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Comments on "The New Skills Agenda for Europe"

Rosa María Torres
 Participation at "ICAE Virtual Seminar on Skills and Competencies", 
organized by the International Council for Adult Education (ICAE) together with DVV International in April 2017.

Based on DVV International’s journal “Adult Education and Development“ Issue 83 (Dec. 2016)
The  journal is published once a year in English, French and Spanish.

My comments refer to, and are triggered by, "The new Skills Agenda for Europe" by Dana Bachmann and Paul Holdsworth, of the European Commission.

I speak here from the perspective of "developing countries" and of Latin America in particular. From this perspective it is always useful to see what Europeans are thinking and doing, not necessarily to do the same but rather to understand better our specific realities and needs. In the end, given the strong cultural dependence, our governments end up trying to follow and imitate Europe and/or North America (the classic "developing"/"developed" notion). Concepts, indicators, ideals, international co-operation, focus generally on the global North.

The paper presents The New Skills Agenda for Europe, which sees skills as a pathway to employability and prosperity. The Agenda revolves around some problems and data identified as critical:

- A quarter of the European adult population (70 million) struggles with reading and writing, and has poor numeracy and digital skills, putting them at risk of unemployment, poverty and social exclusion.

- More than 65 million people have not achieved a qualification corresponding to upper secondary level. This rate varies significantly across countries, reaching 50% or more in some.

- The adults mostly in need of engaging in learning participate very little in lifelong learning. On average, only 10.7% of adult Europeans participated in any education and training in 2014, with significant variation between countries and against an EU target of 15% set to be reached by 2020. An analysis of the participation of low-qualified adults in education and training shows even lower participation rates, varying from below 1% in some countries to over 20% in others. On average in the EU only 4.3% of low-qualified adults – that is, the group most in need of learning – participate in education and training.

To improve the employment opportunities and overall life chances of low-skilled adults, the Commission has made a proposal to help low-skilled adults – both in-work and out of work – to improve their literacy, numeracy and digital skills and, where possible, to develop a wider set of skills leading to an upper secondary education qualification or equivalent.

The proposal is that Member States should introduce a Skills Guarantee, which would involve offering to low qualified adults: (a) a skills assessment, enabling them to identify their existing skills and their upskilling needs; (b) a package of education or training tailored to the specific learning needs of each individual, and (c) opportunities to have their skills validated and recognised.

The Agenda is structured around three priority areas: more and better skills; put the skills developed to good use; and better understand what skills will be demanded to help people choose what skills to develop.

These main challenges are identified:

- Improving the quality and relevance of skills formation.
- Strengthening the foundation: basic skills (literacy, numeracy, digital skills) for everybody ("the proposal for a Skills Guarantee aims to provide low qualified adults access to flexible tailored upskilling pathways to improve these skills or progress towards an upper secondary qualification").
- Making vocational education and training (VET) a first choice. Increasing its attractiveness, through quality provision and flexible organisation, allowing progression to higher vocational or academic learning, and closer links with the world of work.
- Building resilience: key competences and higher, more complex skills. These include literacy, numeracy, science and foreign languages, as well as transversal skills and key competences such as digital competences, entrepreneurship, critical thinking, problem solving or learning to learn, and financial literacy. 
- Getting connected: focus on digital skills.
- Making skills and qualifications more visible and comparable.
- Improving transparency and comparability of qualifications.
- Early profiling of migrants’ skills and qualifications.
- Improving skills intelligence and information for better career choices.
- Better information for better choices.
- Boosting skills intelligence and cooperation in economic sectors.
- Better understanding the performance of graduates from Universities and VET.

My comments and suggestions


The diagnosis and the proposal are centred around formal education and training. This remains, in fact, the main international approach to adult education and to education in general. The "being knowledgeable" dimension of UNDP's Human Development Index (HDI) continues to refer to education and to formal education only, all ages: expected years of schooling, adult literacy rate, government expenditure on education, gross enrolment ratio all levels, mean years of schooling, population with at least some secondary education, primary school dropout rate, primary school teachers trained to teach, and pupil-teacher ratio in primary school. (As we see, two indicators are related to adult education: adult literacy rate, and population with at least some secondary education). It is with these indicators that countries' educational profile is defined. 

Without ignoring the importance of these data and of the formal education system, I would like to stress the need to: revisit some concepts; insist on the critical importance of non-formal education and of informal learning not only in adult life but throughout life; consider other ways of thinking/organising the question of learning for what; radically rethink the eternal struggle with literacy and numeracy; and reconsider adulthood and the adult age. Also, the understanding of 'low-skilled adults' must be made explicit and analysed in general and in each particular context.

» Schooling versus education  Education exceeds schooling. Many adults are eager to advance their education, not necessarily to get more schooling (i.e. completing primary and secondary education). For many young people and adults, completing secondary education implies a tremendous effort, meeting a bureaucratic requisite rather than having a pleasant and fruitful learning experience, and the economic and social reward may not be the one expected.

