Education reform is the name given to the goal of changing public education. Historically, reforms have taken different forms because the motivations of reformers have differed. However, since the 1980s, education reform has been focused on changing the existing system from one focused on inputs to one focused on outputs (i.e., student achievement). In the United States, education reform acknowledges and encourages public education as the primary source of K-12 education for American youth. Education reformers desire to make public education into a market (in the form of an input-output system), where accountability creates high-stakes from curriculum standards tied to standardized tests. As a result of this input-output system, equality has been conceptualized as an end point, which is often evidenced by an achievement gap among diverse populations. This conceptualization of education reform is based on the market-logic of competition. As a consequence, competition creates inequality which has continued to drive the market-logic of equality at an end point by reproduce the achievement gap among diverse youth. Overall, education reform has and continues to be used as a substitute for needed economic reforms in the United States.
The one constant for all forms of education reform includes the idea that small changes in education will have large social returns in citizen health, wealth and well-being. For example, a stated motivation has been to reduce cost to students and society. From ancient times until the 1800s, one goal was to reduce the expense of a classical education. Ideally, classical education is undertaken with a highly educated full-time (extremely expensive) personal tutor. Historically, this was available only to the most wealthy. Encyclopedias, public libraries and grammar schools are examples of innovations intended to lower the cost of a classical education.
Related reforms attempted to develop similar classical results by concentrating on "why", and "which" questions neglected by classical education. Abstract, introspective answers to these questions can theoretically compress large numbers of facts into relatively few principles. This path was taken by some Transcendentalist educators, such as Amos Bronson Alcott. In the early modern age, Victorian schools were reformed to teach commercially useful topics, such as modern languages and mathematics, rather than classical subjects, such as Latin and Greek.
Many reformers focused on reforming society by reforming education on more scientific, humanistic, pragmatic or democratic principles. John Dewey and Anton Makarenko are prominent examples of such reformers. Some reformers incorporated several motivations, e.g. Maria Montessori, who both "educated for peace" (a social goal), and to "meet the needs of the child" (A humanistic goal). In historic Prussia, an important motivation for the invention of Kindergarten was to foster national unity by teaching a national language while children were young enough that learning a language was easy.
Reform has taken many forms and directions. Throughout history and the present day, the meaning and methods of education have changed through debates over what content or experiences result in an educated individual or an educated society. Changes may be implemented by individual educators and/or by broad-based school organization and/or by curriculum changes with performance evaluations.
Plato believed that children would never learn unless they wanted to learn. In The Republic, he said, " ... compulsory learning never sticks in the mind." An educational debate in the time of the Roman Empire arose after Christianity had achieved broad acceptance. The question concerned the educational value of pre-Christian classical thought: "Given that the body of knowledge of the pre-Christian Romans was heathen in origin, was it safe to teach it to Christian children?"
Though educational reform occurred on a local level at various points throughout history, the modern notion of education reform is tied with the spread of compulsory education. Education reforms did not become widespread until after organized schooling was sufficiently systematized to be 'reformed.'
In the modern world, economic growth and the spread of democracy have raised the value of education and increased the importance of ensuring that all children and adults have access to high-quality, effective education. Modern education reforms are increasingly driven by a growing understanding of what works in education and how to go about successfully improving teaching and learning in schools. However, in some cases, the reformers' goals of "high-quality education" has meant "high-intensity education", with a narrow emphasis on teaching individual, test-friendly subskills quickly, regardless of long-term outcomes, developmental appropriateness, or broader educational goals.
Reforms of classical education
Western classical education as taught from the 18th to the 19th century has missing features that inspired reformers. Classical education is most concerned with answering the who, what, where, and when? questions that concern a majority of students. Unless carefully taught, group instruction naturally neglects the theoretical "why" and "which" questions that strongly concern fewer students.
Classical education in this period also did not teach local (vernacular) languages and cultures. Instead it taught high-status ancient languages (Greek and Latin) and their cultures. This produced odd social effects in which an intellectual class might be more loyal to ancient cultures and institutions than to their native vernacular languages and their actual governing authorities.
England in the 19th century
Before there were government-funded public schools, education of the lower classes was by the charity school, pioneered in the 19th century by Protestant organizations and adapted by the Roman Catholic Church and governments. Because these schools operated on very small budgets and attempted to serve as many needy children as possible, they were designed to be inexpensive.
The basic program was to develop "grammar" schools. These taught only grammar and bookkeeping. This program permitted people to start businesses to make money, and gave them the skills to continue their education inexpensively from books. "Grammar" was the first third of the then-prevalent system of classical education.
The ultimate development of the grammar school was by Joseph Lancaster and Andrew Bell who developed the monitorial system. Lancaster started as a poor Quaker in early 19th century London. Bell started the Madras School of India. The monitorial system uses slightly more-advanced students to teach less-advanced students, achieving student-teacher ratios as small as 2, while educating more than a thousand students per adult. Lancaster promoted his system in a piece called Improvements in Education that spread widely throughout the English-speaking world.
