Global ignorance costs US$129 billion

American lawyer Derek Curtis Bok's famous quote “if you think education is expensive, try ignorance” has been proven right by the 2013/4 Unesco report which found that the cost of the global education crisis is US$129 billion.

Bok is a lawyer and educationist, who teaches at the Harvard University.

The monetary loss was arrived at considering the lack of learning of basics by more than 250 million children in 37 countries where 50 percent of money spent on education is wasted on poor quality education.

Because governments are not keen on ensuring that education is equal and of good quality, economies that should experience a 23 percent growth in gross domestic product per capita over 40 years will fail to do so.

The report titled “Education for All (EFA) Global Monitoring Teaching and Learning: Achieving Quality for All” released last week on Wednesday, says one in four youth in poor countries cannot read, and that one in five children in the poorest regions – particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa – complete primary school.

The total number of youth who cannot read is estimated to be about 175 million, which, according to the report, is one quarter of the youth population.

Furthermore, the report says if the current situation continues, most young women in developing countries will be able to read and write by 2072, while girls from Sub-Saharan Africa will be accorded a full education only in the next century.

Affected too are immigrants living in wealthy countries where, according to the report, less than 60 percent can read and write properly. France is one of the countries cited in the report.

According to the report, 10 percent of funding for primary school is wasted in poor education. The reason for poor education is inherent in poor teacher training, the report further concludes. It says good teachers are key to good education, and that government should invest in teacher training.

Without proper and adequate teacher training, the report explains, the learning crisis will subsist for more centuries, and affect generations to come, with severe negative effects on the economically disadvantaged.

The report notes the following:

1. Despite improvements, far too many children lack early childhood care and education. In 2012, 25 percent of children under-five suffered from stunting. In 2011, around half of young children had access to pre-primary education, and in Sub-Saharan Africa the share was only 18 percent.

2. Universal primary education is likely to be missed by a wide margin. The number of children out of school was 57 million in 2011, half of whom lived in conflict-affected countries. In Sub-Saharan Africa, only 23 percent of poor girls in rural areas were completing primary education by the end of the decade. If recent trends in the region continue, the richest boys will achieve universal primary completion in 2021, but the poorest girls will not catch up until 2086.

3.       Many adolescents lack foundation skills gained through lower secondary education. In 2011, 69 million adolescents were out of school, with little improvement in this number since 2004. In low-income countries, only 37 percent of adolescents complete lower secondary education, and the rate is as low as 14 percent for the poorest. On recent trends, girls from the poorest families in sub-Saharan Africa are only expected to achieve lower secondary completion in 2111.

4.       Adult literacy has hardly improved. In 2011, there were 774 million illiterate adults, a decline of just 1 percent since 2000. The number is projected to fall only slightly, to 743 million, by 2015. Almost two-thirds of illiterate adults are women. The poorest young women in developing countries may not achieve universal literacy until 2072.

5.       Gender disparities remain in many countries. Even though gender parity was supposed to be achieved by 2005, in 2011 only 60 percent of countries had achieved this goal at the primary level and 38 percent at the secondary level.

6.       Poor quality of education means millions of children are not learning the basics. Around 250 million children are not learning basic skills, even though half of them have spent at least four years in school. The annual cost of this failure, around US$129 billion.

 Investing in teachers is key: in around a third of countries, less than 75 percent of primary school teachers are trained according to national standards. And in a third of countries, the challenge of training existing teachers is worse than that of recruiting and training new teachers.

The EFA report director, Pauline Rose says governments should place equality in access and learning at the heart of future education goals.

“What’s the point in an education if children emerge after years in school without the skills they need? The huge numbers of illiterate children and young people mean it is crucial that equality in access and learning be placed at the heart of future education goals. New goals after 2015 must make sure every child is not only in school, but learning what they need to learn,” Rose expounds.

Unesco director-general, Irina Bokova says the world needs about five million trained teachers by next year.

“Teachers have the future of this generation in their hands. We need 5.2 million teachers to be recruited by 2015, and we need to work harder to support them in providing children with their right to a universal, free and quality education.

