Equitable Access to Education: Toward a Post-2015 Agenda

By Lori Heninger.

worldwewant_educAcross the education spectrum, much thinking, writing and advocacy is being undertaken to ensure that education is part of the international goals agenda post-2015 (e.g. see NORRAG blogs on this, and the NORRAG submission to the UK International Development Committee). This includes both the Millennium Development Goals and the Education for All Goals.

Processes are in place for understanding and lifting up key issues that still need to be addressed, including a meeting on education goals in Dakar in March of this year. To ensure that meeting has as much international input as possible, a web platform, www.worldwewant2015.org has been created. This platform is a product of UN agencies and civil society, and hosts information and input opportunities for 11 different themes including education, inequalities, health, environmental sustainability, etc.

The education platform is currently hosting four thematic opportunities for inputs:

  1. Equitable Access to Education: closed (but see longer summary of this e-discussion).
  2. Quality of Learning: closed (but view discussion thread).
  3. Global Citizenship, Jobs and Skills: 23 January-6 February (view week 1 discussions; week 2 discussions)
  4. Governance and Financing for education: 10-24 February

Discussion One: Equitable Access to Education

The on-line consultation on the equitable access to education ran for just over two weeks in December 2012. There were a total of 175 contributions from individuals and groups around the world. Please note that this is not a comprehensive list of barriers to access, it is a summary of the points made by contributors.

Poverty was identified as a cross-cutting barrier to accessing education. Child labor in the formal and/or informal sectors is a result of poverty and keeps children out of school. Another cross-cutting issue was conflict and disasters. Poverty, conflict and disaster exacerbate individual factors contributing to lack of access (gender, disabilities, minority populations, etc.); these overlapping barriers make it exponentially more difficult for a child or young person to get to and learn in a more formal setting.

Many individual/group factors prohibiting access to education were cited. Being a girl was seen as a significant barrier; the factors of early marriage and social discrimination were described as barriers, as was the lack of opportunity for girls both in and after school. Children with disabilities were another group identified as lacking access, as well as ethnic minorities and children who do not speak the language of instruction.

Education systems, policies and governance also create barriers to access.  A government may decide not to set up a school in a particular area that is ideologically different from the party in power.  A curriculum that does not meet the needs of learners will quickly dissuade students from attending, as does poor quality teaching. Teacher training was cited as a key component to the quality of learning. Lack of financing of education was also seen as a barrier, both from the national government and from donor governments; posts on this included the lack of classroom construction, lack of water and sanitation in schools, and lack of transportation to school.

Education systems that do not have EMIS are less likely to know who and where students are, making planning less effective. Respondents were clear that community engagement with schools was critical in ensuring access and quality in education.

In looking toward the ending of the Millennium Development Goals and the post-2015 agenda, respondents focused on two primary areas, the 61 million primary-school-aged children still out of school being the most vulnerable and marginalized in the world, and the lack of quality in education that has resulted from the push for access. It was felt that learning should be a key outcome of the post-2015 agenda, and learning should be built around equity. Specific goals were proposed by at least two groups:

The Commonwealth Secretariat:

  • Goal 1 Every child completes a full cycle of a minimum of 9 years of continuous, free basic education and demonstrates learning achievement consistent with national standards.
  • Goal 2 Post-basic education expanded strategically to meet needs for knowledge and skills related to employment and livelihoods.
  • Goal 3 Reduce and seek to eliminate differences in educational outcomes among learners associated with household wealth, gender, special needs, location, age and social group.

…and by Save the Children:

  • Goal By 2030 we will ensure all children receive a good quality education and have good learning outcomes.

It is clear from the discussion that access and quality go hand-in-hand. The concept of equity -ensuring all people can access good formal, informal and non-formal education – provides the opportunity for both.

Dr Lori Heninger is the Director of INEE, the International Network for Education in Emergencies. Email: lori@ineesite.org

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One Response to Equitable Access to Education: Toward a Post-2015 Agenda

  1. Andrew Jones says:

    Over the past 10-15 years, ‘fantastic’ amounts of money have been put into infrastructure requiring the enlistment of large numbers of teachers and school administrators, often on short notice and with inadequate training and/or qualifications. Teacher training projects have been funded by donors to address the demand created by more schools and classrooms; however, they are often quick and superficial in order to populate classrooms with teachers in front of the increasing numbers of students attending through reduced barriers to access – some would characterise it as “drive-by training” with little or no resources, followup, mentoring or instructional supervision. The action, always, is in the relationship between students and teachers (It could and often did happen under a tree before bricks and mortar…which often have no maintenance budgets and fall into disrepair relying, where possible, on local communities to maintain these ‘new’ schools.).
    It should come as no surprise that quality has suffered and is not at an appropriate and engaging level, when the primary focus has been getting more bottoms on seats. In the next 15 year cycle, a more balanced approach might address both access and quality, while keeping an eye on the governance element – a proactive approach that reduces problem solving down the track.
    Perhaps, having government officials and bankers (with limited experience in schools, teaching and working with students and their families) collaborating on education reforms/transformations, as in the past, keeps the focus on the ‘bottom line’ and away from the priority…the children and young people.

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