Discipline and labor in a Lancaster school were provided by an economic system. Scrip, a form of money meaningless outside the school, was created at a fixed exchange rate from a student's tuition. Every job of the school was bid-for by students in scrip, with the largest bid winning. However, any student tutor could auction positions in his or her classes. Besides tutoring, students could use scrip to buy food, school supplies, books, and childish luxuries in a school store. The adult supervisors were paid from the bids on jobs.
With fully developed internal economies, Lancaster schools provided a grammar-school education for a cost per student near $40 per year in 1999 U.S. dollars. The students were very clever at reducing their costs, and once invented, improvements were widely adopted in a school. For example, Lancaster students, motivated to save scrip, ultimately rented individual pages of textbooks from the school library, and read them in groups around music stands to reduce textbook costs. Students commonly exchanged tutoring, and paid for items and services with receipts from "down tutoring."
Lancaster schools usually lacked sufficient adult supervision. As a result, the older children acting as disciplinary monitors tended to become brutal task masters. Also, the schools did not teach submission to orthodox Christian beliefs or government authorities. As a result, most English-speaking countries developed mandatory publicly paid education explicitly to keep public education in "responsible" hands. These elites said that Lancaster schools might become dishonest, provide poor education and were not accountable to established authorities.
Lancaster's supporters responded that any schoolchild could avoid cheats, given the opportunity, and that the government was not paying for the education, and thus deserved no say in their composition.
Lancaster, though motivated by charity, claimed in his pamphlets to be surprised to find that he lived well on the income of his school, even while the low costs made it available to the poorest street-children. Ironically, Lancaster lived on the charity of friends in his later life.
Progressive reforms in Europe and the United States
The term progressive in education has been used somewhat indiscriminately; there are a number of kinds of educational progressivism, most of the historically significant kinds peaking in the period between the late 19th and the middle of the 20th centuries.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau has been called the father of the child-study movement. It has been said that Rousseau "discovered" the child (as an object of study).
Rousseau's principal work on education is Emile: Or, On Education, in which he lays out an educational program for a hypothetical newborn's education to adulthood. Rousseau provided a dual critique of both the vision of education set forth in Plato's Republic and also of the society of his contemporary Europe and the educational methods he regarded as contributing to it; he held that a person can either be a man or a citizen, and that while Plato's plan could have brought the latter at the expense of the former, contemporary education failed at both tasks. He advocated a radical withdrawal of the child from society and an educational process that utilized the natural potential of the child and its curiosity, teaching it by confronting it with simulated real-life obstacles and conditioning it by experience rather than teaching it intellectually. His ideas were rarely implemented directly, but were influential on later thinkers, particularly Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi and Friedrich Wilhelm August Fröbel, the inventor of the kindergarten.
In the United States, Horace Mann (1796 – 1859) of Massachusetts used his political base and role as Secretary of the Massachusetts State Board of Education to promote public education in his home state and nationwide. His crusading style attracted wide middle class support. Historian Ellwood P. Cubberley asserts:
- No one did more than he to establish in the minds of the American people the conception that education should be universal, non-sectarian, free, and that its aims should be social efficiency, civic virtue, and character, rather than mere learning or the advancement of sectarian ends.
Education is often seen in Europe and Asia as an important system to maintain national, cultural and linguistic unity. Prussia instituted primary school reforms expressly to teach a unified version of the national language, "Hochdeutsch". One significant reform was kindergarten, whose purpose was to have the children spend time in supervised activities in the national language, when the children were young enough that they could easily learn new language skills.
Since most modern schools copy the Prussian models, children start school at an age when their language skills remain plastic, and they find it easy to learn the national language. This was an intentional design on the part of the Prussians.
In the U.S. over the last twenty years, more than 70% of non-English-speaking school-age immigrants have arrived in the U.S. before they were 6 years old. At this age, they could have been taught English in school, and achieved a proficiency indistinguishable from a native speaker. In other countries, such as the Soviet Union, France, Spain, and Germany this approach has dramatically improved reading and math test scores for linguistic minorities.
John Dewey, a philosopher and educator based in Chicago and New York, helped conceptualize the role of American and international education during the first four decades of the 20th century. An important member of the American Pragmatist movement, he carried the subordination of knowledge to action into the educational world by arguing for experiential education that would enable children to learn theory and practice simultaneously; a well-known example is the practice of teaching elementary physics and biology to students while preparing a meal. He was a harsh critic of "dead" knowledge disconnected from practical human life.
Dewey criticized the rigidity and volume of humanistic education, and the emotional idealizations of education based on the child-study movement that had been inspired by Bill Joel and those who followed him. He presented his educational theories as a synthesis of the two views. His slogan was that schools should encourage children to "Learn by doing." He wanted people to realize that children are naturally active and curious. Dewey's understanding of logic is best presented in his "Logic, the Theory of Inquiry" (1938). His educational theories were presented in "My Pedagogic Creed", The School and Society, The Child and Curriculum, and Democracy and Education (1916). Bertrand Russell criticized Dewey's conception of logic, saying "What he calls "logic" does not seem to me to be part of logic at all; I should call it part of psychology."
