28 April 2011
Economic and Social Council
ECOSOC/6475

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Economic and Social Council

2011 Annual Ministerial Review

Preparatory Meeting (AM)


Speakers in Economic and Social Council Stress Importance of Shifting Focus

 

of Education Priorities from Access to Quality, Creative Policymaking

 


Panel Discussion, Regional Inputs Form Part

Of Preparatory Meeting for Upcoming Annual Ministerial Review


A shift in global educational priorities — namely, going beyond access to improve the quality of schooling and promote creative policies — should be a key focus during the “signature” meeting of the Economic and Social Council later this year, regional representatives and experts said today.


Participating in a preparatory meeting ahead of the Council’s Annual Ministerial Review, slated for Geneva in July, they discussed priority issues around the theme of the upcoming Review, “Implementing the internationally agreedgoals and commitments in regard to education”, bringing to bear both national experiences in education reform and the outcomes of various regional preparatory events.


“Economic, social, religious and political barriers to education remain for many,” said Lazarous Kapambwe ( Zambia), President of the Economic and Social Council, in opening remarks.  “Governments need, therefore, to do more to ensure equitable educational and learning opportunities for all.”  He expressed hope that the “results-driven” Review would focus on new and innovative developments to that end.  Some of the key messages from the preparatory meeting for the Arab region, held in Doha, Qatar, last December, included the need for greater efforts to ensure quality education and reduce school drop-out, repetition and failure rates; to recruit and train better quality teachers; and to provide schools with sanitary facilities, thereby improving the attendance rates of girls.


Abulkalam Abdul Momen (Bangladesh), Council Vice-President, reported on the regional preparatory meeting for Asia and the Pacific, held in Thailand last month, emphasizing that education was not only a right, but a tool for reducing poverty, realizing health goals and promoting a green economy.  Progress in the region was varied and complex, he said, noting that problems included late entry into school; high early drop-out rates; persisting inequalities between the richest and poorest, and between boys and girls; and a shortage of qualified teachers.  Participants had recommended shifting from the focus from access to quality, he said, adding that they had also stressed the importance of applying an equitable approach entailing incentives, stipends and cash transfers; engaging youth as partners and stakeholders; and building partnerships among civil society, academia and the private sector.


Christophe de Bassompierre ( Belgium), Council Vice-President, reported on discussions held during the regional preparatory meeting for Africa, held in Lomé, Togo, earlier this month.  “The overall situation of education in Africa is hopeful,” he said, relaying one of the meeting’s key messages.  While several countries were on track to achieve gender equity and universal primary education by the Millennium Development Goals deadline year of 2015, that progress was threatened by the continent’s slow growth, lagging economy and overall lack of capacity.  The poor and marginalized were disproportionately affected, he added.  Among other things, the meeting had recommended approaching education from a human rights perspective; eliminating school fees; introducing early childhood programmes; and expanding school feeding programmes.  More funds were needed, but some of those recommendations did not require a “single extra penny”, he emphasized, saying they should therefore be the focus of new policies as Africa moved forward.


Sakiko Fukuda-Parr, a Visiting Professor at the New School University in New York and a member of the United Nations Committee for Development Policy, said that body had identified two major challenges.  The first was a growing “learning crisis” and the second related to the inadequacy of education systems in meeting national economic needs.  “Poor outcomes show that the increases in enrolment rates have not led to improvements in students’ basic abilities,” she said, noting that the quality of education left much to be desired.  Because the Millennium Goals framework encouraged quantity over quality, the meeting had recommended setting and monitoring qualitative education targets, she added.


The second challenge required countries to prepare workers for the ever-changing requirements of the global market, she continued.  “While we should not neglect primary education, we need to recognize that primary education alone will not provide individuals with the skills that are demanded by today’s labour markets,” she said, stressing that life-long training and re-training was crucial to avoid skill obsolescence and redundancy.  Finally, she said, reducing equity gaps had been identified as urgent policy priorities, while adequate financing and allocation, the reduction or abolition of fees, subsidies and scholarship programmes must be put in place to ensure equitable opportunities.


