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Equity in quality education a challenge: Tharoor

Posted on Nov 09, 04:21PM | IBNS

Minister of State for Human Resource Development Shashi Tharoor on Friday said quality education for all is a difficult target to achieve and that too by 2012.

Speaking at the Inauguration of E9 Ministerial Review Meeting in New Delhi, Tharoor said: "We noted that some countries may face greater challenges than others in meeting the EFA (Education For All) goals by the 2015 target date, and that the quality problem is more acute in the developing world, in part due to the rapid expansion of access. However, it is recognized that improving the quality of education and the equity of that quality is a global challenge."

"Today, children and youth in low-income, in middle-income and in rich countries alike are not always learning what they are supposed to learn, nor acquiring the knowledge, skills and competences which equip them for the world of work and for active citizenship.

"Any future education agenda will have to focus on the issues of quality and relevance. And when I speak of quality, I mean inclusive quality, i.e. no individual or population group, irrespective of socio-economic background, is denied or deprived of a high quality educational growth process," he said.

Tharoor said formal quality education transcends the provision of quality school or infrastructure, professionally qualified teachers, child-centred curriculum and pedagogical practices.

"...it encompasses high learning levels, an environment conducive to learning, creating systems of assessment which continuously track the child's learning abilities, and above all prepares the child to face the challenges of tomorrow and participate in the well being and growth of the Nation. With regard to youth and adult education and learning, including literacy, the same quality dimensions need to be addressed," the minister said.

Tharoor said: "Now that we are only three years away from the 2015 deadline, it is imperative that we scale up our efforts in a final attempt to reach the EFA goals. But we also have to start thinking of the future agenda, i.e. the agenda beyond 2015."

"Such an agenda should be based on two considerations. First, it is important to make an analysis of where we are in 2012 and what we expect to achieve by 2015 with regard to the entire EFA agenda, the 6 goals of which are all interlinked. Secondly, we need to examine what are the critical factors which affect our efforts in reaching the EFA Goals," he said.

He said E9 countries are developing their economies and societies.

"Whereas many countries of the world experience economic slowdown which affects their education systems, especially in terms of its financing, several of our E-9 countries are, on the contrary, developing their economies and societies," Tharoor said.

"I do believe that this presents a huge opportunity for strong and fruitful international cooperation amongst the countries of the South, specifically the E-9 countries.

"Such cooperation is not merely in terms of exchanging ideas and best practices in international conferences, but also developing long-standing bilateral or multi-lateral understanding with pro-active participation of experts and institutions around the world on specific themes," he said.

Pertinently, the E9 countries consists of Bangladesh, Brazil, China, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Nigeria and Pakistan.

These countries make up over 60pc of the total world population, two-thirds of the world's illiterates and half of the out-of-school children.

Full text of Tharror's speech:

Prof. Mrs. Ruqayyatu Ahmed Rufa`I, Outgoing chair of the E9 and Minister of Education of Nigeria; Mrs. Irina Bokova, DG of UNESCO; Your Excellencies Ministers and Leaders of E9 Delegations; distinguished participants, Ladies and Gentlemen and friends,

It is indeed a great honour, privilege and pleasure for me, so soon after my assumption of office, to address you all on the occasion of the Ninth E-9 Ministerial Review Meeting.

I am delighted to welcome the Honourable Ministers and their delegations to India and our beautiful if currently smog-ridden city of New Delhi. I am also privileged to welcome Mrs. Irina Bokova, the Director-General of UNESCO amongst us. We also welcome other experts from UNESCO, sister UN organisations and other august bodies for joining us to enrich the deliberations.

I also wish to thank the E-9 countries for according India the privilege of hosting the Ninth E-9 Ministerial meeting during the Eighth E-9 Ministerial meeting in Abuja.

Our predecessors met here in Delhi in December 1993, under the auspices of UNESCO and UNICEF, to lay the foundations of the E-9 Initiative. The Delhi Declaration says (please allow me to quote):

"We, the leaders of nine high-population developing nations of the world, hereby reaffirm our commitment to pursue with utmost zeal and determination the goals set in 1990 by the World Conference on Education for All and the World Summit on Children, to meet the basic learning needs of all our people by making primary education universal and expanding learning opportunities for children, youth and adults. We do so in full awareness that our countries contain more than half of the world`s people and that the success of our efforts is crucial to the achievement of the global goal of education for all." (end of quote)

Since then, we have come a long way. Each of us has in our own unique way taken rapid strides to meet the commitment which we made in 1993 and reaffirmed in Dakar in 2000 to achieve Education for All (EFA) by 2015. As Secretary Bhattacharya mentioned in his welcome speech, our countries account for 60pc of the world's population, over 2/3rd of the world's illiterate population and over the world's out of school children. The latter two are statistics we must change.

In India, it has been our constant endeavour to take our Nation on a high trajectory of educational reforms, which meet the aspirations of the children, youth and adults of this country. India has always been committed to providing quality education to one and all, cutting across economic and social strata.

Let me highlight one major initiative that has been taken: The enactment of the Right to Education Act in 2009, which guarantees free and compulsory education to the children of this Nation, is a truly historic decision of the Parliament of India. The Right to Education Act envisions inclusive elementary education of equitable quality for all. This means that we engage to improve the present delivery system by making it sensitive to the needs of children, especially those belonging to disadvantaged groups and the weaker sections of society. The Act also intends to ensure that the values and content of education are in accordance with our Constitutional values.