» Education/training versus learning  Skills are not developed only through deliberate education and training efforts. Most skills are developed through a combination of formal and non-formal education and informal learning (reading, writing, parenting, arts, sports, work, travel, social participation, volunteering, social service, etc.).

» Literacy and numeracy  They continue to be considered basic skills and they continue to be major problems throughout the world, in both 'developed' and 'developing' countries. In 'developing' countries, it is very common that people counted as 'new literates' often do not read and write autonomously and thus do not get to use reading and writing in their daily life. Also, often there is no evaluation involved, and no follow-up. We must radically rethink and improve the ways we conceptualize and do adult literacy, and stop cheating ourselves with fake statistics.

» Digital skills  In most 'developing countries' access to the Internet is still limited (50% or less of the population). Cell phones are widely used, also by adults and by the poor. But it is the younger generations that makes the most use of computers and of the internet. Internet policies focus on children and youth. Little is being done, and much more should be done, to offer adults and older adults meaningful access to the digital world.

» Learning for what?  There are many ways to think of, and deal with, this question. Well-being and prosperity mean different things to different people and cultures throughout the world. Sumak Kawsay (Buen Vivir, Good Living), the indigenous paradigm proposed as an alternative to the development paradigm, understands Buen Vivir as reaching a harmonious relationship between self, others, and the environment. Thus, 'learning for what' becomes learning to take care of oneself, learning to take care of others (family, community, peers), and learning to take care of the environment. These tree domains lead to a holistic, alternative understanding of the whys, hows, and what fors of education and learning.

» Adults and the adult age  Life expectancy has grown all over the world. As a result, the adult age has expanded. However, and despite the lifelong learning rhetoric, adults continue to be denied the right to education and the right to learn. Today, in too many countries, education policies and programmes do not go beyond the age of 30 or 35. It is time to organize adulthood in different age groups for education, training and learning purposes. While we oversegment childhood, adolescence and youth, we continue to refer to adulthood and to adult education as something that covers from 15 year-olds to 95 year-olds. A very effective strategy to ignore older adults and to amputate the lifelong learning concept.

Related recent texts of mine in this blog (English/Spanish)

- "Rethinking education" and adult education, Regional consultation with civil society on the document "Rethinking education: Towards a global common view?", ICAE-UNESCO, Brasilia, 25 April 2016.
- "Replantear la educación" y la educación de adultos, Consulta regional de la sociedad civil "El derecho a la educación de personas jóvenes y adultas desde una perspectiva de aprendizaje a lo largo de la vida", ICAE-UNESCO, Brasilia, 25 abril 2016.

- What is youth and adult education today? (2017)
- ¿Qué es educación de jóvenes y adultos, hoy? (2017)

- Formal, non-formal and informal learning (2016)
- Aprendizaje formal, no-formal e informal (2016)

- Giving up to a literate world?, in: Adult Education and Development, Issue 80, December 2013.
- ¿Renuncia a un mundo alfabetizado?, en: Educación de Adultos y Desarollo, número 80, Diciembre 2013

- From Literacy to Lifelong Learning: Trends, Issues and Challenges of Youth and Adult Education in Latin America and the Caribbean, Regional Report prepared for the Sixth International Conference on Adult Education - CONFINTEA VI, organized by UNESCO. Belém, Brazil, 1-4 December 2009.
Report commissioned by UIL-UNESCO.
- De la alfabetización al aprendizaje a lo largo de la vida: Tendencias, temas y desafíos de la educación de personas jóvenes y adultas en América Latina y el Caribe, Informe Regional preparado para la VI Conferencia Internacional sobre Educación de Adultos - CONFINTEA VI, organizada por la UNESCO. Belém, Brasil, 1-4 diciembre 2009. Informe encargado por el UIL-UNESCO. Una contribución del Centro de Cooperación Regional para la Educación de Adultos en América Latina y el Caribe (CREFAL) a CONFINTEA VI.

- Social Education and Popular Education: A View from the South, Closing conference AIEJI XVII World Congress “The Social Educator in a Globalised World”, Copenhagen, Denmark, 4–7 May, 2009.

- Lteracy and Lifelong Learning: The Linkages, Conference at the 2006 Biennale of ADEA, Libreville, Gabon, March 27-31, 2006. 

- On youth and adult learning (compilation)
- Sobre aprendizaje de jóvenes y adultos (compilación)

- On Lifelong Learning (compilation)
- Sobre Aprendizaje a lo Largo de la Vida (compilación)

 

OTRA∃DUCACION - Texts in English


 Rosa María Torres

Poetic and Dreamlike Paper Cut Artworks - Fubiz

This is a bilingual blog. Most texts are published in Spanish. Here is a compilation of texts written in English (alphabetical order).