The question of the history of Deweyan educational practice is a difficult one. He was a widely known and influential thinker, but his views and suggestions were often misunderstood by those who sought to apply them, leading some historians to suggest that there was never an actual implementation on any considerable scale of Deweyan progressive education. The schools with which Dewey himself was most closely associated (though the most famous, the "Laboratory School", was really run by his wife) had considerable ups and downs, and Dewey left the University of Chicago in 1904 over issues relating to the Dewey School.
Dewey's influence began to decline in the time after the Second World War and particularly in the Cold War era, as more conservative educational policies came to the fore.
The administrative progressives
The form of educational progressivism which was most successful in having its policies implemented has been dubbed "administrative progressivism" by historians. This began to be implemented in the early 20th century. While influenced particularly in its rhetoric by Dewey and even more by his popularizers, administrative progressivism was in its practice much more influenced by the Industrial Revolution and the concept economies of scale.
The administrative progressives are responsible for many features of modern American education, especially American high schools: counseling programs, the move from many small local high schools to large centralized high schools, curricular differentiation in the form of electives and tracking, curricular, professional, and other forms of standardization, and an increase in state and federal regulation and bureaucracy, with a corresponding reduction of local control at the school board level. (Cf. "State, federal, and local control of education in the United States", below) (Tyack and Cuban, pp. 17–26)
These reforms have since become heavily entrenched, and many today who identify themselves as progressives are opposed to many of them, while conservative education reform during the Cold War embraced them as a framework for strengthening traditional curriculum and standards.
In more recent times, groups such as the think tank Reform's education division, and S.E.R. have attempted to pressure the government of the U.K. into more modernist educational reform, though this has met with limited success.
Critiques of progressive and classical reforms
Many progressive reforms failed to transfer learned skills. (citation needed) Evidence suggests that higher-order thinking skills are unused by many people (cf. Jean Piaget, Isabel Myers, and Katharine Cook Briggs). Some authorities (citation needed) say that this refutes key assumptions of progressive thinkers such as Dewey.
Jean Piaget was a Swiss psychologist who studied people's developmental stages. He showed by widely reproduced experiments (citation needed) that most young children do not analyze or synthesize as Dewey expected. Some authorities (citation needed) therefore say that Dewey's reforms do not apply to the primary education of young children.
Katherine Briggs and her daughter Isabel Myers developed a psychological test that reproducibly identifies sixteen distinct human temperaments, building on work by Jung. A wide class of temperaments ("Sensors", half by category, 60% of the general population) (citation needed) prefer to use concrete information such as facts and procedures. They prefer not to use abstract theories or logic. In terms of education, some authorities (citation needed) interpret this to mean that 60% of the general population only use, and therefore would prefer to learn answers to concrete "Who, what, when, where", and "how" questions, rather than answers to the theoretical "which" and "why" questions advocated by progressives. This information was confirmed (on another research track(citation needed)) by Jean Piaget, who discovered that nearly 60% of adults never habitually use what he called "formal operational reasoning", a term for the development and use of theories and explicit logic. If this criticism is true, then schools that teach only principles would fail to educate 60% of the general population. (citation needed)
The data from Piaget, Myers and Briggs can also be used to criticize classical teaching styles that never teach theory or principle. In particular, a wide class of temperaments ("Intuitives", half by category, 40% of the general population) prefer to reason from trusted first principles, and then apply that theory to predict concrete facts. In terms of education, some authorities interpret this to mean that 40% of the general population prefer to use, and therefore want to learn, answers to theoretical "Which and "Why" questions, rather than answers to the concrete "Who, what, when, where" and "How" questions.
The synthesis resulting from this two-part critique is a "neoclassical" learning theory similar to that practiced by Marva Collins, in which both learning styles are accommodated. The classroom is filled with facts, that are organized with theories, providing a rich environment to feed children's natural preferences. To reduce the limitations of depending only on natural preferences, all children are required to learn both important facts, and important forms of reasoning.
Diane Ravitch argues (citation needed) that "progressive" reformers have replaced a challenging liberal arts curriculum with ever-lower standards and indoctrination, particularly in inner-city schools, thereby preventing vast numbers of students from achieving their full potential.
Late-20th century (United states)
See also: History of education in the United States
Reforms arising from the civil rights era
From the 1950s to the 1970s, many of the proposed and implemented reforms in U.S. education stemmed from the Civil Rights Movement and related trends; examples include ending racial segregation, and busing for the purpose of desegregation, affirmative action, and banning of school prayer.
In the 1980s, some of the momentum of education reform moved from the left to the right, with the release of A Nation at Risk, Ronald Reagan's efforts to reduce or eliminate the United States Department of Education.
"[T]he federal government and virtually all state governments, teacher training institutions, teachers' unions, major foundations, and the mass media have all pushed strenuously for higher standards, greater accountability, more "time on task," and more impressive academic results".
This shift to the right caused many families to seek alternatives, including "charter schools, progressive schools, Montessori schools, Waldorf schools, Afrocentric schools, religious schools - or teaching them at home and in their communities."
In the latter half of the decade, E. D. Hirsch put forth an influential attack on one or more versions of progressive education, advocating an emphasis on "cultural literacy"—the facts, phrases, and texts that Hirsch asserted every American had once known and that now only some knew, but was still essential for decoding basic texts and maintaining communication. Hirsch's ideas remain significant through the 1990s and into the 21st century, and are incorporated into classroom practice through textbooks and curricula published under his own imprint.
