By Kristina Lekova
On June 28th, the International Commission met to discuss the future of education and the need for educational transformation to make the system more sustainable and just. The IC was summoned in 2019 as an independent institution by UNESCO and is now led by the President of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, Sahle-Work Zewde. The Commission focuses on rethinking the role of education regarding current opportunities and obstacles. Following the 2021 UNESCO report “Reimagining our Future together: a new social contract of education”, the IC released a report with a list of changes in the school system, teaching, and the digital sector, which includes five directions of transformation. According to UNESCO, transforming education is a process by which the educational system is altered for entire nations to focus on learners through supporting teaching. The information described in the IC is not a complete overturning, but rather a “metamorphosis”, a sustainable and stable change. Due to current disparities in education, the call sounds relevant, and much needed as the change and progress made worldwide are highly uneven. Under a similar program, the primary school completion rate in Chad significantly improved between 2015 and 2019, with a 24% female and 31% male primary graduation rates increasing to 29% and 38% by 2019. In the nearby country of Mali which has utilized traditional educational models, the percentage of both male and female youth dropped by 2% from the year 2015 to 2018. However, due to differences in educational systems around the world, the approach to education must be constructed in each context according to each state’s spending, social, political, and economic problems, as well as rates of gender and class inequalities.
This UNESCO initiative is organized into five policy changes, what they describe as directions. The first is to make the educational system a place of equal opportunity. The Commission calls for changes in school systems while protecting them as places of “unique social and educational sites, because of the inclusion and equity”. The IC argues that the expertise and knowledge at schools should be distributed equally rather than concentrated in the hands of the few by reducing competition and loosening the selection process. The second direction describes a transformation in curriculum, allowing learners to look beyond the scope of the already existing system of views and widen the perspective to develop “creativity, engagement, and a breadth of capabilities across the lifespan”. The third directives calls for policy-makers to provide teachers with excellent working conditions to support cooperation and solidarity. The fifth direction highlights the need to ensure collaboration across countries. This point asserts that there is a need to move beyond aid and philanthropy and instead work on the reparations of existing inequality and strengthen the North-to-South transfer of resources.
While the directives mentioned above seems like transformative change, several of these proposals have already been featured in previous UN directives. The report “Reimagining our Future together: a new social contract of education” was informed by a consultation process that involved around million people (including governments, institutions, and organizations) and attempted to create a new social contract for education. There are questions, however, about how much authority global initiatives hold to effectuate the change they seek. The educational systems of African countries tend to be inferior to those in Europe and the United States, though there has been some improvement in recent years. In Ethiopia, the Gross Enrolment Rate (GER) for pre-primary education is at 43%. This is up from 36.7% in the 2020 academic year (UNHCR). It is crucial that global initiatives do more than provide lip service to issues in education. For any proposal to be effective, the directors must provide strategies for resource for the implementation of these projects, particularly when discussing countries with limited financial resources.