By Colin Power, University of Queensland.
There can be no question as to the public and private benefits of education. But education is empowering only if it is of quality and leads to learning, that is, to the continuous development of one’s knowledge, expertise, talents and values, and to the wise and ethical use of that knowledge and expertise. Quality education for all empowers communities and nations, but only if it is equally accessible to all, and certainly not if what is provided to the masses is restricted and/or of poor quality.
NORRAG members certainly are aware that over the past twenty-five years, the Education for All (EFA) alliance has played an important role in promoting, supporting and monitoring EFA. The progress made, the challenges remaining and priority areas to be addressed in seeking to achieve internationally agreed education and development goals have been set out in the EFA and Millennium Development Goal (MDG) Monitoring Reports published by UNESCO, UNDP and commented on by Power (2015). Until recently, meeting the basic education needs of children, youth and women remained high on the policy agenda of the international development community and many countries, and slow but steady progress was made towards the goals of EFA. For example, the number of out-of-school children has fallen from over 100 million in 1990 to 57 million today, the number of adult illiterates from over 900 million to 774 million. Nonetheless, much remains to be done: education and overseas development budgets suffered in the aftermath of the global financial crisis and since 2008 the progress being made towards achieving the goals of EFA has stagnated. Education, equity and human rights are not central to the agendas of all the world’s most powerful nations and organisations.
In the mid-1990s, UNESCO’s International Commission on Education for the 21st Century (the Delors Report) reminded us that our future well-being rests on the extent to which we continue to learn throughout life. It called for a strengthening of international co-operation in education and the sharing knowledge and experience needed to build a learning society. Ensuring all have access to the quality education and training they need throughout life is a necessary condition for peace, democracy, sustainable development. Providing the type of quality education and training needed to empower individuals and communities plays a key role in support of efforts to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger; to assure gender equity, the protection of the world’s rich cultural and natural heritage; to address the challenges posed by globalisation, advances in communication technology, global warming, climate change, extremism and terrorism. In our shrinking global village, our education systems and institutions have a key role in educating for citizenship at both the national and global level. As UNESCO’s Director-General (Bokova) argued in 2013:
Global citizenship cannot just be an ideal – it must be a practice that is taken forward by each of us every day. It is about human rights and dignity, it is about the responsibilities we have towards others and the planet, and it is a sense of global belonging and solidarity. (The Global Consultation on Education in the Post-2015 Development Agenda, Senegal, 2013)
Throughout human history, peace and sustainable development have been about assuring a shared destiny, about the common good, about basic rights and freedoms, about justice and equity. We need to learn to live together in harmony with each other and nature, or perish. In essence, the world needs a fairer, more humane, inclusive, ethical and intelligent approach to education and development. The world needs a revitalised, stronger and empowered UNESCO and UN system, not a weaker one. It needs an inclusive international education and development community, one in which governments, non-government organizations, institutes and leading educators work together to ensure our education and training systems are inclusive and empowering, and build our collective capacity to lay the foundations for peace, democracy and sustainable development.
Power, C.N. (2015) The Power of Education: Education for All, Development, Globalisation and UNESCO. Singapore, London: Springer.
Colin Power is the Chair of the Commonwealth Consortium for Education, Adjunct Professor, the University of Queensland, and former Deputy Director-General, UNESCO (1989-2000). Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
NORRAG (Network for International Policies and Cooperation in Education and Training) is an internationally recognised, multi-stakeholder network which has been seeking to inform, challenge and influence international education and training policies and cooperation for almost 30 years. NORRAG has more than 4,200 registered members worldwide and is free to join. Not a member? Join free here.