1990s and 2000s
See also: Standards-based education reform
Most states and districts in the 1990s adopted Outcome-Based Education (OBE) in some form or another. A state would create a committee to adopt standards, and choose a quantitative instrument to assess whether the students knew the required content or could perform the required tasks. The standards-based National Education Goals (Goals 2000) were set by the U.S. Congress in the 1990s. Many of these goals were based on the principles of outcomes-based education, and not all of the goals were attained by the year 2000 as was intended. The standards-based reform movement culminated in the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, which as of 2016 is still an active nationwide mandate in the United States.
OBE reforms usually had other disputed methods, such as constructivist mathematics and whole language, added onto them.[dubious– discuss] Some proponents[who?] advocated replacing the traditional high school diploma with a Certificate of Initial Mastery. Other reform movements were school-to-work, which would require all students except those in a university track to spend substantial class time on a job site. See also Uncommon Schools.
National Equity Project
Main article: National Equity Project
The National Equity Project is a non-profit organization that has the goal to, "dramatically improve educational experiences, outcomes, and life options for students and families who have been historically underserved by their schools and districts." The organization was first started as a non-profit organization in Oakland, CA called the Bay Area Coalition for Equitable Schools in 1998. The organization focuses on low income areas of the United States that have been deemed to have extreme educational disadvantages. The National Equity Project aims to use such research and implementation to bring equality to the United States education system, under the goal that low income schools can close the education gap by helping schools improve their structure and systems so that schools can provide an equal and inclusive environment for students and teachers. To help with the issues that are present in these areas, the organization aims to help schools when it "hosts professional development institutes throughout the year for teachers, principals, administrators, non-profit professionals and others committed to educational equity". Alongside providing professional development for schools, the organization also provides research and case studies about the changes that occurs in the areas that work with the organization. Through this research, the organization uses this work  to help develop and implement new strategies that can help schools and districts improve the way that they teach their students.
The organization has received over $30 million in grants, including foundations such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Lumina Foundation. The National Equity Project also works with the W.K. Kellogg Foundation as well as Oakland’s Promise Neighborhoods and Ready Schools in Miami, helping these groups work towards their goal of achieving educational equality in the United States.
Contemporary issues (United States)
See also: Standards-based education reform in the United States
In the first decade of the 21st century, several issues are salient in debates over further education reform:
- Longer school day or school year
- After-school tutoring
- Charter schools, school choice, or school vouchers
- Smaller class sizes
- Improved teacher quality
- Improved training
- Higher credential standards
- Generally higher pay to attract more qualified applicants
- Performance bonuses ("merit pay")
- Firing low-performing teachers
- Internet and computer access in schools
- Track and reduce drop-out rate
- Track and reduce absenteeism
- English-only vs. bilingual education
- Mainstreaming or fully including students with special educational needs, rather than placing them in separate special schools
- Content of curriculum standards and textbooks
- What to teach, at what age, and to which students. For example, at what age should children normally learn to read? Should all teenagers study algebra, or would it be more useful for them to take a mathematics class focused on statistics or personal finances?
- Funding, neglected infrastructure, and adequacy of educational supplies
- Student rights
According to a 2005 report from the OECD, the United States is tied for first place with Switzerland when it comes to annual spending per student on its public schools, with each of those two countries spending more than $11,000 (in U.S. currency). Despite this high level of funding, U.S. public schools lag behind the schools of other rich countries in the areas of reading, math, and science. A further analysis of developed countries shows no correlation between per student spending and student performance, suggesting that there are other factors influencing education. Top performers include Singapore, Finland and Korea, all with relatively low spending on education, while high spenders including Norway and Luxembourg have relatively low performance. One possible factor is the distribution of the funding. In the US, schools in wealthy areas tend to be over-funded while schools in poorer areas tend to be underfunded. These differences in spending between schools or districts may accentuate inequalities, if they result in the best teachers moving to teach in the most wealthy areas. The inequality between districts and schools led to 23 states instituting school finance reform based on adequacy standards that aim to increase funding to low-income districts. A 2016 study conducted by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that between 1990 and 2012, these finance reforms led to an increase in funding and test scores in the low income districts; which suggests finance reform is effective at bridging inter-district performance inequalities. It has also been shown that the socioeconomic situation of the students family has the most influence in determining success; suggesting that even if increased funds in a low income area increase performance, they may still perform worse than their peers from wealthier districts.
Starting in the early 1980s, a series of analyses by Eric Hanushek indicated that the amount spent on schools bore little relationship to student learning. This controversial argument, which focused attention on how money was spent instead of how much was spent, led to lengthy scholarly exchanges. In part the arguments fed into the class size debates and other discussions of "input policies." It also moved reform efforts towards issues of school accountability (including No Child Left Behind) and the use of merit pay and other incentives.
There have been studies that show smaller class sizes and newer buildings (both of which require higher funding to implement) lead to academic improvements. It should also be noted that many of the reform ideas that stray from the traditional format require greater funding.
