Port Vila, Vanuatu- Parents in the Pacific region have been urged to send their children to school at the right age as this is a critical factor in the success of a child’s education.
Professor Keith Lewin, from the Centre for International Education, at the University of Sussex, in the United Kingdom made the comments in his keynote address titled: “Making Right Realities – Access and Equity in Education and Development” at the 9th Forum Education Ministers’ Meeting being held in Port Vila, Vanuatu.
Professor Lewin revealed that over 60 million children of primary school age are not in school. Most are in sub -Saharan Africa (SSA) and South Asia. Many more are “silently excluded” by being enrolled but often absent, entering school over-age, repeating more than twice, and achieving at levels two or more the standards for their grade.
“Access to basic education lies at the heart of development. Lack of educational access, and securely acquired knowledge and skill, is both a part of the definition of poverty, and a means for its diminution,” said Professor Lewin.
Sustained access to meaningful learning that has utility is critical to long term improvements in productivity, the reduction of inter-generational cycles of poverty, demographic transition, preventive health care, the empowerment of women, and reductions in inequality.
The estimated numbers of children out of school in SSA have fallen from about 42-million in 1999 to about 29-million in 2009, and from 37 million to 18 million in South Asia. Despite this only about three-quarters of primary school age children in SSA are enrolled.
In many of the poorest countries more than half of all children fail to enrol at secondary level. Of those who do fewer than half will complete a full cycle of secondary schooling. The chances of the poorest 20% completing secondary school can be as little as a tenth that of the richest.
On average across both SSA and South Asia, for every 100 boys enrolled in the age range there are now 95 girls indicating that there has been much progress in equalising participation. But some countries are making slow progress towards gender equity and there are places where boys in school outnumber girls by 20%.
Professor Lewin indicated to the Forum Education Ministers that the commitments to Education For All should have resulted in a more equitable participation in education. The evidence is mixed but there are certainly countries where more are enrolled but relationships between household wealth and participation have strengthened and equity has deteriorated.
Despite the progress,“Sub-Saharan Africa remains by far the most undereducated part of the world despite allocating as much or more finance to education than other regions. In South Asia growing inequalities have accompanied economic development and led to very uneven access to education and continued marginalisation of the poorest,” said Professor Lewin. A key issue in some countries is that children enter school late, and progress slowly so that they become over-age. Children over-age are disproportionately poor, lower scoring on tests, and more likely to drop out before completion. Over-age is especially damaging to girls chances of finishing primary school and progressing to secondary.
Professor Lewin highlighted the programme undertaken by the Consortium for Research on Educational Access, Transitions and Equity (CREATE) to analyse policy and practice designed to reduce educational exclusion and expand access to basic education for children between the ages of 5 and 15 years. This programme is implemented with many partners in Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and China.
He revealed that the Consortium has developed a twelve point development programme that can be used as a framework for policy dialogue.
This action points includes such areas as:
• Improving early childhood health to reduce undernutrition, stunting, parasitic infections and avoidable causes of disability;
• Ensuring that all children enter school during their sixth year;
• Acting on the causes of dropout on both the supply and demand sides;
• Reducing “silent exclusion” associated with absenteeism, over-age enrolment, and low levels of achievement.
• Managing increased access to secondary schooling at affordable costs;
• Building adequate numbers of schools and classrooms with basic services; and
• Providing enough learning materials fit for purpose. During their half day retreat the Forum Education Ministers discussed the issues of access, transitions and equity as raised by the keynote speaker and agreed that consideration could be given to conducting a similar programme in the Pacific region.
The publications of CREATE are available free at http://www.create-rpc.org.
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