Ministers to debate quality of educationAre school children and students being taught the skills they will need to lead productive, healthy lives and to contribute to the development of their countries? What should education ministries be doing to improve their education systems and provide students with every opportunity to learn what they need to lead active and dignified lives in a fast-changing world?
The burning issue of quality of education – how to define and provide it - will be the subject of a Ministerial Round Table to be held during UNESCO’s General Conference at Headquarters on October 3-4 (Room X) and presided over by the Organization’s Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura and education ministers from countries in Africa, the Arab States, Asia, Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean. More than 70 ministers have confirmed their participation.
The now widely-accepted links between education and economic performance, education, peace and security, or education and sustainable development have forced the issue of quality into the public arena, where it has become a matter of concern for a range of government ministries, NGOs, private business and the general public. Debate has been further fuelled by an increase in the monitoring of student achievement, both on a national and international scale, which consistently reveals big differences in what and how children are learning both within and between countries.
A survey of student achievement among 15 year-olds in 43 countries published jointly by the OECD and UNESCO last July as part of the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), for example, found that students in Finland, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Ireland, Hong Kong-China, Japan and the Republic of Korea achieved the best results in reading, mathematical and scientific literacy. On the other hand, students in Latin America lagged well behind; with students in Brazil, Chile and Peru experiencing serious difficulties is using reading as a tool to advance and extend their knowledge and skills in other areas.
The report linked these trends to the quality of national education systems, which, it concluded, can be more important to learning achievement than national or individual family wealth.
However, the experts argue, education is more than “reading, writing and arithmetic”, and there is a growing demand for education systems to address current conditions and problems in society, notably sustainable human development, peace and security, human rights, gender equality and the overall quality of life at individual, family, societal and global levels. This leads to the question of what, today, constitutes a quality education? How should it be defined and what should it include? And how do governments – many of which lack resources to provide even the basics – balance the traditional focus and these new requirements, which call for flexible curricula, training and re-training of teachers, constant up-dating of textbooks and other learning materials, increased access to new information and communication technology, and international cooperation?
The Ministerial Round Table will be opened by UNESCO Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura and Secretary of Education of the USA, Rod Paige, (October 3, 10 a.m.). The meeting will be divided into three sessions, focussing on:
- The Challenges and Dilemmas facing the Quality of Education (October 3,
- The Need for an Expanded Definition of the Quality of Education (October 3,
- Tools for Change and Improvement (October 4, 10 a.m.).
The participants will issue a Ministerial Communiqué at the end of their discussions.
Journalists wishing to attend the Ministerial Round Table on the Quality of Education must be accredited for UNESCO’s General Conference. Contact the UNESCO Press Service, tel. 01 45 68 17 48