It is stated in Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: everyone has the right to education. That seems obvious, but it is not: over 57 million children worldwide do not even get primary education according to UNICEF. A problem that seems difficult to solve. What is the way to excellent education for everyone?
The first schools originated in ancient Greece, but these were mostly discussion groups for the intellectual elite. Only in the late 19th century large-scale education emerged in Europe. Not for idealistic reasons, but mostly for pragmatic reasons: education would help to create ‘model citizens’. Only late in the 20th century secondary education reached the general public.
Although worldwide for many people education is still inaccessible, the importance of it has been acknowledged: the United Nations proclaimed 'good education for all' as one of the Millennium Development Goals. To give this goal more substance, last March the Global Education & Skills Forum was organised. More than 1,000 delegates from over 50 countries came together in Dubai to review the future of education. Among them appealing names like Bill Clinton, Tony Blair and renowned CNN-reporter Fareed Zakaria.
The current education system was developed over a century ago. Although the world has changed, the education system has only seen limited development. For example, the summer holiday was created so children could help their parents with harvesting the crops. A reality that no longer exists over here, but the summer vacation still does. It is time for a critical review of the entire education system.
During the Global Education & Skills Forum there was plenty of room for honest feedback: many teachers are poorly educated, education is (too) locally focussed, there is a great distance between school and (work)practice and a good method to measure the societal effectiveness of educational is lacking. Simultaneously demographic conditions are creating a huge challenge, as Bill Clinton showed: ‘It is projected that by 2050 that 86 per cent of the world's children will be living in what are now developing countries. There is no way that Governments alone or international aid flows alone will be able to provide those children with the quality of education they need to be full participants in global society. This is especially relevant for women and girls.’
The German statistician Andreas Schleicher stressed the importance of stakeholders: ‘Education is everybody's business: parents, Governments, business, communities and societies. It is not a single parties responsibility.’ Tony Blair acknowledged that by speaking forcefully in favour of entering into partnerships. Public and private education should join hands to improve the quality of the sector.
Bill Clinton not only mentioned the challenges, but also enlightened with presenting a successful business case: Finland. The Finnish education system is based on small classes in which no distinction is made on the basis of talent: good and lesser students sit together. The first six years no tests are conducted, but everything revolves around the individual development of each child. The system is relatively inexpensive and no less than 92% of all students finish high school. A whopping 66% goes to college. The basis for success: excellent teachers.
In Finland, all teachers have a university degree. In fact, teachers are selected from the top 10% of students. Teachers are just as valued as lawyers and doctors and are paid better during their careers. The message is clear: excellent education starts with excellent teachers.
Discussions about education often delude to hard numbers. Partially justified, because education is still inaccessible to large groups of people. But besides quantity, also quality is important: as much as possible education should equip students to get the best out of themselves. This is not only good for the students, but also for society. Excellent education helps develop inquisitive, critical citizens who always look at how things can be different, more efficient, better. These people have an open mind to growth opportunities, and those are exactly the people we need on the way to a sustainable society. In short, excellent education creates future role models for the transition processes towards sustainability. Or as publisher Malcolm Forbes once put it: ‘The purpose of education is to replace an empty mind with an open one.’
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