school, to fight inequality of access to education (and, first and foremost, to basic education), to combat phenomena of exclusion, to stop the rise of expressions of violence, to release certain young people from the spiral of drug abuse and to restore social bonds where they have tended to disappear. Besides strictly material measures such as the construction of buildings in places where none existed, the provision of teaching materials, etc., the policies implemented have been more global, with the aim of linking education to environmental contexts and to the social and the economic causes of inequality, in order to deal with these problems more effectively.

   Such policies or initiatives reform or renovate basic education and are intended for children and young people, and sometimes also adults in difficulty. Very often, they involve the actors and partners in the educational process. Once again, this is an expression of the "expanded vision" advocated by the Declaration on Education for All.


   Overall, the fight against educational and social inequality, in the context of education for all, follows two paths: on the one hand, positive discrimination; on the other, targeted intervention.

  4.1.1 Positive discrimination

   In order to combat inequalities of access to education, academic failure, school drop-out and the rise of violence in schools, some countries' education policies have opted in favour of positive discrimination.
   This principle aims to fight academic failure while improving the quality of education, by taking into account pupils' specific needs in order to correct social inequalities during schooling and to make it possible for the whole of an age cohort to acquire by the end of its schooling a common basis of knowledge, skills and attitudes. Measures such as these form part of an overall policy for the whole of basic education.

   In Poland, the reduction of geographical inequalities is a central issue: the National Programme of the Development of Polish Villages-Education, launched in January 1999, is a global policy which aims to meet local needs by means of suitable organization, financing and legislation. The actions which have been undertaken within this framework encourage participation by teachers and civic organizations in order to achieve maximum effectiveness.

   In France and Portugal, combating social inequality is also a priority: the two countries have adopted similar solutions in the fight against inequality, based on the principle of positive discrimination. Zones of priority education (ZEPs in France) or educational territories for priority intervention (in Portugal) have been set up under the principle of "giving more and better to those who have least". To do this, each zone receives extra financial and human resources, and enjoys a degree of autonomy which enables it to draw up an educational blueprint that takes account of the needs of the children and young people concerned, on the basis of objectives and requirements which are valid for all pupils nationally.

  4.1.2 Targeted actions

   The fight against academic failure can also involve much more specific or localized measures. In this case, rather than correcting inequalities during schooling by means of an overall policy, the measures seek to reduce risks by direct action on the effects of the problem. In other words, difficulties are dealt with individually rather than related to an entire age group. In the United Kingdom, for example, directives at the national level are limited to the release of specific funds for the reduction of academic failure and drop-out, and to target figures to be achieved within a certain time frame, namely, to reduce by two-thirds the number of academic failures and exclusions by the year 2002. Initiatives are then taken at local level, according to the directions chosen by local authorities and schools.


  The training of adults gives rise in the region to multiple initiatives, whether on the part of public authorities, the voluntary sector and or private enterprise. In many ways it can be a means of combating inequalities, when aimed at underprivileged populations or those at the margins of society. According to country, it may be limited to the offer of a "second chance" in the school system for those who were unable to complete their basic education, or it may extend to a whole range of specific courses on offer, corresponding to particular needs and using a variety of methods. Whatever the case, these special educational opportunities mostly fall into two categories: the fight against functional illiteracy, and actions to compensate for a lack of schooling.

  4.2.1 The fight against functional illiteracy

   Illiteracy, the condition of those unable to read or write, has by now been almost completely eradicated in the region. It still affects around 1% of the population, especially older people, ethnic minorities and very small numbers of immigrants.

   The phenomenon which is tending to worsen is, rather, that of functional illiteracy, the insufficient acquisition of basic knowledge during compulsory schooling which can place adults affected by it in situations of social, and especially economic, exclusion. Actions to combat functional illiteracy are developing and becoming increasingly diversified (for example, mobilization of schools, organizations and associations in Norway; the creation of a permanent combat group against functional illiteracy in France; recurrent teaching in Portugal).

   These actions are initially undertaken downstream (with adults), but also upstream (fighting academic failure and drop-out during compulsory schooling). However, definitions vary when it comes to detecting cases of illiteracy and evaluating the effects of the initiatives taken: according to whether one uses one definition or another, the number of people deemed to be concerned can decrease or increase considerably.

   At the present time, no international standard exists for functional illiteracy, and international organizations base their evaluations on their own criteria. For example, UNESCO has successively provided two definitions. In 1960, it reduced the problem to "the lack of ability to read and write with understanding a simple statement related to one's life".

