articles, opinions, and research about teaching and learning

Teachers Forum
May, 2000

Revisiting Education for All

an interview with
Mr. Sheldon Shaeffer

In the last few days of April over 1000 people from most of the countries in the world met in Dakar, Senegal to reaffirm the Education for All commitment made at Jomtien, Thailand in 1990, to review what progress has been made since then and to renew commitments for the future.

Related Internet sites:

Education for All 2000

The EFA Assessment

Sheldon Shaeffer

Question: What do you think have been the main advances in education since the EFA Jomtien meeting in Thailand in 1990?

Answer: A host of innovative approaches to increasing access and improving quality -- from clusters to multi-grade teaching, community schools to life skills, from stronger parent-community mechanisms to girls' education initiatives.

Q: What is a significant change in the new Dakar EFA declaration compared to 10 years ago?

A: A framework which promotes an "expanded vision" of quality -- which includes quality not only of teaching and content, materials and outcomes, but also of the learners themselves (with implications for early childhood care and child health and nutrition) and of the learning environment (related to the health, safety, and protectiveness of the school). Also, a stronger focus on the education of girls, to ensure their equal access to, and achievement in, education.

Q: What are the main outcomes which UNICEF wants to see from the World Education Forum in Dakar?

A: First, all young children must be ready for school and for life — that from birth they are nurtured in safe, caring, and gender-sensitive environments that help them become healthy, alert, secure, and able to learn. Nations must promote more comprehensive policies and programmes to meet the health, nutrition, and development needs of young children, especially the most excluded.


Secondly, the right of every child to basic education must be fulfilled. All children must have access to school and be able to stay there, in order to achieve basic education. There must be good quality "second chance" education for adolescents and youth who have never been in school. There should be a focus on the needs of those most disadvantaged and excluded from learning, both in and out of school — girls, working children, children of ethnic minorities, and children affected by violence and conflict, HIV/AIDS and disabilities.

Thirdly, we must put a special focus on girls. It is a global shame that two thirds of those children out of school are girls. If this problem is not addressed, Education For All will surely fail. Girls must have full and equal access to, and achievement in, basic and secondary education. Denying girls basic education is a massive violation of human rights. Accelerated basic education must be strengthened, and additional education opportunities provided for adolescent girls. All forms of gender discrimination in education systems and schools, in curricula and learning materials, in teaching and learning processes must be eliminated. Schools must be located where girls can reach them safely and every school must have separate and functioning latrines for girls and boys.

Quality basic education is a necessity. Learners must be healthy, well-nourished, and ready to learn — where necessary, through child care and pre-school programmes of good quality. quotationSystems must provide relevant curricula and learning materials which are gender-sensitive and in languages that teachers and children can understand, for literacy, numeracy, and relevant content on human rights, gender equality, health, HIV/AIDS, and peace. Teachers must be well-trained to use flexible classroom arrangements and child-centred methods, so that children can participate actively and think critically.

Schools must have adequate hygiene and sanitation facilities and school policies which guarantee physical and mental health, safety, and security. Above all, children must end up learning what they are meant to, and need to, learn. Schools must have practical ways to assess these results and report on them for all to see: parents and communities, as well as national governments. Both new and old technologies, such as Internet connectivity and radio instruction, must be used more creatively to reduce, rather than increase, disparities in access to quality learning.

In situations of conflict, violence, and instability, learning must be re-started quickly. This requires the ability to rapidly assess educational and psycho-social needs of children, provide essential supplies and materials, promote local governance and partnerships in restoring education, and support relevant and rapid curriculum and teacher development. Children affected by HIV/AIDS deserve immediate attention. Systems must ensure creative and dynamic life-skills programmes which both transmit information and change behavior, so that education has an impact on the pandemic — on decreasing the rate of the transmission of the virus. Education systems must also act to decrease the impact of the pandemic on education — on the demand for, supply of, and quality of education — and on educational systems, schools, and learning.

Q: What does this mean for teachers?

  • Putting more focus on training and continuing professional development, both in content and teaching-learning processes.
  • Learning how children learn, not just how to teach the content of subjects.
  • Improving schools so that children’s learning is the most important outcome.
  • Ensuring that teacher compensation is adequate so that teachers are not forced to work more than one job.
  • Strengthening links among teachers so that they can learn about exemplary practice from one another.
  • Ensuring teachers practice life skills that keep them alive, well and healthy, and responsive to the needs of young learners.
  • Ensuring that more teachers the world over have access to other teachers through practical technology resources such as Teachers Talking About Learning.

( Go to the Teachers Forum Index )

Teacher Talking Explore Ideas · Discuss Issues · Take Action
Last revised May 1, 2000
Copyright © UNICEF