Published On  Nov 27,  2011






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Quality Education Beyond Schools




The world is assailed by problems that defy easy answers. Economic shocks are destabilising countries and whole regions and inflicting great social and financial hardships on families and their communities. Environmental damage threatens food supplies, air quality, and the rich biodiversity that sustains the balance of life. Wars and conflict produce millions of new refugees.

New health risks are emerging, with diabetes, obesity, and other non-communicable diseases now stalking low and middle-income countries, even as many of those countries are still locked in combat with tuberculosis, HIV and AIDS, malaria, and other infectious diseases.

Hundreds of millions of young people around the world are searching for jobs in a very uncertain labour market. The infrastructure used to produce energy, transport goods, and transact business is under stress. This list of worries is not meant to discourage but to challenge. As the world's physical resources grow scarcer, it is a must to increasingly rely on the best and most proven renewable resource available - human ingenuity.

Just as they confronted problems in the past, scientists and entrepreneurs have brought solutions by way of the Green Revolution, new vaccines, communications technology, and cleaner energy. Scholars and leaders have given the means to identify and resolve social and economic dilemmas. Rising levels of education have given people more control over their own health, household circumstances, government, and culture.

The global challenges faced today are proof that a world of problem solvers is in high demand. Highly needed is a world of people who are productive, resilient, creative, and versatile enough with technology and culture to find solutions to the many challenges humanity faces. Certainly, education helps to build that world. Households with more education cope better with economic shocks and with extreme weather events.

People with higher levels of education earn more, have more control over their fertility, and have healthier and better-educated children. Education gives people the skills to earn a living, to innovate, to invent, and to access culture. All of which allows them to live more fulfilling lives.

The good news is that the global community has united to help all people acquire these skills with real results.

In 1990, a broad coalition of governments and civil society organisations (CSO) committed to a strategy of “education for all." Twenty years later, there has been significant progress in enrolling children in school and expanding access to secondary schools and universities. Globally, 88pc of children now complete primary school and 67pc go on to enrol in secondary school.

But, low-income countries are still far from meeting the goal of ensuring that all children complete primary school. Only 63pc of children in those countries achieve that milestone. Poor children, children with disabilities, girls, and ethnic minorities still face daunting barriers to education.

Many countries struggle simply to build schools quickly enough to keep up with population growth. Severely overcrowded classrooms, lacking in trained teachers and basic supplies, are not uncommon. In the rush to expand services, school systems have sometimes neglected teachers' professional development, student assessment, and even basic building construction standards.

Over the years, the world has learned that the real challenge is not just to enrol children in school but to help them acquire the skills necessary for employment, entrepreneurship, family life, and citizenship. Beyond any reasonable doubt, the world has learned the need to invest early, nurturing young children to ensure that they arrive at school healthy and ready to learn; to invest smartly, transforming schools with good teachers, good materials, and good management; and to invest for all, laying the foundation for just and equitable societies.

Lessons rightly show the importance of building systems that support the development of education on a large scale. Sufficient numbers of teachers, school buildings, and textbooks are all essential, but accelerating learning requires much more. It needs well-designed systems of finance, student assessment, professional development and management, quality assurance, monitoring, and evaluation. More robust and transparent relationships between central and local governments, state and private education providers, and households and communities are all imperative.

Stronger links between schools and employers to ensure that graduates acquire skills that are relevant to a changing job market are no less important. The world has much to learn from systems that have demonstrated continuous improvement, in contexts as varied as Singapore, Chile, Ghana, Slovenia, and England. While each of these countries had very different starting points, progress has been aided by the political will to measure outcomes and learn from results, define a sustainable path for change, and make smart, effective investments.

The case for improving education systems is urgent. Imagine a world, 20 years from now, that educates a new generation of young people so that they have the skills and creativity to take on the great economic and technological challenges of the day.

Imagine, in particular, that all girls are educated, with all the profound benefits that this would yield in the areas of population growth, health, welfare, poverty alleviation, human rights, and politics. Now imagine the alternative and ask, “Which world do I want to live in?”


Mahmoud Mohieldin (PhD) is managing director of the World Bank Group (WBG).


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