   Then, from 1978 onwards, it extended this to an inability to carry on any activity for which the continuing ability to read, write and do arithmetic is necessary in the interests of proper functioning of the group and the community. In these definitions, one or more dimensions may be considered which concern how illiteracy limits the ability to take part in social life. In the broadest definition, it could be said that every individual, from both a personal and a social angle, is at least partially literate.

   This lack of precision raises two issues. One concerns quantifying the number of people who experience difficulty with reading and writing, which has less to do with their actual attainment in reading and writing than with divergences in how those attainments should be measured. The other concerns strategic and political choices: which programmes would it be more advisable to implement, in order to correct which deficiencies, and for whose benefit?

  4.2.2 Actions to compensate for a lack of education

   These actions can be of several types, and not easily comparable, but during the last decade a tendency has been observed in the region towards increased provision of educational courses for adults who have failed to complete their schooling, or who have forgotten what they had learned. Traditionally, these are restricted to a second chance offered by the school system to those who did not complete their basic schooling at the usual age. For example, the Russian education system offers adults a chance to repeat the basic curriculum in evening classes, either in schools or in establishments of initial vocational training. It also makes possible professional requalification to the same standards as initially. In the majority of the countries of the eastern region, compensatory actions are often limited to this type of provision.

   However, interest is growing in diversifying the training available for the benefit of educationally underprivileged populations, and this is seen in the short-term objectives being pursued in countries such as Poland. Increasingly, these actions make use of partnerships with actors in social institutions and private enterprise to reinforce social bonds and to increase the chances of social integration. The Norwegian example, involving the setting up of a national testing network for people with reading and writing difficulties, is a good illustration.

  4.3 Decompartmentalized approaches: assistance with partnership

   The persistence of inequality of access to primary education, the rise in violence among young people, the appearance of new forms of exclusion and the dislocation of social bonds has led to a search for new solutions to these problems. The idea that the school is not the only agent responsible for education, but that it forms part of an "expanded system of education" consisting of school and society, is becoming established in the region. Some countries have a long tradition of decentralization, under which the management of schools and the definition of educational content and methods is largely delegated to local communities, which thus enjoy a considerable degree of freedom: this is the case in the United Kingdom, with its system of Local Education Authorities (LEAs).

   But the current trend goes beyond this conception, in that it introduces the idea of collective management of educational problems through the involvement of all the actors at the various levels of decision-making, consultation and execution, while maintaining overall system consistency by defining general policy and the control of its implementation. Such experiments are carried out with a view to achieving greater equality of opportunity and a better quality of education, and seek to make schools ideal places for accession to full active citizenship by opening them up to the community.

  4.3.1 Enabling different actors to share in the definition of education policy

   The development of partnerships between school and society presents as a first benefit that they associate the various actors with the definition of education policy. Portugal took this route when it developed the process of actor participation (in particular pupils, teachers and families) in the definition of education policy: this is one of the principal objectives of any education system. Enabling the partners of schools to take part in the educational process leads to better consideration of the needs of pupils, the community and the whole of society. Schools can become places of exchange, expression and mutual comprehension, and thus accelerate development and innovation in the interests of the common good.

   4.3.2 Combining actions for greater effectiveness and better quality

   The participation of both management and labour, and of economic and political actors, in the educational process can be expressed in various forms, in systems which are more or less decentralized. Whichever way is chosen, the most innovative experiences are those which, through the combined efforts of the actors, consider the child holistically, as one whose needs are simultaneously educational, emotional, medical and cultural, etc. Families, healthcare professionals, those involved in the justice system, in social affairs, in local associations, and local councillors must intervene within the framework of education. One example of this, among others, is the school/society contracts of the Italian reform of 1990. Opening up schooling requires reforms, or at least administrative and institutional adjustments. These may be confined to the schools themselves, by giving them a degree of autonomy, or by involving them in interministerial partnerships, as in France.

   Such partnerships make it possible both to respond better to the needs of children and young people, and to find better solutions to the problems of failure and of "opting out" and disturbances of a family or emotional nature, by listening to them more carefully and acting not only on their education but also on their environment. They also make it possible to involve them more effectively in the search for solutions.

   Finally, they make it possible to reinforce social bonds. Even though, in practice, joining forces and combining efforts will no doubt encounter many obstacles, this seems to be a promising route towards equal opportunities, improvements in the quality of education, and preparing men and women to take full control of their lives, able to make informed decisions and to take an active and informed part in the life of the community.

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
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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