All of us who are responsible for implementing this legislation consider ourselves privileged to serve the children of this country, and to confer upon them a constitutional right which would not only provide them with quality education, but also enable them to participate and contribute to society in responsible and creative ways.

A number of other initiatives have been taken some of which we will share with you during the deliberations in this Meeting. Yet, I would be the first to acknowledge that despite numerous initiatives and successes, vast challenges remain in my country in providing Inclusive Relevant Quality Education for All. Therefore, we fully recognise the critical importance of the theme for this Ministerial Meeting for the 21st century world. We trust that the deliberations here in the next two days will lay down a clear pathway to achieve our mission of Inclusive Relevant Quality Education for All, in our respective countries.

I believe that our role as E-9 is going to be crucial. We acknowledged earlier in our Balimeeting, 'EFA goals will not be achieved globally if they are not achieved in the E 9 countries'. We also noted that some countries may face greater challenges than others in meeting the EFA goals by the 2015 target date, and that the quality problem is more acute in the developing world, in part due to the rapid expansion of access. However, it is recognized that improving the quality of education and the equity of that quality is a global challenge.

Today, children and youth in low-income, in middle-income and in rich countries alike are not always learning what they are supposed to learn, nor acquiring the knowledge, skills and competences which equip them for the world of work and for active citizenship. Any future education agenda will have to focus on the issues of quality and relevance. And when I speak of quality, I mean inclusive quality, i.e. no individual or population group, irrespective of socio-economic background, is denied or deprived of a high quality educational growth process.

Formal quality education transcends the provision of quality school or infrastructure, professionally qualified teachers, child-centred curriculum and pedagogical practices; it encompasses high learning levels, an environment conducive to learning, creating systems of assessment which continuously track the child's learning abilities, and above all prepares the child to face the challenges of tomorrow and participate in the well being and growth of the Nation. With regard to youth and adult education and learning, including literacy, the same quality dimensions need to be addressed.

Now that we are only three years away from the 2015 deadline, it is imperative that we scale up our efforts in a final attempt to reach the EFA goals. But we also have to start thinking of the future agenda, i.e. the agenda beyond 2015. Such an agenda should be based on two considerations. First, it is important to make an analysis of where we are in 2012 and what we expect to achieve by 2015 with regard to the entire EFA agenda, the 6 goals of which are all interlinked. Secondly, we need to examine what are the critical factors which affect our efforts in reaching the EFA Goals.

Whereas many countries of the world experience economic slowdown which affects their education systems, especially in terms of its financing, several of our E-9 countries are, on the contrary, developing their economies and societies. I do believe that this presents a huge opportunity for strong and fruitful international cooperation amongst the countries of the South, specifically the E-9 countries. Such cooperation is not merely in terms of exchanging ideas and best practices in international conferences, but also developing long-standing bilateral or multi-lateral understanding with pro-active participation of experts and institutions around the world on specific themes.

It is in this context that this two day Review Meeting assumes added significance. I am certain that as we sit and deliberate together, we will arrive at decisions which will further strengthen the efforts of our national Governments in their common endeavour to realize the dreams of our children and youth. It will also allow us to converge in our vision of education and to speak with a strong voice, as the E-9 network, in the current global debates about the future education agenda. The E-9 has a special seat in the new EFA Steering Committee and India is proud to carry your voice in this important forum which provides strategic guidance to the EFA movement.

This is why we will strive to attain the objectives of this meeting and deliver the expected results, namely:

A common action plan and mechanism to take the education quality, equity of quality and learning effectiveness forward

Adaptation and/or adoption of the GEQAF as a tool which the E-9 countries can use during the biennium; and

A firm and concrete commitment to champion education quality beyond the E-9 countries.

Of particular interest are the three round tables that focus on:

Provision of Equitable and Inclusive Quality Education

Relevant Quality Education

Enhancing Learning Outcomes.

We have here the top experts from the E-9 countries, from UNESCO and the International Bureau for Education to take us through those issues. Their focus will be on the challenges of improving education quality and how those challenges can be addressed collectively and cooperatively by E-9 Countries. The main point of departure will be the recognition of the systemic nature of the quality challenge and hence the need for a comprehensive and systemic approach. In this regard the UNESCO Education Quality Analysis Framework will be an important input.

The Framework marks a significant step forward in helping each country to diagnose quality deficits and strengthen the knowledge base required to effectively implement the various educational interventions. I am happy to inform you that two Indian states have already initiated the process of working on the Framework. I do hope that in the ensuing two years, the Framework would have gained wider acceptability and concomitant action will have occurred.

Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, time and again we have shown our commitment to pool our resources, leveraging our strengths and opportunities to ensure all Member Countries achieve the EFA goals. We have to do so again to focus on the theme 'Inclusive Relevant Quality Education for All'.

I thank you once again for making this event a reality.

Do take time out of your busy routine to enjoy the historic city of Delhi.

In that spirit let me conclude by wishing us all fruitful deliberations. And let us never forget the urgency of the task on which we are embarked. In the word's of the Chilean Noble Prize winner poet and teacher Gabirela Mistral:

"We are guilty of many crimes, but our worst sin is abandoning the child; neglecting the foundation of life. Many of the things we need can wait, the child can not. We can not answer Tomorrow, Her name is Today".