10 false ideas on education in Finland
http://otra-educacion.blogspot.com/2016/03/10-false-ideas-on-education-in-finland.html

 

12 Theses on Educational Change
http://otra-educacion.blogspot.com/2010/12/12-theses-on-educational-change.html

1990-2015: Education for All Educación para Todos (compilation)
http://otra-educacion.blogspot.com/2014/08/1990-2015-education-for-all-educacion.html

1990-2030: Global education goals
http://otra-educacion.blogspot.com/2015/09/1990-2030-global-education-goals-metas.html

25 Years of Education for All
http://educacion-para-todos.blogspot.com/2013/03/25-anos-de-educacion-para-todos-25.html

About 'good practice' in international co-operation in education
http://otra-educacion.blogspot.com/2011/11/what-would-be-good-practice-in.html

Adult Literacy in Latin America and the Caribbean: Plans and Goals 1980-2015
http://otra-educacion.blogspot.com/2011/05/adult-literacy-in-latin-amrica-and.html

Basic learning needs: Different frameworks
http://otra-educacion.blogspot.com/2011/11/basic-learning-needs-different.html

Beautiful letters
http://otra-educacion.blogspot.com/2011/07/lindas-letras-beautiful-letters.html


Child learning and adult learning revisited

http://otra-educacion.blogspot.com/2012/02/child-learning-and-adult-learning.html

Children of the Basarwa (Botswana)
http://otra-educacion.blogspot.com/2010/09/children-of-basarwa.html

Children's right to basic education
http://otra-educacion.blogspot.com/2010/11/childrens-right-to-basic-education.html

Children's rights: A community learning experience in Senegal
http://otra-educacion.blogspot.com/2010/01/children-rights-community-learning.html

Cuba and Finland
http://otra-educacion.blogspot.com/2013/06/cuba-and-finland.html

Education First
http://otra-educacion.blogspot.com/2012/09/educacion-primero-education-first.html


Ecuador: Good Bye to Community and Alternative Education
http://otra-educacion.blogspot.com/2013/11/ecuador-good-bye-to-community-and.html

Education for adaptation?
http://otra-educacion.blogspot.com/2010/10/educacion-adaptarse-un-mundo-cambiante.html

Education for All 2000-2015 - How did Latin America and the Caribbean do?
http://otra-educacion.blogspot.com/2015/04/education-for-all-2000-2015-how-did.html 

Education in the Information Society
http://otra-educacion.blogspot.com/2011/05/education-in-information-society.html

Escuela Nueva: An innovation within formal education (Colombia)
http://otra-educacion.blogspot.com/2013/11/escuela-nueva-innovation-within-formal.html

Farewells
http://otra-educacion.blogspot.com/2015/06/despedidas-farewells.html


Finland Study Visit

http://otra-educacion.blogspot.fi/2015/10/visita-de-estudio-finlandia-finland-study-visit.html


Finland's education compared

http://otra-educacion.blogspot.com/2013/07/finlands-education-compared-la.html


Formal, non-formal and informal learning

http://otra-educacion.blogspot.com/2016/08/formal-non-formal-and-informal-learning_21.html


From literacy to lifelong learning: Trends, Issues and Challenges of Youth and Adult Education in Latin America and the Caribbean

http://otra-educacion.blogspot.com/2011/05/from-literacy-to-lifelong-learning-de.html

From school community to learning community
http://otra-educacion.blogspot.com/2015/03/from-school-community-to-learning.html

Goal 4: Education - Sustainable Development Goals
http://otra-educacion.blogspot.com/2015/09/on-goal-4-education-sustainable.html
- SDG: Translation issues
http://otra-educacion.blogspot.com/2015/09/sdg-translation-issues-ods-problemas-de.html

Girls' education: Lessons from BRAC (Bangladesh)
http://otra-educacion.blogspot.com/2017/01/girls-education-lessons-from-brac.html


Giving up to a literate world?

http://otra-educacion.blogspot.com/2013/11/giving-up-to-literate-world.html

GLEACE: Letter to UNESCO on the Literacy Decade (2003-2012)
http://otra-educacion.blogspot.com/2012/01/letter-to-unesco-on-literacy-decade.html

Kazi, the Graceless
http://otra-educacion.blogspot.com/2010/09/kazi-el-sin-gracia.html

Knowledge-based international aid: Do we want it? Do we need it?
http://otra-educacion.blogspot.com/2011/10/knowldedge-based-international-aid-do.html

Latin America over-satisfied with public education
http://otra-educacion.blogspot.com/2014/06/latin-america-oversatisfied-with-public.html

Latin America: Six decades of education goals http://otra-educacion.blogspot.com/2016/09/latin-america-six-decades-of-education-goals.html

Lifelong Learning: moving beyond Education for All
http://otra-educacion.blogspot.com/2011/02/lifelong-learning-moving-beyond.html

Lifelong Learning for the North, Primary Education for the South?
http://otra-educacion.blogspot.com/2011/11/lifelong-learning-for-north-primary.html

