Changing Perspectives of Education

ICEVI-DbI Joint Asian Conference

February 8 - 12, 2000 Ahmedabad, India

Changing Perspectives of Education

Immediate Past President, International Council for Education Of People with Visual Impairment &
Co-ordinator, Education & Rehabilitation of Visually Impaired Persons, Interdisciplinary Advisory Committee, Christoffel-Blindenmission

On an American airline their packet of peanuts has the following printed on it:

Instructions: OPEN PACKET, EAT NUTS.

Unbelievable but true! If that is the level to which human intelligence has sunk, one wonders whether there is any point in having the instructions printed because the passengers probably cannot read anyway! Where does Education stand at the dawn of this new Millennium?

Whoever thought-up the above instructions as being necessary to print on the packet was apparently being over cautious or not too bright. But the startling fact remains that the global extent of illiteracy is somewhat staggering - in 1995 there were 885 million illiterate people, of whom 625 million (>70%) were in the Asia-Pacific region. Moreover, that same year 37 million children in the region were not participating in formal basic education (Figures from UNESCO). Furthermore, UNICEF estimates that only 1 in every 50 children with disability has access to education, i.e. 2%; and yet, the 1989 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which includes provision for children with disabilities, has been ratified or acceded to by 192 countries, including all ESCAP member countries, while Article III of the World Declaration on Education for All (EFA) (Jomtien, 1990), which addresses "universalizing access and promoting equality", states:

5. The learning needs of the disabled demand special attention. Steps need to be taken to provide equal access to education to every category of disabled persons as an integral part of the education system.

We certainly still have a hard climb ahead of us if we are to reach the unreached in order to achieve true Education for All (EFA) by the Year 2015! Why 2015? I shall return to this 'magical' year shortly.

By Revisiting ICEVI 1995 Recommendations, Dr Mani, the ICEVI Chairperson for this region, has expertly assessed the gains and the gaps - there have been some gains but there are many more gaps, which still need to be filled! In the context of the above facts and figures, I wish to:

  • re-focus on our 'punch line' of 5 years ago: When the ideal is not possible, make 'what is possible' as your ideal'.
  • ask the question: Have YOU really made 'what is possible' as YOUR ideal? If NOT, WHY not?

Let us now move on to the year 2015 and our theme: Changing Perspectives of Education. Just last month, 10 years after the World Declaration on Education for All, I had the privilege of representing CBM International and ICEVI again at a critical Assessment of EFA in the Asia-Pacific region. What was most disappointing and disturbing was the fact that disability issues were not included as one of the eighteen key indicators of progress towards EFA for the country reports! I made a strong point about this shocking omission.

The Assessment was conducted in preparation for the World Education Forum to be held in Dakar, Senegal, April 26 - 28, at which the new target year of 2015 for EFA will be adopted. The planned outcomes are, and I quote Mr Victor Ordonez, the Director of UNESCO's Principal Office for Asia and the Pacific (PROAP):

  • A GLOBAL FRAMEWORK FOR ACTION - informed by regional priorities and needs
  • A GLOBAL COMPACT - backed by political commitment and adequate resources
  • CLEAR TARGETS - based on existing commitments: national, regional and international
  • NEW INITIATIVES - to special needs (e.g. LDCs and AIDS)
  • STRONGER MODALITIES FOR ASSISTING GOVERNMENTS - to fulfill their obligations to ensure basic education for all.

Herewith some other highlights taken from the UNESCO-PROAP Director's presentation at last January's EFA 2000 Assessment:

  • The 1990s - Achievements
    more children in school
    new coalitions and new modalities
    recognition of the centrality of basic education in world
    development fora - Copenhagen, Beijing, Cairo, Salamanca and Hamburg
  • The 1990s: Old Challenges and Changing Contexts
    endemic and persistent poverty and the unequal distribution of wealth
    globalisation and debt
    continuing gender disparities
    civil conflict and war
    the impact of HIV/AIDS
  • 2000: Future Opportunities
    More knowledge about what "works" in education, about young child development, and about learning
    Stronger government-civil society partnerships
    Greater concern for the rights of the excluded
    The potential of new technologies to reduce disparities
    2000: The Imperative
    MAINTAIN the expanded vision of education
    CONFIRM the commitments of the Jomtien Declaration
    STRENGTHEN political will
    INCREASE resources for
    EFA ACCELERATE progress toward EFA, especially for the excluded
  • Six Principles for the Dakar Framework
    Include the excluded
    Create inclusive, healthy, effective and protective learning environments for the "whole" child and for young people and adults
    Engage civil society
    Set clear goals and targets
    Strengthen partnerships
    Exploit technology for learning
  • Major Goals
    Expanded, improved, comprehensive early childhood care and education
    Universal and free basic education for all children
    Universal access to basic learning and skills programmes for young people and adults
    Achievement by all learners of nationally defined and measured levels of learning
    Full and equal access and participation by girls and women and elimination of gender disparities
  • Five Strategic Objectives
    Enhanced national investments supported by resource mobilisation at all levels
    New "space" for the engagement of community and civil society in basic education
    Clear linkages between basic education and other anti-poverty strategies
    Equitable harnessing of new technologies for learning
    Enabling of teachers to better perform their pivotal role in building effective, child-friendly schools
  • New "Space" For Civil Society
    engage learners, parents, communities and the organs of civil society in sustained dialogue, decision-making and innovation
    strengthen local partnerships
    stimulate community involvement and ownership in the conduct and monitoring of basic education
  • Education and Poverty Elimination
    ensure that basic education priorities reinforce poverty elimination strategies
    articulate basic education priorities closely with health, environment, labour, finance and civil society organisations
    incorporate poverty elimination and development issues and strategies into basic education programmes
  • Enabling Teachers
    develop rights-based, learner-friendly education environments which respect teachers roles and responsibilities
    develop strong teacher support and professional development mechanism
    reassess compensation policies and career development policies strategies
    identify and remedy threats to teacher professionalism