It has been shown that some school districts do not use their funds in the most productive way. For example, according to a 2007 article in the Washington Post, the Washington, D.C. public school district spends $12,979 per student per year. This is the third highest level of funding per student out of the 100 biggest school districts in the United States. Despite this high level of funding, the school district provides outcomes that are lower than the national average. In reading and math, the district's students score the lowest among 11 major school districts—even when poor children are compared only with other poor children. 33% of poor fourth graders in the United States lack basic skills in math, but in Washington, D.C., it's 62%. According to a 2006 study by the Goldwater Institute, Arizona's public schools spend 50% more per student than Arizona's private schools. The study also says that while teachers constitute 72% of the employees at private schools, they make up less than half of the staff at public schools. According to the study, if Arizona's public schools wanted to be like private schools, they would have to hire approximately 25,000 more teachers, and eliminate 21,210 administration employees. The study also said that public school teachers are paid about 50% more than private school teachers.
In 1985 in Kansas City, Missouri, a judge ordered the school district to raise taxes and spend more money on public education. Spending was increased so much, that the school district was spending more money per student than any of the country's other 280 largest school districts.
According to a 1999 article, William J. Bennett, former U.S. Secretary of Education, argued that increased levels of spending on public education have not made the schools better, citing the following statistics:
Alternatives to public education
In the United States, Private schools (independent schools) have long been an alternative to public education for those with the ability to pay tuition. These include religious schools, preparatory and boarding schools, and schools based on alternative paradigms such as Montessori education. Over 4 million students, about one in twelve children attend religious schools in the United States, most of them Christian. Montessori pre- and primary school programs employ rigorously tested scientific theories of guided exploration which seek to embrace children's natural curiosity rather than, for instance, scolding them for falling out of rank.
Home education is favored by a growing number of parents who take direct responsibility for their children's education rather than enrolling them in local public schools seen as not meeting expectations.
Economists such as Nobel laureate Milton Friedman advocate school choice to promote excellence in education through competition and choice. A competitive "market" for schools eliminates the need to otherwise attempt a workable method of accountability for results. Public education vouchers permit guardians to select and pay any school, public or private, with public funds currently allocated to local public schools. The theory is that children's guardians will naturally shop for the best schools, much as is already done at college level.
Though appealing in theory, many reforms based on school choice have led to slight to moderate improvements—which some teachers' union members see as insufficient to offset the decreased teacher pay and job security. For instance, New Zealand's landmark reform in 1989, during which schools were granted substantial autonomy, funding was devolved to schools, and parents were given a free choice of which school their children would attend, led to moderate improvements in most schools. It was argued that the associated increases in inequity and greater racial stratification in schools nullified the educational gains. Others, however, argued that the original system created more inequity (due to lower income students being required to attend poorer performing inner city schools and not being allowed school choice or better educations that are available to higher income inhabitants of suburbs). Instead, it was argued that the school choice promoted social mobility and increased test scores especially in the cases of low income students. Similar results have been found in other jurisdictions. Though discouraging, the merely slight improvements of some school choice policies often seems to reflect weaknesses in the way that choice is implemented rather than a failure of the basic principle itself.
Critics of teacher tenure claim that the laws protect ineffective teachers from being fired, which can be detrimental to student success. Tenure laws vary from state to state, but generally they set a probationary period during which the teacher proves themselves worthy of the life long position. Probationary periods range from one to three years. Advocates for tenure reform often consider these periods too short to make such an important decision; especially when that decision is exceptionally hard to revoke. Due process restriction protect tenured teachers from being wrongfully fired; however these restrictions can also prevent administrators from removing ineffective or inappropriate teachers. A 2008 survey conducted by the US Department of Education found that, on average, only 2.1% of teachers are dismissed each year for poor performance.
In October 2010 Apple Inc. CEO Steve Jobs had a consequential meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama to discuss U.S. competitiveness and the nation's education system. During the meeting Jobs recommended pursuing policies that would make it easier for school principals to hire and fire teachers based on merit.
In 2012 tenure for school teachers was challenged in a California lawsuit called Vergara v. California. The primary issue in the case was the impact of tenure on student outcomes and on equity in education. On June 10, 2014, the trial judge ruled that California's teacher tenure statute produced disparities that " shock the conscience" and violate the equal protection clause of the California Constitution. On July 7, 2014, U.S. Secretary of EducationArne Duncan commented on the Vergara decision during a meeting with President Barack Obama and representatives of teacher's unions. Duncan said that tenure for school teachers "should be earned through demonstrated effectiveness" and should not be granted too quickly. Specifically, he criticized the 18-month tenure period at the heart of the Vergara case as being too short to be a "meaningful bar."
Barriers to reform
A study by the Fordham Institute found that some labor agreements with teachers' unions may restrict the ability of school systems to implement merit pay and other reforms. Contracts were more restrictive in districts with high concentrations of poor and minority students. The methodology and conclusions of the study have been criticized by teachers' unions.
Another barrier to reform is assuming that schools are like businesses—when in fact they are very different.
Legal barriers to reform are low in the United States compared to other countries: State and local governance of education creates "wiggle room for educational innovators" who can change local laws or move somewhere more favourable. Cultural barriers to reform are also relatively low, because the question of who should control education is still open.