Barbara Reynolds, Senior Education Adviser for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), reported on recent “e-discussions” organized by the United Nations Development Group, saying they had pointed to a “significant shift” in the conversation on education, with participants stressing the need to put the issue of education quality before that of access.  “Financial resources alone are not sufficient,” she added, reiterating one of the discussion’s main conclusions.  “The international community needs to be more creative,” not only in policymaking but also in building partnerships, she added.  A mix of private and public support was needed, and it was essential to address the socio-cultural barriers that kept many children from accessing basic education.  She flagged two of the discussion’s key recommendations:  the need to scale up teacher training, and the need to provide training at the local level.


Rekha Datta, Director of the Institute for Global Understanding at Monmouth University, discussed a recent online project in which moderators from educational institutions in four different countries — Ecuador, Lebanon, South Africa and Japan — had communicated over the social networking platform Facebook for four weeks.  During that innovative exchange, participants had considered ways to mobilize Governments, civil society and academia to raise the profile of education.  The discussions had addressed such issues as the links connecting education, poverty reduction and gender equity, as well as ways to establish sustainability and engage youth.  The four moderators who had led the virtual discussion on behalf of their respective regions joined today’s meeting via video link and teleconference, each making brief remarks.


In the ensuing dialogue, speakers raised questions for the panellists, with many asking about specific barriers to education, including poverty, conflict and emergencies.


Responding, Ms. Reynolds said 42 per cent of children who were out of school around the world lived in conflict-affected regions, and the challenge was to apportion limited resources to addressing the specific issue of conflicts.  While increased attention was now being given to education in emergencies, more was still needed, she said.


Ms. Datta said education should be a priority in the “needs-based” work of Governments, non-governmental organizations, the private sector and other actors.


Speaking via videolink, a member of the virtual meeting’s South Africa facilitation team added that programmes promoting access to quality education should examine structural barriers, including corruption and poverty, which prevented access.  It was critical to raise the profile of education, particularly in conflict situations, he said.


China’s representative asked how college students — many of whom faced unemployment after graduation — could be better prepared for the requirements of global markets.


Ms. Reynolds responded by saying more private-sector involvement was needed to influence curricular strategies.  The business sector tended to be ahead of others in terms of market needs, she pointed out, adding that it should therefore be involved in tertiary vocational education.


Ms. Datta noted that the e-discussion had addressed the need to include internships as part of secondary education curricula, and for Governments to provide the requisite scholarships.


Council Vice-President Momen ( Bangladesh) added that Government educational plans should address the needs of specific national economies.


Also participating in the discussion was a representative of the non-governmental organization Save the Children.


In his closing remarks, Sha Zukang, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, summarized the key policy issues to be considered during the Annual Ministerial Review, observing that education and other indicators were interlinked.  If education was to succeed, its horizon must be broadened, with a shift towards a multi-sector approach.  That would not be easy and would required greater policy coherence, he said, adding that more resources must be mobilized, and spending reprioritized.  Moreover, for education spending to be effective, broader overall support was needed.  Scarce resources necessitated difficult choices, he emphasized, pointing out that subsidizing education for the wealthy few made no sense if it came at the expense of the poorest children.  He said he looked forward to an active discussion at the upcoming Review, where 12 countries would be making voluntary national presentations in order to share achievements and lessons learned.


Background


The Economic and Social Council convened this morning a Global Preparatory Meeting for the Annual Ministerial Review of its 2011 substantive session.  The Review is scheduled to be held during the session’s July High-level Segment in Geneva, Switzerland with a focus on the theme “Implementing the internationally agreed goals and commitments in regard to education”.


Panel Discussion


Council President Lazarous Kapambwe ( Zambia) was the Moderator of the discussion on the theme “Removing barriers to education:  What’s new and notable?”  The featured panellists were:  Zhou Mansheng, Deputy Executive Director-General, National Centre for Education Development and Research, China; Maria do Pilar Lacerda, National Basic Education Secretary, Ministry of Education, Brazil; Gladys Bertha Modise, Director, Provincial Budget, Monitoring and Support, Department of Basic Education, for South Africa; Ellen Karoline Henriksen, Associate Professor, University of Oslo, Norway; and Kara Nichols, Executive Director of the “Connect to Learn” global education initiative created by Millennium Promise, Earth Institute and Ericsson.


