Unesco in bid to raise classroom standards

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 20 November, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 20 November, 2004, 12:00am

Wider access should be matched by drive for quality in delivery, says report

Wider access to schooling needs to be matched by an increase in the quality of education, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) said this week.

Presenting 'The Quality Imperative' as part of the 2005 Education for All Global Monitoring Report, Unesco research officer Alberto Motivans said quality was 'a key element in ensuring all children acquired the skills critical to building developing economies and societies'.

Addressing the press at Unesco headquarters in Paris, Mr Motivans acknowledged that more children were going to school than ever before, but said more than 100 million school-age children were still deprived of primary education.

In one-third of the countries providing data, 25 per cent of students who began primary schools did not get to fifth grade, and the figure rose to a third in half the countries of sub-Saharan Africa. Many in less developed nations who completed primary education were still unable to read or write, he said.

He praised some governments, including Uganda, Malawi and Kenya, though, where access to schooling had been increased through measures such as the abolition of school fees.

At the same time, increased enrolment threatened the quality of teaching. Mr Motivans said that when systems 'were unable to cope with a large influx of new pupils due to overflowing classrooms', teachers were overwhelmed by shortages in teaching and learning materials, such as textbooks, and quality suffered.

The report said governments and societies would not meet education targets and progress would be held up if they failed to pay attention to quality, which was not just about the classroom, but what happened to a child before entering school. Parental support, engagement in learning and nutritional status were all factors.

Education was not solely about providing schooling and supplying textbooks, but about the processes that sparked learning. This was not measured by tests, being the ability of children to think critically and apply competencies in their own lives.

Mr Motivans said teachers were central to quality and were often under stress. Many did not meet national standards for entering the profession and had received no special training. High proportions of untrained teachers and high pupil-teacher ratios were often the norm. HIV/Aids had also impacted on educational quality. More than 800 teachers died from the disease in Zambia alone in 2001 - half the number of new teachers trained that year.

He stressed that 'one size did not fit all' and said different approaches were necessary in different countries and cultures. But policies analysed in 11 high-performing countries showed there to be common characteristics to quality education, including a vision for education, strong government leadership, a high regard for the teaching profession, and steady levels of investment.

The report showed how a balanced curriculum, efficient use of class time, improved teaching methods and the promotion of flexible language policies, among others, contributed to good learning outcomes. The ability of schools to minimise social differences in children's backgrounds was also a characteristic of high-performing systems.

The international community also had an important role to play in improving education quality. While levels of aid to basic education had improved to as much as US$2 billion a year, it fell short of the estimated US$5.6 billion a year needed to achieve universal primary education by 2015.

According to the report, 35 nations - most of them in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia - were still far off-target to meeting the 2015 goals.