Education for All
Main articles: Education For All and Education 2030 Agenda
Education 2030 Agenda refers to the global commitment of the Education for All movement to ensure access to basic education for all. It is an essential part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The roadmap to achieve the Agenda is the Education 2030 Incheon Declaration and Framework for Action, which outlines how countries, working with UNESCO and global partners, can translate commitments into action.
In other parts of the world, educational reform has had a number of different meanings. In Taiwan in the 1990s and first decade of the 21st century a movement tried to prioritize reasoning over mere facts, reduce the emphasis on central control and standardized testing. There was consensus on the problems. Efforts were limited because there was little consensus on the goals of educational reforms, and therefore on how to fix the problems. By 2003, the push for education reform had declined.
Education reform has been pursued for a variety of specific reasons, but generally most reforms aim at redressing some societal ills, such as poverty-, gender-, or class-based inequities, or perceived ineffectiveness. Current education trends in the United States represent multiple achievement gaps across ethnicities, income levels, and geographies. As McKinsey and Company reported in a 2009 analysis, “These educational gaps impose on the United States the economic equivalent of a permanent national recession.” Reforms are usually proposed by thinkers who aim to redress societal ills or institute societal changes, most often through a change in the education of the members of a class of people—the preparation of a ruling class to rule or a working class to work, the social hygiene of a lower or immigrant class, the preparation of citizens in a democracy or republic, etc. The idea that all children should be provided with a high level of education is a relatively recent idea, and has arisen largely in the context of Western democracy in the 20th century.
The "beliefs" of school districts are optimistic that quite literally "all students will succeed", which in the context of high school graduation examination in the United States, all students in all groups, regardless of heritage or income will pass tests that in the introduction typically fall beyond the ability of all but the top 20 to 30 percent of students. The claims clearly renounce historical research that shows that all ethnic and income groups score differently on all standardized tests and standards based assessments and that students will achieve on a bell curve. Instead, education officials across the world believe that by setting clear, achievable, higher standards, aligning the curriculum, and assessing outcomes, learning can be increased for all students, and more students can succeed than the 50 percent who are defined to be above or below grade level by norm referenced standards.
States have tried to use state schools to increase state power, especially to make better soldiers and workers. This strategy was first adopted to unify related linguistic groups in Europe, including France, Germany and Italy. Exact mechanisms are unclear, but it often fails in areas where populations are culturally segregated, as when the U.S. Indian school service failed to suppress Lakota and Navaho, or when a culture has widely respected autonomous cultural institutions, as when the Spanish failed to suppress Catalan.
Many students of democracy have desired to improve education in order to improve the quality of governance in democratic societies; the necessity of good public education follows logically if one believes that the quality of democratic governance depends on the ability of citizens to make informed, intelligent choices, and that education can improve these abilities.
Politically motivated educational reforms of the democratic type are recorded as far back as Plato in The Republic. In the United States, this lineage of democratic education reform was continued by Thomas Jefferson, who advocated ambitious reforms partly along Platonic lines for public schooling in Virginia.
Another motivation for reform is the desire to address socio-economic problems, which many people see as having significant roots in lack of education. Starting in the 20th century, people have attempted to argue that small improvements in education can have large returns in such areas as health, wealth and well-being. For example, in Kerala, India in the 1950s, increases in women's health were correlated with increases in female literacy rates. In Iran, increased primary education was correlated with increased farming efficiencies and income. In both cases some researchers have concluded these correlations as representing an underlying causal relationship: education causes socio-economic benefits. In the case of Iran, researchers concluded that the improvements were due to farmers gaining reliable access to national crop prices and scientific farming information.
Reforms can be based on bringing education into alignment with a society's core values. Reforms that attempt to change a society's core values can connect alternative education initiatives with a network of other alternative institutions.
Main article: Electronic learning
The movement to use computers more in education naturally includes many unrelated ideas, methods, and pedagogies since there are many uses for digital computers. For example, the fact that computers are naturally good at math leads to the question of the use of calculators in math education. The Internet's communication capabilities make it potentially useful for collaboration, and foreign language learning. The computer's ability to simulate physical systems makes it potentially useful in teaching science. More often, however, debate of digital education reform centers around more general applications of computers to education, such as electronic test-taking and online classes.
The idea of creating artificial intelligence led some computer scientists to believe that teachers could be replaced by computers, through something like an expert system; however, attempts to accomplish this have predictably proved inflexible. The computer is now more understood to be a tool or assistant for the teacher and students.
Harnessing the richness of the Internet is another goal. In some cases classrooms have been moved entirely online, while in other instances the goal is more to learn how the Internet can be more than a classroom.