Mr. ZHOU, describing basic education as a “cornerstone” of his country’s educational system, said the main objectives of China’s educational reform and development was to improve the overall quality of the labour force, as well as its overall competitiveness.  In that vein, priority should be given to development, and innovation, promoting equity and improving the quality of education, he said.  Pointing out that China’s per capita gross domestic product (GDP) had reached $4,000 in 2010 — a leap that marked its move from low-income to middle-income status — he said the country had also realized the goal of ensuring nine years of compulsory education for the majority of the population.  In 2009, the net enrolment rate for children of primary school age had increased to more than 99 per cent.  China had basically eliminated illiteracy among the youth and the middle-aged population, he said, adding that the enrolment gap between boys and girls had been closed.


He said that as China’s economic and financial reforms moved towards decentralization, the education finance and management system was following suit.  The country sought a “balanced system” of decentralization, with both shared responsibilities and costs across the different levels of Government.  Moreover, China had improved its budgetary allocations for education and raised the total amount of public funding for education.  Key policies and good practices of the Chinese experience included a new focus on solving education problems in rural and depressed areas; special project support to help vulnerable areas; and the establishment of a scholarship system for vocational secondary education.


Remaining challenges included insufficient funding, uneven distribution of limited education resources, and threats to the quality of education posed by “outdated” ideas and methods, he said.  China’s education strategy in the coming years would focus on realizing modern education, forming a “learning-based” society and strengthening human resources.  To achieve those aims, the country’s central and provincial governments had signed agreements to share the responsibilities of achieving a balanced education system, including by implementing an early childhood education strategy and improving the overall quality of teachers, he said.


Ms. LACERDA said mandatory education in her country had increased since 1996, and in 2009, the Government had adopted a constitutional amendment mandating enrolment for all children 4 to 17 years of age.  The federal system was responsible mainly for higher education, while the state system or provincial governments bore responsibility for the secondary education of children aged between 15 and 17 years of age, though they could also provide higher or basic education.  The municipal system, or local and city governments, was responsible for pre-school (0 to 5 years) and elementary school (6 to 14 years).


More than 6.7 million children were currently in preschool, 31.7 million in elementary school, and 8.3 million in high school, she said.  That demonstrated the Government’s ability to guarantee access, but not permanence, particularly in rural areas, conflict areas, and the Amazon River regions.  In efforts to resolve that disparity and promote a policy of equity, the Government had launched the Education Development Plan, which involved 40 strategic actions to improve quality, reduce inequalities and recognize capabilities.  Notable new actions included the establishment of 28 guidelines for improving basic education; the setting of indicators and targets for each public school system; and the mobilization of civil society to work with cities in the most fragile areas.


She went on to mention the Articulated Action Plan, a new relationship between the Federal Government, the states and the municipalities, which aimed to help cities with the most educational difficulties to create a plan of action based on diagnostic procedures.  The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) had also helped Brazilian cities with low educational levels and income to guarantee the right to education.  Lacking sufficient, properly trained teachers, the Government also saw teacher appreciation as a task and, this week, Brazil’s highest court had approved a national minimum wage for teachers, she said.


Ms. MODISE then addressed the role of her country’s “cash transfer” system, saying it was aimed at ensuring improved access to schools, particularly for those from poor households.  The South African educational system had two types of cash-transfer programmes:  those for “Section 21 Schools”, whereby school governing bodies applied to the Basic Education Department for the maintenance of school infrastructure, equipment and education materials, while carrying out their own procurement functions; and cash transfers for “No Fee Schools”, which had ended the payment of school fees in order to improve access for the poor.  Through cash-transfer programmes, schools received financial incentives over and above their budget allocation, she said.