(NB: Above points taken from the presentation of the Director, UNESCO-PROAP in Bangkok, Jan.17, 2000)

In November last year, Dr Mani, Dr Punani and I had the privilege of representing CBM International (and ICEVI) at another very important meeting in Bangkok - the UN-ESCAP Forum on Education for Children and Youth with Disabilities into the Twenty-first Century. A successful and significant revision of the Education targets of the Asian & Pacific Decade of Disabled Persons (1992 - 2002) took place. As Ms San Yuenwah of the Disability Programme/Disadvantaged Groups Section, Social Development Division UN-ESCAP, will be with us on Saturday to present the targets, I would just like to:

  • Draw your attention to some key points:
    • The original 7 targets were revised and 8 new ones were added, all with the same end-of-Decade timeframe, i.e. 2002, which, by providence, coincides with the Golden Jubilee of ICEVI
    • They prioritise ensuring Education for ALL by including disabled persons
    • They call for education systems to focus on a learner-centred approach that would also benefit disabled persons

  • Request you to consider adopting the Targets and including them as part of your Action Plan for the rest of this ICEVI quinquennium, which ends in 2002 as well.

Some of the general and specific 'lessons' we could learn from the above of the Changing Perspectives of Education are:

  • a greater recognition of the importance of Early Child Care and Education, and a higher priority in terms of action
  • the need for Early Intervention services from birth
  • a shift from schooling to learning
  • an emphasis on quality and achievement, not just quantity
  • the need to harness new technologies and ensure equitable distribution
  • the opportunities which exist to utilize the information explosion, which can be made accessible even to visually impaired persons
  • the importance, in terms of human resource development, of:
    • teaching life skills and giving students the 'tools' of the future, not past
    • investing in human capital as a prerequisite to quality education
    • providing teachers an enabling environment to give of their best
    • exploring the potentials of distance learning
  • the need to:
    • address the linked importance of education, prevention of the causes of disability, and poverty elimination (A further word about this below.)
    • maximise the increasing role of and new opportunities for civil society
    • ensure more efficient and effective utilization of resources, not only greater resource mobilization
    • facilitate the introduction and expansion of inclusive education in schools for all
  • an awareness of the presence of a large number of low vision persons and a steady increase in the number of people with multiple disabilities
  • the acknowledgement of a serious and persistent gender imbalance, which demands a greater focus on women and girls

The above list is neither complete nor prioritised but the last point has been deliberately left to the end because the next plenary speaker, Ms. Anuradha Mohit, will be expanding on this important issue.

Likewise, I want to emphasise the great importance of the vital role we, as educators, can play in the prevention of blindness and other disabilities. No doubt, Miss Mavis Campos will be expounding on this point and Vision 2020 - The Right To Sight, which is A Global Initiative for the Elimination of Avoidable Blindness, during her presentation tomorrow.

The message is clear - we should accelerate movement towards schools for all, on the basis of it being a human rights issue, and take appropriate steps to correct the imbalance by providing equal opportunities which, in the words of the Salamanca Statement and Framework for Action:

  • Include everybody
  • Celebrate differences
  • Support learning
  • Respond to individual needs

A quick word about integration and inclusion: whereas you integrate a minority into the unchanged mainstream/majority, inclusion aims to ensure full participation in a restructured mainstream, which caters to the needs of individual children. Most children experience some form of difficulties, which is a normal part of schooling, because every child is unique and needs help.

In view of the fact that at least 2.5 million blind and low vision children in the Asia-Pacific region are still excluded from receiving even a basic education, something must be done, and done quickly! Gabriela Mistral, the Nobel Prize Laureate from Chile, captured this sense of urgency most beautifully in her poem:


What then are some of the priority areas for action? These must include:

  • Reaching the unreached and including the excluded
  • Parental involvement and community participation with ownership
  • Improvement of quality by enhancing the learning achievement of all
  • Better teachers with better conditions

A Chinese proverb states:

When the wind is blowing:
Some people curse the wind
Some people build walls
While others build windmills

The winds of change are blowing, so let us 'build windmills' in order to harness the power of the wind! We have identified the main changing perspectives of education, we have enumerated several lessons which we can learn, and we have listed some major priority areas for action. Moreover, we also know that:

  • the needs are Tremendous,
  • the opportunities for us to scale up programmes and support new initiatives Abound, and
  • the timing is Perfect,

so let us TAP in, grab the challenge, use the power of the existing national, regional and international Instruments, and go and `gossip'!

The Book of Acts, chapter 4, verse 20, states:

We cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard

Over the next three days you will not only be seeing and hearing much, but also contributing a great deal to the discussions. Your presence here can only be justified if, as you leave this Conference, you do GO and 'GOSSIP' about all that you have seen, heard and learnt here, so that the strong message from this Conference not only reaches the ears of the governments and NGOs of this region but also the World Education Forum in Dakar, Senegal, in April, to ensure that decisive steps are taken to strengthen the Dakar Framework for Action by giving disability issues a much higher priority and greater commitment by Governments and NGOs alike.

ACTION is urgently needed. Therefore, please GO and 'GOSSIP'!


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