There is no denying that access to education in developing countries has improved and is continuing to improve. However, has this meant that the quality of education has been sacrificed in the process? Paxcely Marquez evaluates the international communities’ actions and her experience of working in Sub-Saharan Africa to answer this question.
Improving school attendance in developing countries isn’t a new topic. With the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) having come to a close and the new Sustainable Development Goals now in place to be completed by 2030, the international community recognizes there is still much work to be done – especially in improving access to education for girls throughout the world. Despite increases in school enrolment for both primary and secondary education around the world, the focus towards the quality of education has not kept up with the focus on quantity.
In developing countries, the overall enrolment in primary education has reached 91 per cent, however 250 million of those children are not learning. This juxtaposition helps to illustrate the problems developing countries are facing with providing quality education to their students. Many students are still illiterate and innumerate; a problem that all actors involved need to respond to immediately. When looking at individual countries, the barriers to providing quality education are diversely ranged, however, a number of these barriers are common. Such barriers include: a lack of infrastructure, inability to pay school fees, underqualified teachers and other educational professionals, language and cultural barriers, and ineffective teaching methods. For the last two years of my professional life, these were realities I saw on a daily basis.
Living in a medium-size town in Cameroon’s Adamaoua region, my community and I had some luxuries other communities in our region did not, such as access to multiple primary and secondary educational institutions. Every day, I saw students going to schools that had few concrete classrooms. One school had only one concrete classroom, which was two kilometers away and only had a few makeshift classrooms located on the main campus. At the same time, many of those students were not able to pay their school fees and as a result their grades suffered. There were the few anomalous exceptions that worked full-time and had outstanding grades but those were the exceptions.
Most students in Cameroon are taught to learn information verbatim, meaning they literally copy and paste the information that is written on the board. At the same time, some teachers do not like their students questioning the information. This not only hinders the students’ ability to build their critical-thinking skills but also to actually understand the information, since most of the students’ first languages are not French, English, Spanish, or German. This is assuming the best case scenario, where the teacher arrives to class every day on-time and is trained to teach the subject. The results are that many students are not being taught to their full potential, making them susceptible to misinformation about many issues including extremism in their communities.
Every country has the ability to provide quality education to all students, but the methods to accomplish this goal vary between countries and between their regions.
In Colombia, the government initiated their Rural Education Project (PER) in order to improve the efficiency and quality of education throughout rural Colombia. The program provided the, “funding, training, and material for the implementation of flexible education models designed to meet the specific needs of rural students.” The results were government tailored and supported specialized programs provided on a regional basis, which can improve the efficiency and quality of education. This helps to illustrate the bigger picture, it’s possible and needed for each country to implement programs that can lead to a holistic educational systems, which are also culturally appropriate. At the same time, using local partners are needed to implement and expand such programs. They can help diminish the linguistic and cultural barriers faced in any, but especially in exceptionally diverse countries.
Actors on an international scale are still very much needed to improve the quality of education. Organizations such as the Malala Fund, understand that improving the quality of education is not limited to governmental actors alone. Instead, they also focus and invest in local partners that can help provide additional resources to students.
However, before we move forward, we still need to tackle the daily barriers many students face. We need to abolish school fees for all primary and secondary students, we need to improve the quality of teachers’ trainings and resources, we need to create financially incentivized programs for teachers assigned to rural communities, and we need to improve school infrastructure, to name just a few of the many issues.
Improving the quality of education for every student is possible – we just need to keep pushing towards it.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.
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