(Director, UNESCO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific)
emergence of Asia, or more accurately, its re-emergence after
centuries, back on the center stage of world affairs has been
much heralded. And if education has correctly been identified
as the necessary pre-cursor and pre-condition of all development,
then no undertaking can be more important than a scrutiny
of the education efforts in this dynamic region.
the past two years, in collaboration with various United Nations
agencies 44 countries from the Asian and Pacific region have
worked to put together comprehensive national assessment reports
on the progress and state of education in the region. And the
results emerging from the EFA 2000 Assessment, as it is called,
are mixed, showing both positive and negative trends on the
region's education front.
since the historic World Conference on Education for All at
Jomtien, Thailand in March, 1990 basic education has been back
on the priority lists of governments and in the minds of the
general public. And that advocacy has led to a proliferation
of legislation, programmes and projects, and in the early nineties
even an increase in the levels of resource allocation.
all the awareness and good will, and all the projects and resources
and activities that followed it, were not fully rewarded with
the hoped for results. The literacy rates in some countries
of the region remain among the highest in the world. But universal
primary education continues to remain elusive even in countries
with high participation rates. The gap between girls' and boys'
education, between male and female literacy remains a huge problem;
unlocking additional resources to cope with the inevitable increase
in demand remains a challenge.
from the Asian countries in the first half of the decade showed
almost exclusive focus on the formal primary system. But in
the last five years, the expanded vision of Education for All
propagated by Jomtien Conference, is finally taking hold.
almost all countries, even where access remains a serious problem,
there is a major shift in focus from schooling to learning.
There is a growing realisation that enrolment for all is not
the same as Education for All. This means two things. First,
it means that mainstream education cannot hope to address all
learning needs and must be accompanied by alternative, tailor-made,
non-formal learning methods.
a result of this understanding nations like Indonesia, Philippines
and India are experimenting with systems in which participants
of non-formal programmes are allowed to cross laterally into
the formal system. And as the non-formal sector becomes more
formalised, as it were, conversely the formal sector is becoming
more informal or less rigid, adopting mother tongues in the
first few years or incorporating an eight week pre-school package
at the start of the primary cycle, as in the Philippines.
it means that inscribing children in a formal system does not
guarantee that their learning needs will be met. Recent achievement
test results show an alarming percentage of pupils who have
been in the school system three years or more who still have
not mastered the basic skills of reading and writing.
makers are also slowly getting over -- the sometimes false --
dichotomy of quantity versus quality. Under this dichotomy,
when budgets are limited, one must often choose between more
textbooks and facilities for those already in school (quality),
or additional buildings and teachers for those not yet in the
system (quantity). The drive towards universal primary education
in Asia has tended to favor quantity or expanded access. But
several countries in South Asia, for example, have reported
that more schools do not necessarily translate into more educated
is because there is low participation and attendance when the
school is perceived to be of little relevance or quality. Paradoxically,
paying attention to quality enhances quantity; providing trained
and motivated teachers, adequate learning materials, and most
of all curricular content that meets the needs and aspirations
of the local communities is the best way to guarantee expanded
and sustained school attendance.
listing impediments to progress, almost every country mentions
financial resource constraints. Yet there is a change of focus
here not evident a decade ago. Whereas the emphasis used to
be the clamour for more money to do basically more of the same,
now the emphasis seems to have shifted to how to make better
use of the money already available.
of the factors impelling or impeding progress towards the goal
of education for also have socio-cultural roots. On the negative
side, misguided or unenlightened interpretations of one or other
aspect of a specific sub-culture sometimes hampers the push
for girls' education and the efforts to provide education to
ethnic and religious minorities.
the positive side, the fundamental value given to education,
to respect for elders, sages and teachers, the central role
of the family, and the implicit faith in the importance of educating
the next generation are common across the great cultures of
Asia and the Pacific. This accounts for the continuing high
levels of participation in East Asia in spite of the economic
crisis, and in Central Asia in spite of the government setbacks
in the course of its transformation to a market economy. Plotting
a strategy of action for the next ten years must take into account
these socio-cultural factors.
data emerging from the assessment of education in Asia and the
Pacific shows that if the goal of universal primary education
is to be met: (a) national budgets must introduce dramatic quantum
leaps in allocation to primary education, doubling or even tripling
this allocation over a few years, (b) the responsibility for
financing primary education must shift, with all its pitfalls,
to communities, the private sector, religious groups, NGOs,
or parents, (c) non-formal education programmes will have to
be designed to assume a greater and more integral role in the
public education system, (d) a breakthrough in the design of
a primary school delivery system must take place that effectively
brings the cost per student down to a fraction of its current
years ago, Jomtien Conference declared to the world that Education
for All is necessary -- as a fundamental human right, as an
essential building block to development and peace. The past
decade has proven to the world, through the glimpses of success
in different countries, that Education for All is indeed possible.
The exciting decade ahead, with all its complexities, makes
Education for All more important than ever, and because of this
it is time to tell the world that it is not only necessary and
possible, it is also urgent.
Ordonez is director of the UNESCO Principal Regional Office
for Asia and the Pacific (PROAP), based in Bangkok, Thailand.
He wrote this commentary for the Asia-Pacific Conference on
Education for All (EFA) Assessment, to be held in Bankgok 17-20
January 2000, where 44 nations from the region will meet to
take take stock of what has been to fulfill the political commitment
they made a decade ago to achieve the goal of Education for