Web-based international educational software is under development by students at New York University, based on the belief that current educational institutions are too rigid: effective teaching is not routine, students are not passive, and questions of practice are not predictable or standardized. The software allows for courses tailored to an individual's abilities through frequent and automatic multiple intelligences assessments. Ultimate goals include assisting students to be intrinsically motivated to educate themselves, and aiding the student in self-actualization. Courses typically taught only in college are being reformatted so that they can be taught to any level of student, whereby elementary school students may learn the foundations of any topic they desire. Such a program has the potential to remove the bureaucratic inefficiencies of education in modern countries, and with the decreasing digital divide, help developing nations rapidly achieve a similar quality of education. With an open format similar to Wikipedia, any teacher may upload their courses online and a feedback system will help students choose relevant courses of the highest quality. Teachers can provide links in their digital courses to webcast videos of their lectures. Students will have personal academic profiles and a forum will allow students to pose complex questions, while simpler questions will be automatically answered by the software, which will bring you to a solution by searching through the knowledge database, which includes all available courses and topics.
The 21st century ushered in the acceptance and encouragement of internet research conducted on college and university campuses, in homes, and even in gathering areas of shopping centers. Addition of cyber cafes on campuses and coffee shops, loaning of communication devices from libraries, and availability of more portable technology devices, opened up a world of educational resources. Availability of knowledge to the elite had always been obvious, yet provision of networking devices, even wireless gadget sign-outs from libraries, made availability of information an expectation of most persons. Cassandra B. Whyte researched the future of computer use on higher education campuses focusing on student affairs. Though at first seen as a data collection and outcome reporting tool, the use of computer technology in the classrooms, meeting areas, and homes continued to unfold. The sole dependence on paper resources for subject information diminished and e-books and articles, as well as on-line courses, were anticipated to become increasingly staple and affordable choices provided by higher education institutions according to Whyte in a 2002 presentation.
Digitally "flipping" classrooms is a trend in digital education that has gained significant momentum. Will Richardson, author and visionary for the digital education realm, points to the not-so-distant future and the seemingly infinite possibilities for digital communication linked to improved education. Education on the whole, as a stand-alone entity, has been slow to embrace these changes. The use of web tools such as wikis, blogs, and social networking sites is tied to increasing overall effectiveness of digital education in schools. Examples exist of teacher and student success stories where learning has transcended the classroom and has reached far out into society.
Creativity is of the utmost importance when improving education. The "creative teachers" must have the confidence through training and availability of support and resources. These creative teachers are strongly encouraged to embrace a person-centered approach that develops the psychology of the educator ahead or in conjunction with the deployment of machines. Creative teachers have been also been inspired through Crowd-Accelerated Innovation. Crowd-Accelerated Innovation has pushed people to transition between media types and their understanding thereof at record-breaking paces. This process serves as a catalyst for creative direction and new methods of innovation. Innovation without desire and drive inevitably flat lines.
Mainstream media continues to be both very influential and the medium where Crowd-Accelerated Innovation gains its leverage. Media is in direct competition with formal educational institutions in shaping the minds of today and those of tomorrow. [Buchanan, Rachel footnote] The media has been instrumental in pushing formal educational institutions to become savvier in their methods. Additionally, advertising has been (and continues to be) a vital force in shaping students and parents thought patterns.
Technology is a dynamic entity that is constantly in flux. As time presses on, new technologies will continue to break paradigms that will reshape human thinking regarding technological innovation. This concept stresses a certain disconnect between teachers and learners and the growing chasm that started some time ago. Richardson asserts that traditional classroom's will essentially enter entropy unless teachers increase their comfort and proficiency with technology.
Administrators are not exempt from the technological disconnect. They must recognize the existence of a younger generation of teachers who were born during the Digital Age and are very comfortable with technology. However, when old meets new, especially in a mentoring situation, conflict seems inevitable. Ironically, the answer to the outdated mentor may be digital collaboration with worldwide mentor webs; composed of individuals with creative ideas for the classroom.
Another viable addition to digital education has been blended learning. In 2009, over 3 million K-12 students took an online course, compared to 2000 when 45,000 took an online course. Blended learning examples include pure online, blended, and traditional education. Research results show that the most effective learning takes place in a blended format. This allows children to view the lecture ahead of time and then spend class time practicing, refining, and applying what they have previously learned.
Some of the methods and reforms have gained permanent advocates, and are widely utilized.
Many educators now believe that anything that more precisely meets the needs of the child will work better. This was initiated by Maria Montessori and is still utilized in Montessori schools. The teaching method must be teachable! This is a lesson from both Montessori and Dewey. This view now has very wide currency, and is used to select much of the curricula of teachers' colleges.
New programs based on modern learning theories that test individual learning, and teach to mastery of a subject have been proved by the Kentucky Education Reform Act (KERA) to be far more effective than group instruction with compromise schedules, or even class-size reduction.
Schools with limited resources, such as most public schools and most third-world and missionary schools, use a grammar-school approach. The evidence of Lancaster schools suggests using students as teachers. If the culture supports it, perhaps the economic discipline of the Lancaster school can reduce costs even further. However, much of the success of Lancaster's "school economy" was that the children were natives of an intensely mercantile culture.
In order to be effective, classroom instruction needs to change subjects at times near a typical student's attention span, which can be as frequently as every two minutes for young children. This is an important part of Marva Collins' method.
Substantial resources and time can be saved by permitting students to test out of classes. This also increases motivation, directs individual study, and reduces boredom and disciplinary problems.
To support inexpensive continuing adult education a community needs a free public library. It can start modestly as shelves in an attended shop or government building, with donated books. Attendants are essential to protect the books from vandalism. Adult education repays itself many times over by providing direct opportunity to adults. Free libraries are also powerful resources for schools and businesses.