Lifelong Learning in the South: Critical Issues and Opportunities for Adult Education, Sida Studies 11, Stockholm, 2004
http://www.sida.se/English/publications/Publication_database/publications-by-year1/2004/november/lifelong-learning-in-the-south-critical-issues-and-opportunities-for-adult-education/ 
http://www.sida.se/contentassets/d60c67d64bf947b1b147419f7751a466/lifelong-learning-in-the-south-critical-issues-and-opportunities-for-adult-education_1614.pdf

Literacy and Lifelong Learning: The linkages
http://otra-educacion.blogspot.com/2012/01/literacy-and-lifelong-learning-linkages.html

Literacy for All: A renewed vision
http://otra-educacion.blogspot.com/2011/02/literacy-for-all-renewed-vision.html

Literacy for All: A United Nations Literacy Decade (2003-2012): Base Document for the Literacy Decade (2000)
http://www.slideshare.net/RosaMariaTorres2015/base-document-united-nations-literacy-decade-20032012


Military spending in education
http://otra-educacion.blogspot.com/2011/03/military-spending-and-education-gasto.html

Now comes PISA for 'developing countries'
http://otra-educacion.blogspot.com/2014/05/now-comes-pisa-for-developing-countries.html

On education in Finland
http://otra-educacion.blogspot.com/2013/06/on-education-in-finland-sobre-la.html
 
On innovation and change in education
http://otra-educacion.blogspot.com/2013/03/on-innovation-and-change-in-education.html

On Learning Anytime, Anywhere (WISE 2011)
http://otra-educacion.blogspot.com/2011/11/on-learning-anytime-anywhere.html

One child, one teacher, one book and one pen
http://otra-educacion.blogspot.com/2015/10/one-child-one-teacher-one-book-and-one-pen-one.html

One Decade of 'Education for All': The Challenge Ahead (IIEP-UNESCO Buenos Aires, 2000, PDF)
http://www.iipe-buenosaires.org.ar/publicaciones/one-decade-education-all-challenge-ahead
http://www.buenosaires.iipe.unesco.org/sites/default/files/education.pdf 

Open letter to school children
http://otra-educacion.blogspot.com/2010/08/open-letter-to-school-children.html 

OTRA∃DUCACION: Lo más visitado ▸ Most visited
http://otra-educacion.blogspot.com/2015/12/otraducacion-lo-mas-visitado-most.html

Public gym stations in Beijing and Quito
http://otra-educacion.blogspot.com/2015/10/chinas-public-gym-stations-in-beijing-and-quito.html


Reaching the Unreached: Non-Formal Approaches and Universal Primary Education

http://otra-educacion.blogspot.com/2013/06/reaching-unreached-non-formal.html

"Rethinking education" and adult education

http://otra-educacion.blogspot.com/2016/08/rethinking-education-and-adult-education.html


Six 'Education for All' Goals

http://otra-educacion.blogspot.com/2013/01/six-education-for-all-goals-seis-metas.html

South Africa 1993: A moment with Mandela
http://otra-educacion.blogspot.com/2013/12/south-africa-1993-moment-with-mandela.html

Stop PISA!
http://otra-educacion.blogspot.com/2014/05/stop-pisa-paren-pisa.html

The 4 As as criteria to identify 'good practices' in education
http://otra-educacion.blogspot.com/2011/10/4-as-as-criteria-to-identify-good.html 

The green, the blue, the red and the pink schools
http://otra-educacion.blogspot.com/2010/10/green-blue-red-and-pink-schools.html

There is no "education for the 21st century"
http://otra-educacion.blogspot.com/2010/10/there-is-no-education-for-21st-century.html

The million Paulo Freires
http://otra-educacion.blogspot.com/2011/02/million-paulo-freires.html

The oldest and the youngest

http://otra-educacion.blogspot.com/2015/07/the-oldest-and-youngest-los-mas-viejos.html


The virtuous C (Keys for a renewed learning culture)

http://otra-educacion.blogspot.com/2013/01/la-virtuosa-c-virtuous-c.html

The World Economic Forum and education quality

http://otra-educacion.blogspot.com/2014/04/the-world-economic-forum-and.html

Transforming formal education from a lifelong learning perspective
http://otra-educacion.blogspot.com/2013/10/transforming-formal-education-from.html

We are Latin America
http://otra-educacion.blogspot.com/2012/05/somos-america-latina-we-are-latin.html

What did the MDGs achieve?  
http://otra-educacion.blogspot.com/2015/10/what-did-millennium-development-goals-achieve.html


What Happened at the World Education Forum in Dakar (2000)?
http://otra-educacion.blogspot.com/2015/05/what-happened-at-world-education-forum.html

What is 'basic education'?
http://otra-educacion.blogspot.com/2014/09/what-happened-to-expanded-vision-of.html

What is youth and adult education - today? http://otra-educacion.blogspot.com/2017/01/what-is-youth-and-adult-education-today.html

WISE Prize for Education Laureates: Bottom-up Innovators
http://otra-educacion.blogspot.com/2013/11/wise-prize-for-education-laureates.html



Global learning crisis?