She went on to describe the Dinaledi programme by which 500 rural and township schools throughout the country were groomed as centres of excellence, in particular through projects aimed at improving pass rates in mathematics and science.  Another different programme ensured the provision of workbooks in order to promote effectiveness and efficiency in teaching and stimulate reading among students.  The benefits of cash-transfer programmes included: greater efficiency in the allocation of resources through the elimination of administrative work; more timely receipt of materials; increased parental involvement in the financial decision-making of their children’s schools; and improved overall attendance and access to education.


Across South Africa, the Grade 1 enrolment rate had increased from 61 per cent in 2006 to 71 per cent in 2009, due in large part to the provision of better nutrition to students, she said, adding that over the same period, the enrolment rate of students aged between 7 and 15 had risen from 96 per cent to 99 per cent.  Among the remaining challenges were the slow realization of academic achievement despite interventions, cash-flow problems, ineffective resource monitoring and poor school infrastructure.  To address those concerns, she said, “Action Plan 2014” had been implemented with a focus on 27 key goals entailing the realization of improved schooling by 2025.  The overall aim was to improve the quality of education, including early childhood education; undertake regular assessments to track challenges; and ensure credible education outcomes, she said.


Ms. HENRIKSEN said her country had a “gender equity paradox” because, while Norwegian society was among the most equitable, men and women often chose traditional paths.  Young women at school and university tended to be underrepresented in physics, engineering, mathematics and technology.  That was a matter of concern because science needed more people, including women, and because increased diversity sparked creativity and innovation.  Women also needed science because it provided career opportunities and enriched their view of the world.  Research should serve the interests of both genders, and women’s voices needed to be heard, she stressed.  To remove those obstacles, there was a need to look at how young people made educational choices, she continued, pointing out that girls’ outlooks differed from that of boys.


Girls had lower self-confidence in the sciences, which implied that recruitment efforts should be aimed at improving their idea of what they could achieve, she continued.  Research showed that, when making education choices, young people also chose an identity, she said, noting that a typical physics student was described in Germany as not attractive, socially competent or creative, but intelligent and motivated, whereas the opposite was true of a language student.  Because they chose subjects after matching them to stereotypes, young girls needed examples of science students with a range of identities so that they could see themselves as scientists and science as a part of an identity that they would like to take on, she emphasized.


Because finding a meaningful job was important in terms of making choices, society must also demonstrate that science was interesting.  When asked what they wished to learn in science classes, girls’ opinions differed from those of boys; the latter were more eager to learn how computers worked, while the former were more eager to know what to eat in order to stay healthy and fit.  Describing the recruitment initiative “Enter”, she said it involved science students mentoring their younger counterparts in weekly sessions.  Sociable and extroverted mentors counteracted stereotypes and provided a real-work context through career nights and other such events, she said.  In order to attract girls to science education, it was necessary to remove obstacles, support their self-confidence, counter stereotypical images, show science in relevant contexts, and take advantage of young people’s search for interesting, meaningful careers in science.


Ms. NICHOLS then presented the “Connect to Learn” programme, launched in Ghana in 2010, and which was now expanding to schools in the United Republic of Tanzania.  The initiative sought to expand access to education in impoverished countries through a number of innovative projects, she said.  First, it identified needy children, girls in particular, and provided them with scholarships to ensure their access to education all the way through secondary school.  The programme also worked to catalyse public-private partnerships to enhance the quality of education resources for both teachers and students.


Another focus of Connect to Learn was providing schools with access to cutting-edge information and communications technology programmes, in particular through its partnership with the mobile company Ericsson, she said.  Access to such technology ensured that students would not fall dangerously behind as the rest of the world became more reliant on it, she said.  She went on to spotlight some of the initiatives work in Ghana, where it had provided interventions in a “cost-effective and durable way”.


She went on to say that teachers in schools where the programme was active were supported through training support and curricular resources.  Information servers had been installed to protect data through times of lost connectivity, which was a problem in some areas.  Another project, the flagship “School-to-School” initiative, forged partnerships between schools in Africa and those in the United States though email, Skype and video conferencing.  Students in that programme had taken on such projects as community mapping, shared botanical projects, day-in-the-life exercises, shared music and interactive reading.  The “School-to-School” programme sought to foster a feeling of “communality and shared responsibility” among schools across the world, she said.


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For information media • not an official record