A global crisis of education policies – not learning


The latest Education for All Global Monitoring Report (GMR), launched at the end of January in Addis Ababa, warns of a ‘learning crisis’ but is that what the international community should be focusing on?

The annual report, which monitors progress towards the Education for All (EFA) goals, paints a bleak picture in the run up to 2015 – the global deadline for both the EFA and Millennium Development Goals.

For example, the report states that “in sub-Saharan Africa, if trends continue, the richest boys will achieve universal primary completion in 2021, but the poorest girls will not catch up until 2086.”

However, more attention has been given to the so-called ‘learning crisis’ where government money is ‘wasted’ on poor quality education where children don’t learn despite being in school.

While the ’learning crisis’ label might be convenient in its instrumentalist, value-for-money approach to education, unfortunately all too often it conflates cause with effect.

The real crisis lies in the deconstruction and defunding of public education systems, and the GMR provides us with powerful evidence of exactly this.


Two main failures

The report rightly argues two main points. Firstly, governments across the global are failing to meet their funding commitments to education, and where they do make investments, they benefit the privileged at the expense of the most marginalised, effectively widening inequalities.

Moreover, many countries have failed to adequately invest in teacher training, recruiting unqualified teachers on temporary contracts to meet the demands of an expanding education system.

Secondly, governments have not adequately developed and implemented (read: funded) comprehensive teacher policies.

Worldwide, teachers work on precarious contracts, earn salaries well below the minimum wage and lack the fundamental qualifications, skills, support and learning materials to teach.

Teaching and learning takes place in unsafe and unhealthy environments, which in many contexts means overcrowded classrooms and poor sanitary facilities.


‘Learning the basics’

These challenges should not be reduced to a global discourse on a ‘learning’ crisis, in the same way that educational quality cannot be reduced to learning outcomes.

While learning is central to any education process, it would be shortsighted to consider it the only area in need of policy attention.

Prioritising ‘learning the basics’ – literacy and numeracy - comes at the expense of other indispensable elements. At the expense, in fact, of the very conditions that enable learning to take place.

If countries are to make further headway on education and development up to and beyond 2015, they must address access, equity and quality simultaneously.

This requires a holistic approach to education, focusing on what goes into a system (‘inputs’ such as equitably-distributed resources, qualified teachers, relevant curricula and appropriate facilities, materials and class sizes), the processes of teaching and learning, and the outcomes of these processes.

Beyond the so-called learning crisis, the GMR offers valuable evidence of what teachers and educators globally have been campaigning for: that is, sustainable quality education for all will not be achieved without appropriate investments in teachers’ competences and motivation through training, continuous professional development, decent working conditions and matched by the appropriate tools and environments necessary for teaching and learning.

The real crisis is not in learning but in policy, commitment and long-term, sustainable, financing.