Rosa María Torres
Texto en español: ¿Crisis global de aprendizaje?

Global learning crisis?. The question refers to the term learning. We claim that speaking of a "learning crisis" has the risk of blaming the victim, of not acknowledging the teaching crisis behind such learning crisis, and of ignoring the dysfunctionality and responsibility of the education system in a holistic way. Also, the term learning crisis is very attractive for the evaluation machinery eager to assist with all sorts of standardized tests. We also discuss the need to acknowledge teacher learning and not only student learning; teachers' own learning is also in crisis. Finally, we reaffirm that the identified learning crisis affects not only poor countries but also rich ones, and is thus really global.

Children are not learning in school

A major 'discovery' came up from the extensive international meetings and deliberations stimulated by the 2015 deadline for the Education for All - EFA goals (1990-2000-2015) and the Millennium Development Goals - MDG (2000-2015): millions of children are not learning in school. Of the 650 million primary school age children in the world, 250 million are not learning the basics (reading, writing, counting), even after 3 or more years of schooling.
In 2011, of 41 countries surveyed:
- after 4 years or less in school: 1 in 4 children are unable to read all or part of a sentence
- after 5-6 years in school: 1 in 3 children are unable to read all or part of a sentence
- 61% of children who cannot read are girls
- 25% of children in low and middle income countries cannot read.
Illustration: Claudius Ceccon

The term illiteracy applies not only to adults but to children as well. Illiteracy is linked to lack of access to school, but also to access to poor quality and insufficient education, and to lack of opportunities for reading and writing. The combination of poverty and poor teaching, poor learning and poor reading conditions reinforces the worst predictions for the poor.

In 'developing countries' we know this for a long time. Completing four years of school, prescribed by the MDGs as equivalent to 'primary education', is clearly insufficient to make a child literate - able to read, write and calculate in real life situations - especially if that child comes from deprived socio-economic contexts and subordinate languages and cultures.

Same thing is true with adult literacy: the usual quick literacy programmes - more concerned with statistics than with actual learning - leave people half way, with weak and volatile reading and writing skills. A short 'post-literacy' programme does not add much. Just like children, young people and adults need a solid basic education, and exposure to reading and writing environments and acts.

Not being able to read and write is one of the main causes of school repetition in the early years of schooling worldwide. There is no scientific or even rational reason behind the idea that children must learn to read and write in one or two years. And yet, this is often mandated by national education policies and authorities. 'Failure' is typically attributed to the students rather than to the system and to those in charge of defining policies and curricula.

Few countries give students and teachers enough time to make a joyful and meaningful literacy process. Brazil - well known for its high repetition rates and its long-entrenched 'school repetition culture' - groups together the first three years of primary education, called 'literacy cycle'.

We, specialists, have been saying for decades that literacy education must be seen as an objective for at least the whole of primary education, if not for basic education (primary and lower secondary education, according to ISCED). We have also been saying that, given the importance and complexity of the task, groups in the early grades must be rather small and the best teachers should be assigned to such grades (Finland does it), challenging the logic and usual practice of school systems worldwide.

The acknowledgement by the international community of the school 'global learning crisis' comes a bit late, when the deadline for both MDG and EFA goals is coming to an end, after 15 and 25 years respectively. Hopefully such recognition will lead to world awareness and will help reshape the post-2015 education agenda worldwide.

Learning was one of the six Education for All goals approved in Jomtien, Thailand, in 1990, at the launch of the Education for All initiative. (Goal 3: Improvement in learning achievement such that an agreed percentage of an appropriate age cohort - e.g. 80% of 14 year-olds - attains or surpasses a defined level of necessary learning achievement). Ten years later, at the World Education Forum in Dakar (2000), that goal was eliminated and learning was mentioned only in reference to young people and adults (Goal 3: "Ensuring that the learning needs of all young people and adults are met through equitable access to appropriate learning and life skills programmes"). That same year, the Millennium Development Goals were approved; the two goals referred to education did not mention learning.


It is definitely time to move beyond quantitative goals of access and completion, and to incorporate learning at the core of all education goals. It is time to apply the terms 'universalization' or 'democratization' not just to enrollment or completion of a certain school level, but to learning. It is time to assume that the right to education is no longer the right to access formal schooling but the right to learn.

"Global learning crisis"? - Blaming the victim

There was apparently consensus in choosing the term "global learning crisis". It is certainly global: the crisis affects not only poor but also rich countries. On the other hand, it is clear that acknowledging the learning crisis in the school system implies acknowledging the teaching crisis as well. Speaking of a learning crisis has the risk of missing the point, by placing the problem on the side of the learners rather than on the system.

Illustration: Claudius Ceccon

Blaming the victim is daily practice in the school culture. But we know - or should know - that if children are not learning in schools it is not because they are stupid but because the school system - not only teachers individually -- is unable to teach them properly and the social system is unable to offer them adequate learning conditions in and out of school (family welbeing, affection, protection, nutrition, health, sleep, security, etc.).