“We must also make sure that there is an explicit commitment to equity in new global education goals set after 2015, with indicators tracking the progress of the marginalised so that no one is left behind,” Bokova says in the report.

Bokova further says an education system is only as good as its teachers, and unlocking their potential is essential to enhancing the quality of learning. “Evidence shows that education quality improves when teachers are supported – it deteriorates if they are not, contributing to the shocking levels of youth illiteracy captured in this Report,” she explains.

According to Bokova, governments must step up efforts to recruit an additional 1.6 million teachers to achieve universal primary education by next year.

The report identifies four strategies to provide the best teachers to reach all children with a good quality education.

·  First, the right teachers must be selected to reflect the diversity of the children they will be teaching.

·  Second, teachers must be trained to support the weakest learners, starting from the early grades.

·  A third strategy aims to overcome inequalities in learning by allocating the best teachers to the most challenging parts of a country.

·  Lastly, governments must provide teachers with the right mix of incentives to encourage them to remain in the profession and to make sure all children are learning, regardless of their circumstances.

“But teachers cannot shoulder the responsibility alone. The Report shows also that teachers can only shine in the right context, with well-designed curricula and assessment strategies to improve teaching and learning.

“These policy changes have a cost. This is why we need to see a dramatic shift in funding. Basic education is currently underfunded by US$26 billion a year, while aid is continuing to decline. At this stage, governments simply cannot afford to reduce investment in education – nor should donors step back from their funding promises. This calls for exploring new ways to fund urgent needs,” Bokova further explains.

In West Africa, for example, untrained teachers who are poorly paid number half of the teaching staff. In addition, the report also urges governments to look into gender-based violence in educational institutions, which has been cited as a hindrance to quality education and equality.

In conclusion, the reports identifies 10 most important teaching reforms:

·  Fill teacher gaps

On current trends, some countries will not be able to meet their primary school teacher needs by 2030. The challenge is even greater for other levels of education. 

Thus, countries need to activate policies that begin to address the vast shortfall.

·  Attract the best candidates to teaching</p>

It is important for all children to have teachers with at least a good secondary-level qualification. Therefore, governments should invest in improving access to quality secondary education to enlarge the pool of good teacher candidates.

·  Train teachers to meet the needs of all children: All teachers need to receive training to enable them to meet the learning needs of all children. Before teachers enter the classroom, they should undergo good quality pre-service teacher education programmes that provide a balance between knowledge of the subjects to be taught and knowledge of teaching methods.

·  Prepare teacher educators and mentors to support teachers: To ensure that teachers have the best training to improve learning for all children, it is important for those who train teachers to have knowledge and experience of real classroom teaching challenges and how to tackle them. Policy-makers should thus make sure teacher educators are trained and have adequate exposure to the classroom learning requirements facing those teaching in difficult circumstances.

·  Get teachers to where they are needed most: Governments need to ensure that the best teachers are not only recruited and trained, but also deployed to the areas where they are most needed. Adequate compensation, bonus pay, good housing and support in the form of professional development opportunities should be used to encourage trained teachers to accept positions in rural or disadvantaged areas.

·  Use a competitive career and pay structure to retain the best teachers: Governments should ensure that teachers earn at least enough to lift their families above the poverty line and make their pay competitive with comparable professions. Performance-related pay has intuitive appeal as a way to motivate teachers to improve learning.

·  Improve teacher governance to maximize impact: Governments should improve governance policies to address the problems of teacher misconduct such as absenteeism, tutoring their students privately and gender-based violence in schools. Governments can also do more to address teacher absenteeism by improving teachers’ working conditions, making sure they are not overburdened with non-teaching duties and offering them access to good health care. Strong school leadership is required to ensure that teachers show up on time, work a full week and provide equal support to all. School leaders also need training in offering professional support to teachers.

·  Equip teachers with innovative curricula to improve learning: Teachers need the support of inclusive and flexible curriculum strategies designed to meet the learning needs of children from disadvantaged groups. Equipped with the appropriate curriculum content and delivery methods, teachers can reduce learning disparities, allowing low achievers to catch up.

February 2014
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