Education, the first challenge
Friday, 04 June 2010 19:30

It could seem that on the point of education as the primary element necessary for positive development a people, AVSI and the other main actors and leaders in international development are in agreement.  To a certain extent this is true: AVSI is fully committed to making sure that all children and youth are able to attend school and to complete their basic formation as an absolutely necessary foundation for a fulfilled and productive life. For example, the Millennium Development Goal of reaching universal enrollment in primary school is laudable and may be a useful incentive, but what AVSI has to offer is not a strategy for increasing enrollment but instead a committed return to and recovery of the core substance of education: the role of the educator, the ultimate meaning and value of education for an individual’s growth.  It could be said that AVSI is committed to the quality of education considered broadly and holistically, beyond the transmission of knowledge and social values.

AVSI’s principle criteria for action in the field of education are the following:

·       The starting point of any activity in favor of children is the acknowledgement of their being persons—each endowed with an innate dignity and unrepeatable value, in relationship with parents, family and society. At all times, but particularly within extremely difficult environments and communities, such as the big urban slums, IDP camps, emergency and post conflict settings, or environments prone to child labor, education is a tool to help children recovery their identity, self-worth and sense of belonging.

·         The role of parents and adults in the education of youth is central. The balanced and stable growth of the child needs the presence of adults, the parents first of all, who are able to set the basis of a relationship between the child and the world around them, and to orient the educational process. Within an affective relationship, the child answers with confidence and can learn. The specific role and task of the adult (parents, teachers, or caregivers) in the educational process consists of facilitating the development of the child’s potential and awareness with great respect for the child.

·         The available resources and persons in the community are the starting point for any initiative, allowing all work to begin from what is present rather than from what is missing. The first resource is always the child and youth present in the environment, together with their families, communities and educators who together create the conditions for the resource of youth to flourish.

 

Guided by these criteria, AVSI strives to improve the access of all children to educational opportunities that deliver true quality. In AVSI’s vision, quality in education is more than the sum of many parts including adequate infrastructure, books and learning resources, qualified teachers, and student-teacher ratios. Quality is only possible when there is an environment in which learners are introduced to the discovery of themselves, the absolute and unique value of their existence, the meaning of reality and also the capacity to use their freedom to act and make decisions. Only such an educative environment shapes “personalities”—people capable of standing in front of the whole of reality and facing its challenges not simply by repeating defined schemes, but by expressing their self-awareness and acting in accordance to it with total responsibility and creativity.

In what ways does AVSI contribute to quality of education around the world?

One area is Direct School Management with Local Organizations. In many places, AVSI is directly involved in the management of formal schools (mainly nursery and elementary schools), in partnership with local community organizations, as a method of testing innovations and learning lessons to share with other institutions in the context.

For example, on May 21, 2010, ground was broken and the first foundation stone laid for a new secondary school in the urban slum of Kireka, on the outskirts of Kampala, Uganda. The school is being built by AVSI together with Meeting Point International, a community based organization made of adults directly affected by HIV/AIDS. The effort is led by Rose Busingye who explains that “the idea for building a new school was born from the fact that no one educates these youth to recognize their value and their dignity.” The funds for this school have come from the sale of beaded necklaces made by hand by the HIV positive women of Meeting Point International. The necklaces were sold by thousands of AVSI volunteers throughout Italy over the past year. The ground-breaking ceremony took place within the context of a conference on education in Africa hosted by the Permanent Centre for Education in Kampala, Uganda, which was established in 2002 as a platform for addressing the educational emergency facing the next generation of youth in Africa.

AVSI supports quality education by being engaged directly with provision of education through formal schools developed together with families and communication and adhering to high levels of excellence, beauty and participation; currently, AVSI manages schools in Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda and Brazil.

In addition, AVSI supports teacher and school development through centers for training such as the Permanent Center for Education (Uganda) which supports professional development of teachers and school administrators.

Educational Policy

At another level, AVSI is also engaged at the level of Educational Policy when opportunities arise. Also in May, 2010, AVSI-USA participated in the Civil Society consultation on a new Education Strategy at the World Bank. These consultations provided AVSI the opportunity to prepare and share some reflections on educational challenges and possible solutions, drawing on our experience from many countries and years.

Below we share some of our responses to the World Bank’s consultation regarding a Concept Paper for the Bank’s new Education Strategy.

What are the three (3) biggest challenges in the education sector in the coming 10 years?

The first challenge is to ensure an environment for high quality teaching and learning to take place in every school, despite relative availability of resources. The second challenge is to continue to expand access to schooling while also improving quality. The third challenge is to find or create mechanisms for improved partnership between state run and funded school systems and private schools.

What are the major obstacles that stand in the way of meeting these challenges?

Education is more than just "the acquisition of knowledge and skills.” When teachers view their role is imparting information, and students view theirs as repeating it back, real learning and personal growth doesn't often take place. The obstacle that stands in the way of improving quality is often related to motivation and commitment, of teachers, students and parents, and this is difficult to bring about.  Education happens in a relationship of trust and care, as felt by the teacher when he/she is treated as a person and supported in his/her professional and personal development, as well as by the student when he/she is valued by the teacher. These relationships may be difficult to nurture when numbers of participants increase quickly, but resources are not the primary constraint. Rather, passion for the individual and his/her education and an appropriate approach to teacher development are needed to make a difference. Schools are one element of a complete education of a child, to which the family and the community/social life are also responsible. For this reason, quality in education is often related to the level of parental and community involvement. The major obstacle in the third challenge is the reluctance of most governments to recognize the essential role of the private sector (spanning the for-profit and the non-profit/community based/missionary providers) in education and consequently the lack of creativity in identifying ways of working together towards a common goal. In particular to reach the most under-served communities, governments should seek out any existing education provider and come up with ways to work with and through these providers to expand access.

The Concept Note emphasizes the importance of education for long-term growth, good governance, and the ability of adults to raise healthy and happy children. Do you agree with this emphasis? Why or why not?

Yes, I agree that this outline of the main reasons for education is a good one, touching upon the economic, political and social benefits of education and moving beyond simply a rights-based approach which risks limiting the perspective on education to a question of access instead of quality. But, by equating the benefits of education to the macro-level, the individual can be overlooked and the fundamental value that education has to offer—personal growth and fulfillment—can be lost in an analysis of utility. I would caution against the claim that schooling stands alone in this role of educating a child, recognizing as well the central importance of the family and social, cultural environment and associations in this task.

What other suggestions or comments do you have about a new education strategy for the World Bank?

The concept note describes a “whole-sector and multisectoral approach” to education goals. In this section, the “range of available public and private services” is mentioned, and as a theme is implicit in the discussion on education systems. I would encourage the World Bank to take a closer look (through funded research) at the models being used by private education providers to address the range of needs of the most vulnerable populations (nutrition, labor and employment of parents, psychosocial support) and to build accountability and community ownership of their schools.  Innovative funding mechanisms to non-state schools and improved accreditation systems could improve coordination with private sector education providers.

Other AVSI Resources on Education:

-          AVSI interventions on Educational Quality in Developing Countries, May 21, 2010

-          Text of Intervention by Hon. Mario Mauro, European Parliament, on Quality in Education

-          Document “AVSI and Education in Emergencies”

-          Cardinal Otunga Secondary School profile