“Quality education is one that focuses on the whole child—the social, emotional, mental, physical, and cognitive development of each student regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, or geographic location. It prepares the child for life, not just for testing.”
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights which includes the right to free, compulsory accessible education, to realise individual potential, with a parental right to choose the kind of education given to their children, sits alongside the right to life, liberty, security and freedom from hunger. Yet for millions of children across the globe this remains a distant dream, with many forced into labour, neglected and malnourished as nations continue to breach their legal duty with impunity.
The value of quality education to economic growth and social mobility is internationally acknowledged. Yet globally 264 million children are denied access to education, 72 million children of primary education are not in school and 759 million adults illiterate and do not have the skills necessary to improve their families’ living conditions. Some 152 million children are victims of child labour and 73 million of them engaged in hazardous occupations.
Wealth, gender, geography, political and environmental situation continue to determine a child’s access to quality education. Inequitable distribution of resources undermines efforts to improve standards for low-income families, where children of wealthier families receive the lion’s share of state educations funds. In low-income countries, 46% of resources are allocated to educate the top 10 % most educated students. Of the US$4.7 trillion annual education spending by governments, households and donors, 65% (US$3 trillion) is spent in high-income countries, with just 0.5% (US$22 billion) spent in low-income countries.
Access to quality education for poor children is at a crisis point.
In 2015 world leaders of 191 countries signed up to a new agenda for sustainable development to eliminate poverty, hunger and violence against women and address the social, cultural, economic and environmental challenges by the year 2030. Goal 4 of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) agreed by the leaders, is the promise of inclusive, equitable and free quality primary and secondary education and lifelong learning opportunities for all; to build and upgrade learning environments and to substantially increase the supply of qualified teachers.
Laudable and aspirational as these goals are, the ground reality for the poor and marginalized population is very different. Many are unaware of the promises of SDGs. Those that are don’t trust governments to honour their promises and lack the power to hold them to account. Existing models of teaching and learning appear not fit for purpose in the contemporary society that face increasing poverty, inequality, violence and ecological crises. In response to governmental failure to fulfill their obligation, non-government organisations (NGOs), educational institutions and private companies are stepping in to fill the gap. These range from schools run by charities in villages to for-profit aid-funded schools, commercial enterprises and expensive private, fee-paying residential schools.
In villages across Africa, India and other countries in Asia, NGOs with a focus and expertise on education and with financial support from philanthropists and corporates have set up schools providing free education to children from marginalised communities. Teaching is through creative and activity-based learning, knowledge sharing, linking schools with the community and their natural and social environment. Local communities and other skilled professional play an active part in the teaching and management of schools. Reforms in classroom practices, examination systems and teacher-training methods aim to help children become life-long self-learners.
Elsewhere, small Co-operative establishments make students and parents partners in the process of education. Students are offered personalised, hands-on teaching and learning, encompassing broad curricular activities to help each student’s cognitive development. Activities include tending to the campus, cooking, cleaning and teaching younger children in their care. Parents contribute to the maintenance of the school and discuss with teachers the curriculum and the children’s needs. These schools are often better resourced with a much lower student:staff ratio.
At the other end are international private schools supported and run by private individuals or corporations with annual fees ranging from £12000 to £40,000 per student in the UK. Parents also have to pay for books, uniforms and stationery which are sold by the schools.
Schools relying heavily on charitable donations and CSR are limited in its reach and risk sustainability. Private and corporate-funded education is affordable and accessible to children of high-income families. However well-meaning, these schools are not inclusive and cannot guarantee fairness and equality. Many are unregulated. They entrench inequality and privilege and undermine state-funded education.
There is no doubt that state education needs transformational reform. This means re-defining the purpose of education. Whilst teaching basic literacy, numeracy and the sciences and preparation for exams is important, there is a need to include both formal and non-formal teaching. There should be space and time to include subjects of music, art, languages and subjects related to the local social, cultural and natural environment and well-being. Teachers, parents and communities should be encouraged to innovate and be creative to develop the best education for their children. To honour the promise and guarantee access to quality education for all requires political will, commitment and proper funding to enable educators to deliver the reform.
 Defined by ASCD and EI, Feb 2017
 The Global Education Monitoring (GEM) Report 2019)
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