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Europe and North America redefine basic education for the information society
  Warsaw (Poland), February 8 - Forty-three countries from Europe and North America have decided to redefine national approaches to basic education and lay the foundations for lifelong learning, recognised as an indispensable instrument for individual empowerment in the emerging information-based society.
  A 3-day meeting, the Conference on Education for All in Europe and North America, closed in Warsaw, Tuesday, with the adoption of a Framework for Action reflecting the will of the region which developed the educational model now applied world-wide to update basic education and extend its availability to all people beyond the traditional confines of childhood and of formal classrooms. The Framework recommends three levels of action: in each country, in the region, and globally.
  The Conference was organised by the International Consultative Forum on Education for All (EFA), comprising the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the World Bank.
  For each country, the Framework notably recommends that basic education provide "key skills, used as personal development tools [including] a first vocational initiation, the culture, values and abilities that are needed for social cohesion, sustainable development, [...] and for the exercise of participatory and responsible citizenship in a democracy." To achieve this, it also emphasises the need to fight against functional illiteracy, a considerable and persistent problem in all countries, including the most developed.
  Regarding the allocation of resources for basic education, emphasis is placed on the need to maintain, and in some cases increase, expenditure despite declining demographic trends in the region, and to ensure that resource allocation serve to reduce inequities in access to, and the quality of, education.
  . The need to promote effective partnerships between schools, families, communities, civil society, social services and political authorities is brought to the fore, especially for excluded groups. The importance of basic education in the fight against AIDS and other health risks is also stressed. Other concerns include: monitoring results against both quantitative and qualitative targets, with particular attention to those populations that have most difficulty in attaining the desired objectives, providing teachers with adequate training, notably in-service training, and with a recognised status.
   On the regional level, information sharing is encouraged and "given the needs for further improvements in education systems, particularly in hard hit economies of Central and Eastern Europe, enhanced flows of financial assistance are merited and should be provided". The Framework recommends "significant increases of assistance to education" and urges region-wide efforts to combat the exclusion of many adults from learning opportunities.
  At the global level, the Framework states: "Education must be allowed to play its key role for lasting development in the context of globalisation and by respecting the responsibilities of each country. This can be achieved by 2015", provided certain steps are taken. Among the measures listed, the Conference recommended that Europe and North America: "respond to the requests coming from countries in other regions [...]; request that the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, and other international agencies collect internationally-comparable data [... and] assist in national capacity-building for statistical collection and analysis."
  The Framework adopted today also reflects the region's lessons from its participation in an unprecedented stock-taking exercise, EFA 2000 Assessment, which has covered 90% of the world in a bid to monitor progress and needs in basic education since the international community at the 1990 Jomtien Conference in Thailand pledged to provide basic education for all and reduce illiteracy massively.
  Unequal access to existing educational provision was a major source of concern in the presentation of reports on 29 countries in Western Europe and a report on Central and Eastern Europe which covered 20 countries. In the West, there was particular worry about the influence of social exclusion on the educational and subsequent professional success of learners while in the East issues of family background, ethnic origin and geographic location were brought to the fore.
  In Central and Eastern Europe, budgetary constraints have led to a decline in the mobilisation of resources for education in many of the region's countries and have had a negative impact on both access to, and quality of, education, the Assessment shows.
  It also points out that while schools generally continue operating in the region, budgetary constraints mean that they rely more on contributions from families to pay for supplies and extracurricular activities but rising unemployment and poverty mean that households also have fewer resources to devote to education.
   Some of the main reasons to redefine basic education are explained in the Framework for Action, notably the fact that: "With the development of knowledge, [...] basic education takes more time: in our countries, it covers at least lower secondary education, and it is progressively concerning other levels; basic education cannot be defined solely by an obligatory duration; it must also be defined by its outcomes."
  Questions are also raised regarding those who, despite the universal availability of primary and early secondary education in the region, fail "to reach the level that is required for successful integration into working life and who cannot take part in social development." This issue is linked to that of the fight against poverty and exclusion in which adult education, notably the education of young adults, must play a key role. The Framework notes that: "As society is rapidly changing, each person needs lifelong education; it must start from early childhood, so as to favour the psychological, motor, affective and cognitive development of young children." This is described as a holistic process which begins at birth. Regarding early childhood education, two reports presented at the Warsaw Conference - one for Eastern and Central Europe, the other for Western Europe and North America - syntheses of national reports from the region's countries, showed early childhood education to be the weakest link in the educational chain.
  Globalisation, to be acceptable, "should lead to a convergence in levels of education for the countries of the world," the Framework cautions, noting: "However, an educational system cannot be severed from its historical, cultural, religious and linguistic roots, which our fellow citizens consider as essential, no doubt in reaction to the threat of loss of identity that globalisation can represent."
  The Framework places basic education firmly as part of lifelong learning: "the importance of valuing the learners' experience in order to create both the curriculum and opportunities for learning is paramount: education from all as well as for all. [...] We believe that participation in learning builds self-confidence, citizenship and autonomy. [...] We recommend that learning how to learn is seen as a fundamental skill for all." It also highlights the need to encourage teachers to see themselves as learners too.
  The Framework for Action will be presented - along with other reports and Plans of Action adopted in five other regional and international conferences - at the World Education Forum in Dakar (Senegal, April 26 - 28) in which the international community will define ways to reinforce efforts to provide quality education for all world-wide.
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