Both the learning crisis and the teaching crisis are related to an obsolete and dysfunctional school system that needs major changes if we want to ensure learning, learning to learn, and learning to enjoy learning.

Teacher training appears typically as the main 'solution' to educational quality and to student learning. However, even if important, teacher training is not enough. There are other quality factors related to teachers (salaries, professionalism, respect and social appreciation, participation in educational policies and decisions, etc.) and other internal and external factors intervening in school success or failure.

When it comes to teaching and learning, let us not forget that:

(a) The "global learning crisis" affects not only 'developing countries' - focus of Education for All and other international education reports and debates - but also 'developed countries'. Concern and complaints about poor reading and writing skills among primary and high-school students are common and increasingly voiced in rich - OECD - countries.

(b) The "global learning crisis" affects not only students but teachers as well. Millions of school teachers receive inadequate and poor pre- and in-service training, where they learn nothing or what they learn is not relevant and useful for their professional practice and development. There is huge waste of money and time in teacher education and training that do not translate into meaningful teacher learning

(c) Students are blamed for not learning and teachers are blamed for not teaching (or for not teaching in ways that ensure desirable student learning). However, the teaching role is not exclusive of teachers. The whole school system has been designed and operates as a teaching system. And this teaching system - the way we know it - is not adequate for learning and for learners.

Illustration: Frato

Even if teachers are trained, and even if they are well trained and paid, the learning crisis - including their own - is there. The label "global learning crisis" may activate the assessment and evaluation machinery, with its fierce competition, standardized tests, and rankings, rather than stimulate the long postponed and much needed teaching-learning revolution.

WISE Prize for Education Laureates: Bottom-up Innovators


Rosa María Torres


(Texto en español: Los Laureados con el Premio WISE a la Educación)


2011 WISE Prize for Education Laureate:
Sir Fazle Hasan Abed (Bangladesh)

2012 WISE Prize Laureate:

Dr. Madhav Chavan (India). Interview.
 
2013 WISE Prize for Education Laureate:

Vicky Colbert (Colombia)
. Interview.

2014 WISE Prize for Education Laureate:
Ann Cotton (UK) - Interview

"The WISE Prize for Education is the first distinction of its kind to recognize an individual or a team of up to six people working together for an outstanding, world-class contribution to education. Established in 2011 by Her Highness Sheikha Moza bint Nasser, Chairperson of Qatar Foundation, the WISE Prize for Education sets the standard for excellence in education, giving it similar status to other areas for which international prizes already exist, such as literature, peace and economics. The Laureate receives a monetary prize of $500,000 (US) and a gold medal. The WISE Prize for Education Laureate is honored as a global role model and ambassador for education."


What are the educational innovations that draw the attention of the global education community at this point in time? The first four winners of the WISE Prize for Education (2011, 2012, 2013, 2014) and their respective education programs share several common characteristics. One of them: they are bottom-up innovators and innovations, that have started small and local, have become national and later expanded internationally over a long and sustained period of time. My personal knowledge of two of them, BRAC and Escuela Nueva, through study visits, research and follow up over many years, provides some insights into the specific nature and process of these inspiring educational models and experiences.   


BRAC - Bangladesh

The 2011 WISE Prize for Education was awarded to Sir Fazle Hasan Abed, Founder and Chairman of BRAC, "the largest development organization in the world." Created in 1972 in a remote rural village, BRAC (Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee) reaches today nearly 135 million people in 11 countries in Asia and Africa, and also in Haiti in the Caribbean.

BRAC is not only an education-related NGO. Its holistic and multifaceted approach to development covers various areas and issues: microfinance, education, healthcare, legal services, community empowerment, and social enterprises. Education has been one of its key and most successful areas.

So-called BRAC Non-Formal Primary Schools, which became internationally renowned in the 1990s, have spread as a viable and replicable primary school model. Starting with ver modest primary schools, BRAC has developed a whole education system, that includes today BRAC University.

WISE Jury and Committee
 

Pratham - India

The 2012 WISE Prize for Education was awarded to Dr. Madhav Chavan, Co-founder and CEO of Pratham, the largest education NGO in India. Pratham's mission is "Every child in school and learning well". It was created in 1994 to provide pre-school education to children living in the slums of Mumbai. Community volunteers were recruited, trained, provided basic teaching-learning materials, and encouraged to organize classes in any space available in the communities (temples, offices, people’s houses, etc.).

Pratham Balwadis
(pre-school classes) multiplied in other locations. Today Pratham reaches millions of children in rural and urban areas in 19 of the country’s 28 states, through early childhood education, learning support to in-school and out-of-school children, mainstreaming of out-of-school children, computer literacy, vocational training for youth and special programs for vulnerable and working children.


