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Reforming International Cooperation in Education

Dr. Kazuo Kuroda, Waseda University, Japan

In 1948, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  Article 26 regards education as a human right. It is important to pause to consider why education should be a human right. By no means is education as critical to survival as nutrition or primary health care, and yet we firmly believe that education is a human right. If one looks critically at the statement in Article 26 of the Universal Declaration which talks about education being free and compulsory in the elementary and fundamental stages, it raises several questions such as ‘does this concern all aspects of education?’ There is a very important aspect of education which is closely related to the realization and wellbeing of human rights, which the article does not mention. This dimension is informal education. Education takes place in the family and community in unorganized ways and, traditionally, most of our education has come from outside formal schools settings. That is why learning itself can be considered a human right; without learning, a human being cannot be a human being. In spite of this, Article 26 only talks about school education.

Many countries in the Asia-Pacific have almost achieved free compulsory primary education. However, the expansion of school education sometimes is of lower quality. In some countries, the introduction of free primary education and then successful achievement of growth in enrollment rates has de facto sacrificed quality in education. For example, when  educational quality in a certain country was assessed after several years, , we found that 30% of the fifth grade students could not read or write. This represents a huge waste of money and time. The quality of education should not be sacrificed in this manner. Because there is the belief that structured education can offer more effective educational opportunities than traditional ways, school education has been introduced in order to achieve universal primary education. To truly achieve this human right, we have to guarantee the quality of education along with making it free and compulsory.

Article 26 also states that “higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.” This is the ideal picture of higher education. However, in reality, higher education is mostly accessible on the basis of economic capacity of  individuals and not merely on the basis of merit. We have to change this. When we talk about human rights, we forget about higher or vocational education. These levels of education ought to be included in a balanced approach to human rights, as laid out in the Universal Declaration.
Another critically important viewpoint is education for development. The proposal for a Comprehensive Development Framework by the World Bank states that the most important key to development and poverty alleviation is education, which must start with universal primary education. It is well known that education can be a good foundation for economic growth and poverty alleviation.

Academic and empirical evidence from studies in economics and the sociology of education have found that education has higher rates of return compared to, for example, investment in infrastructure. Growth accounting also finds that the major part of economic growth comes from the accumulation of education and human capital. We sometimes overlook this fact. Comparatively, we find that primary education has a higher rate of return than higher education. The logical conclusion is that we should invest more in primary education. This may also be the rationale of the EFA movement. Studies found in the late 1990s that accumulation of knowledge had a major impact on the economy of developing countries and, therefore, the role of higher education grew in these countries. Education can be a foundation for economic development, social development, and poverty alleviation.

Third, we should not forget the education for peace perspective. On September 11, 2001, I was in Washington DC attending a conference of the Inter-American Development Bank. I got stuck for a week in Washington DC because all flights were cancelled following the attacks. Some people who were working in educational development discussed what was happening and how this was related to what we had done. We realized we had completely forgotten about the education for peace perspective while doing educational cooperation projects in developing countries.

Before this event, education for peace as represented in the constitution of UNESCO looked too idealistic to us. In the first decade of the EFA movement, we only seriously considered human rights and development as the driving forces of EFA. However, when we read the same statement during the one week discussion following the US attack, we found the statement was, in fact, both beautiful and grounded in reality.

New concepts of human security are also emerging on the agenda. Many of these aspects are in fact related to the development of human rights and peace. The Final Report of the Commission on Human Security of the United Nations states that human security connects different types of freedoms—freedom from want, freedom from fear and freedom to take action on one's own behalf. This human security perspective expresses the importance of education. Education’s role in contributing to the eradication of poverty, creation of peace, and assurance of human rights of the individuals is of paramount importance.

There are many other perspectives on education and society such as education for democracy, for national integration, for equity and social mobilization, and for cultural inheritance. We know that education can contribute to achieving these social values. However, it would be false to assume that achieving universal primary education alone will help us to achieve the goals related to these values.

As with all aspects of development, there are always two sides of the coin. Such is the case with education in development, too. Not only is the quantity, but also the quality of education important. Different perspectives have to be integrated in Education for Sustainable Development (ESD), which is a very diverse concept and has been heavily criticised in the past. However, since ESD covers a wide range of areas, it is becoming a major part of the future of international education cooperation.

Content and quality are cornerstones of education, alongside quantity and distribution. International cooperation in education will do well to focus more on this area in the post Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and EFA discussion. There are still many children with multiple disadvantages. Universal primary education has yet to be achieved. International cooperation should focus on education’s inclusiveness. A holistic vision for educational development should be introduced with balanced investments in secondary, higher, and non-formal education.

Finally, an integrated approach for peace, human rights, and development is necessary for the future of international cooperation in education. It is of utmost importance that these perspectives be operationalized and monitored. Education for peace and sustainability must be taken out of the laboratory and studied empirically so that international cooperation in education can contribute to enhancing mutual understanding and tolerance and the construction of a peaceful and sustainable world.

*This article is adapted from a speech by Professor Kazuo Kuroda, Waseda University, Japan, given at the Asia-Pacific Forum on Educational Cooperation: Synergies and Linkages of EFA, ESD and ASPnet for Sustainable Asia and the Pacific, 19-21 February 2011.

© Asia-Pacific Culture Centre for UNESCO (ACCU)