A Focus on Learning
The thematic roundtable on improving primary education in developing countries shifted the debate from promoting access and equity, to boosting quality, further arguing that quality improvements were central to assuring demand and increasing the efficiency and holding power of schools. Boosting quality means moving the focus from simply providing inputs and counting participation and completion rates to enriching the learning process and measuring learning acquisition and performance. Bettering conditions for learning in the classroom; improving the preparation and motivation of teachers; strengthening the institutional capacity of the education system; increasing equitable access; and mobilizing financial support, were identified and discussed as major areas in need of critical attention in order to realize a meaningful education for all.
Most participants subscribed to the need to focus on learning and supported the kinds of educational systems and school-level reforms presented. However, concerns were raised about the practicality of implementing such reform programmes given varied country-level conditions. More specifically, concern was expressed about the need to locate such educational interventions within the larger economic and political structural constraints of debt, terms of trade, political oppression and corruption undermining the social sector development of those poor countries who most needed such reforms. The Ecuador and Kenya roundtables picked up on the plenary speeches of their respective presidents, calling for a need to attend to the "social debt" spreading among the poor in the face of growing "financial debt," and that governments alone would not be able to keep pace with the demand for quality education for all.
Colombia and Zimbabwe, countries relatively free of financial burdens, presented illustrative country cases demonstrating how school and community-level reforms improved curriculum relevance, increased teacher quality through in-service teacher training, provided communities a greater role in school management, and strengthened overall educational management capacity-thus, improving access and quality of education. However, participants from heavily indebted African and Latin American countries felt that such reforms could not be implemented in the face of the huge debt burden and relative unrest that continues to fuel high military expenditure in their regions.
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