An area approach (whole community interventions) was adopted in 2002-2003. Pratham’s Learn to Read (L2R) technique is an accelerated learning technique targeted at teaching both in-school and out-of-school children how to read in 4- 8 weeks. Facilitated by Pratham, The Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) is the largest survey undertaken in India by people outside the government. It measures the enrollment as well as the reading and arithmetic levels of children in the age group of 6-14 years.

WISE Jury and Committee


Escuela Nueva - Colombia

The 2013 WISE Prize for Education
was awarded to Vicky Colbert, founder and director of Fundación Escuela Nueva, and co-creator (together with Prof. Oscar Mogollón) of the Escuela Nueva (EN) model from its start.


EN was initiated as a local project in 1975, covering a few public schools in rural areas, and grew as a regular program within Colombia's Ministry of Education. In 1985, EN was adopted by the Colombian government as a national policy to universalize quality primary education in rural areas.

EN has shown that the multigrade school (one or two teachers in charge of all levels in a single classroom), if given appropriate conditions and treated as a multigrade system, can become a quality alternative rather than a "poor temporary solution for the poor". In fact, Colombia has been the only country in Latin America where students in rural areas have shown higher learning achievements than children in urban areas when UNESCO's LLECE tests were applied. EN has also shown that, even with many problems and ups and downs, radical and meaningful innovation can be developed within government structures and within formal, mainstream education.

The Escuela Nueva Foundation was created in 1987 in order to help strengthen the program, adapt it to urban areas, and expand it to other countries (the EN model has been experimented in 16 countries). Over the years, EN has received numerous international awards, including a WISE Award in 2009.

WISE Jury and Committee


CAMFED - Zimbabwe, Zambia, Ghana, Tanzania and Malawi

The 2014 WISE Prize for Education was awarded to Ann Cotton, a UK citizen founder of CAMFED.
"When you educate a girl in Africa, everything changes. She’ll be three times less likely to get HIV/AIDS, earn 25 percent more income and have a smaller, healthier family."
Camfed is an international non-profit organisation that works in the poorest rural communities in sub-Saharan Africa. It wants to break the cycle of poverty and disease in rural areas by supporting girls to go to school and succeed, and empowering young women to step up as agents of change. Since 1993, Camfed has been working in Zimbabwe, Zambia, Ghana, Tanzania and Malawi, supporting over 1,202,000 students to attend primary and secondary school. Over 3 million children have been benefited. They are selected by the community as being the most in need. Camfed supports them throughout their development, from primary school until adulthood.

In every country, Camfed works through national and local systems - with parents, teachers, government officials, and traditional authorities. It does not set up a parallel system. Programs are devised, managed, and monitored by the community, and all of Africa offices are staffed by nationals of that country.

The Camfed Alumnae Association (CAMA) is a pan-African network of Camfed graduates, currently with 24,436-members. They receive training in health, financial literacy and ICT, as well as business development and entrepreneurship. They, in turn, support vulnerable children to stay in school, and deliver health and financial literacy training to over 150,000 students and community members in their own countries.

Camfed's values are: 1. Focus on the Girl, 2. Involve the community, 3. Operate transparent, accountable programs. Camfed’s model has been recognised as best practice by the OECD for setting the standard for governance, sustainability and development innovation at scale.

WISE Jury and Committee

What do these four education programs have in common? 

Two of them are located in Asia, in two of the "nine most populous countries" on earth, where education issues and problems are massive and extremely complex. One is located in Latin America, in comparatively small Colombia, affected by long-term violence, social inequity and conflict. One works in Sub-Saharan Africa - Zimbabwe, Zambia, Ghana, Tanzania and Malawi - where social and education challenges are extremely big. Very different "developing countries", each of them unique and specific within their own regions.

The four programs:

» Have a long history and process behind: BRAC started in 1972, Escuela Nueva in 1975, Camfed in 1993, Pratham in 1994.

» Started local and small
, before expanding and becoming national and later international models. This bottom-up approach, plus the long term effort, have been key to their sustainability and success.


»
Emerged as educational alternatives for the poor and some of the most disadvantaged groups in their respective societies. BRAC, Escuela Nueva and Camfed were rooted in rural areas. Their respective education models were tailored for the specific conditions of rural areas.


» Serve children, through primary education in the case of BRAC and Escuela Nueva, early childhood and pre-school education in the case of Pratham, and primary and secondary education in the case of Camfed. BRAC started targetting girls, given the huge gender gap in primary education enrollment and attendance in Bangladesh at that time. Camfed is devoted to girls and women.

» Expanded gradually
beyond their original visions, missions and scopes, paying attention to the needs revealed by reality and by the learning process itself. They ventured into new areas, covered new ages and levels. All of them were aware of the importance of involving parents, families and communities, and have worked consistently in that direction.


» Focus on ensuring the basics: reading, writing and numeracy, survival, life and social skills, family and community empowerment.

» Give great importance to pedagogy and to pedagogical transformation,
much more than to infrastructure, administration or technologies. They all adopt learner-centered pedagogies.

