Education for All. An Imperative for Reducing Poverty [II]

>> 20071216

"(...) Access: Incentives and Promoting Inclusion

Poorer countries need to enact policies that will make school free, accessible, and safe for girls and boys, whereas rich countries must live up to promises repeatedly made, and still not fulfilled, to increase aid in support of these policies.

The decision to send a child to school is made in the home. Traditions, poverty, and power sharing in the family can seal a girl's fate. Early marriage, whether to lighten a family's burden or to secure a daughter's future, often cuts schooling short. Conflict, HIV/AIDS, disability, conflict, and child labor practices put millions of children at an extreme disadvantage.

The overriding priority is to eliminate school fees. Countries that have done so in past years (e.g., Burundi, Cambodia, Kenya, Madagascar, Mozambique, Uganda, Vietnam, Tanzania) have witnessed a surge in enrollments. In Kenya, 1.2 million more students entered the school system after the measure took effect.

For children from the poorest families, removing fees may not suffice. Given the links between low educational outcomes and poverty, providing financial incentives to families is an excellent strategy to increase access for the marginalized. Scholarships, school-feeding programs, and cash transfers to families to cover the forgone wage of a working child have a documented effect on schooling. Brazil's Bolsa Familia program, for example, provides income support to some 10 million children from poor families on the basis of conditions, such as school attendance. The Baljothi program in Andhra Pradesh, the state with the most working children in India, runs 250 schools (31,000 students) located in slums. The Gambia Girls' Scholarship Trust Fund provides full scholarships for tuition, books, and examination fees to one-third of girls in schools with low enrollment and to 10% of girls excelling in science, mathematics, and technology; more than 16,000 girls are taking part.

Quality: Attention to Teachers

Governments of low-income countries face difficult choices in their effort to expand access and provide decent learning conditions. Such governments can achieve much, however, by making better use of existing resources and focusing on several essential dimensions.

Investment in teachers is critical. Balancing time and money spent on initial training and on-the job support for newly qualified teachers is a critical policy question. More countries are moving toward shorter and more school-based training. In Cuba, all preservice training is school based. Such a system requires enough schools to serve as training environments and enough teachers to act as mentors.

Attracting new teachers alone is a concern in many countries. A recent research project3 on teacher motivation in several countries of sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia concluded that most school systems in low-income countries were facing a teacher motivation crisis. The study identified key strategies to increase teacher commitment, noting that good housing with running water and electricity is probably the most cost-effective way to attract and retain teachers in rural schools.

Teachers are the most critical influence on learning, but several other factors are important. First, students are not spending enough time learning: Many countries do not reach the broadly agreed benchmark of 850–1,000 hours of instruction per year for primary school pupils. Second, the quality of learning materials strongly affects what teachers can do: National book policies can encourage the development of local publishing and enable schools to choose which books they use. Third, the choice of language of instruction used in school is of utmost importance. About 20% of the world's population has a "local language" as a mother tongue. Initial instruction in the learner's first language improves learning outcomes and reduces subsequent grade repetition and dropout rates. Papua New Guinea, a linguistic mosaic of more than 800 languages, uses more than 400 languages for initial instruction in schools.

Gender-sensitive policies in education and more broadly based gender reforms in society directly improve the quality of education and its outcomes. Strategies to improve the quality of learning must ensure that schools are places where stereotypes are undermined through gender-aware curricula and teacher training. Locating schools closer to home, providing sanitary facilities, and addressing the reality of gender-based violence are all investments that encourage parents to send their daughters to school. (...)" (Nicholas Burnett)

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