»
Have been developed by NGOs, with the exception of Escuela Nueva, which was built within the existing ministry of education structure. In this case, the NGO has played an indispensable role in accompanying, sustaining and promoting the innovation. Camfed is an international NGO.

» Are low cost
: they take advantage of all human and material resources available in the school, the family and the community.

»
Have been supported by several international agencies, especially from the United Nations as well as from the World Bank and other regional banks and organizations. Also by the private sector.

»
Have received much recognition both at national and international levels.

»
Curiously enough and worth noticing: all of them have a rather low technological profile. Technologies are not the driving force. Human beings, participation, volunteering, school-community relationship, pedagogical transformation, are the key.



See also:
Rosa María Torres and Manzoor Ahmed, Reaching the Unreached: Non-formal Approaches and Universal Primary Education  
Rosa María Torres, Escuela Nueva: An innovation within formal education (Colombia)
Rosa María Torres, "Antes, aquí era Escuela Vieja" (Colombia)
Rosa María Torres, On Innovation and Change in Education 
Rosa María Torres, The Green, the Blue, the Red and the Pink Schools
Rosa María Torres, On Learning Anytime, Anywhere (WISE 2011)
Rosa María Torres, Knowldedge-based international aid: Do we want it? Do we need it?

Giving up to a literate world?


Rosa María Torres


Published in: Adult Education and Development, issue 80, December 2013. 

(En español: ¿Renuncia a un mundo alfabetizado?)
Every year, for years and decades, we read the same thing: There are millions of illiterate people worldwide (two thirds are women) and little headway is made despite the recommendations, statements, events. The United Nations Literacy Decade (20032012), of which few knew about, and ended almost unnoticed.

Infographs of the 2012 Education for All (EFA) Global Monitoring Report graphically displayed the progress of the six goals of Education for All from 2000 (World Education Forum, Dakar) to the present. In all goals, progress was lower than expected and less than what was pledged for 2015. Same thing was repeated in the 2013 EFA Global Report. Adult illiteracy was the furthest from being achieved. 

In 2010, the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) concluded that 'literacy rates are increasing, but not fast enough'. In fact, progress has been insignificant and even more so if we go back a decade to the beginning of Education for All (EFA), to its launch at the World Conference on Education for All (Jomtien, Thailand) in 1990.
1989: 895 million illiterates (figure disclosed by UNESCO as an EFA baseline). The goal was to reduce illiteracy by half by the year 2000.

2010: 775 million illiterates (EFA Report 2012).

2011: 774
million illiterates (EFA Report 2013).
2015: 757 million illiterates.

▸ Illiteracy was reduced 12% since 1990, but only 1% since 2000.

After 25 years of Education for All and already well into the 21st century, we are still a long way off from a literate world.  

The commitment to reducing illiteracy by 50% by 2015 was not accomplished.

On the other hand, the 2012 EFA report pointed out that 160 million adults in 'developed countries' have 'poor literacy skills'.


In Latin America and the Caribbean, the commitment to 'eradicate illiteracy' goes back to 1980. The goal that captured global attention in Education for All and Millennium Development Goals was primary education with a focus on access and enrolment. Early childhood education and the education of young people and adults, at both ends of the 'school-age' spectrum, have always been pushed to the background, and the false option of education of children versus education of adults accepted.

History repeated itself in the race against time in trying to reach 2015 with what was possible and the debate on how to continue beyond 2015. The education - and specifically literacy education - of young people and adults once again gets relegated. Some demand that these goals be added, forgetting that they have always been there and that what has been missing is the political will to fulfill them, both on the part of governments as well as the international agencies. Once again a related goal will be added and once again it will become the usual salute to the flag.

In a world that prides itself on having entered the Information Society with an eye towards the Knowledge Society, that boasts of technological advances and struggles to decrease the digital divide, that tries to gain points in the global rankings on poverty reduction, 'digital illiterates' have become more important than the 'just' illiterate. It seems to bother no one that those people who claim to be illiterate continue to number in the millions, swell the ranks of the poorest and dispossessed, and will never read a book or benefit from the internet.

The number of illiterate people in the millions seems to have become perfectly tolerable and compatible with the progress of humanity. Who wants to take responsibility for them? Who wants to accept that the actual number of illiterate persons must be much greater since, as we well know, many people do not assess themselves as such in censuses and surveys? Who wants to pay attention to the failure of literacy education, to the worrying reality of the millions of people who cannot read or write even though they have formally learned to read and write?

The utopia of a literate world seems to be getting shelved away. Gone are the days of aspiring to end illiteracy (and poverty); the most that is aspired to today is the 'reduction' of both in defined percentages and conveniently prorated. And there are even those who, from an economic calculation, ideology or simply ignorance, are ready to claim that the illiterate persons who live among us in the world today are surely impaired and incapable of learning. 


Renouncing the objective of universal literacy is not only denying a basic learning need and a fundamental human right that assists people of all ages and conditions, but the renunciation of one more piece of dignity and hope in an increasingly dehumanised world.

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