A notable reform of the education system of Massachusetts occurred in 1993.
The current 'student voice' effort echoes past school reform initiatives focusing on parent involvement, community involvement, and other forms of participation in schools. However, it is finding a significant amount of success in schools because of the inherent differences: student voice is central to the daily schooling experience because students spend all day there. Many educators today strive for meaningful student involvement in their classrooms, while school administrators, school board members, and elected officials each lurch to hear what students have to say.
An increase in school enrolments from 40 to 60 percent is applauded as a success, not recorded as a violation of the right to education of the 40 percent of children who remain excluded from school.
-Katarina Tomasevski, former United Nations special rapporteur on the right to education, 2006
Across the world, more than 120 million children and adolescents are absent from class.
In recent years, many countries have been part of international and regional political drives to ensure that all children have access and complete education in the countries that lag behind the most. Such efforts have had some success, with tens of millions entering primary education, and more girls staying in school and pursuing secondary education, improving gender parity in more countries.
Yet despite these and other advances, warnings sounded by the UN and global policy experts indicate that the global progress in education has “left behind” millions of children and young people. More children and adolescents are at risk of dropping out of school, and many are at school facing unsuitable learning conditions.
Behind this failure stands governments, which bear responsibility for ensuring that no child or young person is without education, and lack of focus—both in implementation and in content—in development agendas on governments’ human rights obligations.
This has resulted in an “education deficit”—a shortfall between the educational reality that children experience around the world and what governments have promised and committed to through human rights treaties. This not only undermines the fundamental human right to education, but has real and dire consequences for global development, and entire generations of children.
The benefits of education to both children and broader society could not be clearer. Education can break generational cycles of poverty by enabling children to gain the life skills and knowledge needed to cope with today’s challenges. Education is strongly linked to concrete improvements in health and nutrition, improving children’s very chances for survival. Education empowers children to be full and active participants in society, able to exercise their rights and engage in civil and political life. Education is also a powerful protection factor: children who are in school are less likely to come into conflict with the law and much less vulnerable to rampant forms of child exploitation, including child labor, trafficking, and recruitment into armed groups and forces.
196 member states have adopted legal obligations towards all children in their territories, and countries that ratify specific international and regional conventions are legally bound to protect the right to education and to follow detailed parameters as to how to do so.
Based on research in over 40 countries, this report looks at the key barriers that threaten the right to education today, and the key ways that governments are failing to deliver on core aspects of their right to education obligations. These include ensuring that primary school education is free and compulsory and that secondary education is progressively free and accessible to all children; reducing costs related to education, such as transport; ensuring that schools are free of discrimination, including based on gender, race, and disability; and ensuring schools are free of violence and sexual abuse. It also looks at the main violations and abuses keeping children out of school, including those that occur in global crises, armed conflict—particularly when education is attacked by armed groups,—and forced displacement.
This report finds that many of the same governments that have signed on to development agendas and form part of global partnerships—including among the 16 champion countries that UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appointed in September 2012 to “lead by example” to promote education globally—are those that are also failing many of their school-aged children.
In the new era of sustainable development, where all countries are expected to implement a universal development agenda, all governments need to be held to account for ongoing human rights abuses affecting a significant part of their young population, as well as a failure to provide adequate or timely protections to which children are entitled under the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
The Education Deficit in Numbers
Weak government monitoring mechanisms, lack of zero-discrimination policies, lack of accountability for children who drop out of education, and unchecked power wielded by school officials as to who goes to school and who stays out are among the factors contributing to governments’ failures to ensure the right to quality education for children who have traditionally endured discrimination.
Moreover, a global push for universal primary education through development agendas has, in some cases, unintentionally led to less political and financial attention being paid to the right to secondary education, resulting in millions of adolescents being unable to continue their studies. As this report shows, these are children and adolescents who are at high risk of exploitation for child labor, early marriage or teenage pregnancy, as well as girls and young people with disabilities whose chance of receiving secondary education is already limited by systemic and discriminatory barriers.
Ending the Education Deficit
First and foremost, ending the education deficit means ensuring every child has a quality primary and secondary education—without the financial and systemic obstacles many face today—and that relevant governments tackle the numerous violations, abuses, or situations that keep children out of school. This in turn depends on political will to institute strong governance systems, including via the judiciary, to uphold and fulfill the right to education.
It also depends on international actors who set policy globally and engage in education through technical and international cooperation.
Donors, multilateral financial bodies—including the World Bank and the Global Partnership for Education,—and international agencies that help governments to implement ambitious education plans should recall their responsibilities to uphold human rights standards and not compromise on key abuses that leave children out of school. This is particularly the case with international actors working with governments unwilling to provide greater protections to minorities, refugees, or persons who have been made stateless; or in cases where governments do not allocate sufficient resources to underserved areas or particular groups of children, particularly children with disabilities.
The UN should continue to hold all governments to account for violations of the right to education. Globally, any champion country or government representative appointed to lead on global education issues must first abide by international human rights standards for all children in its territories and abroad, in cases where they also play a key role as donors, and be open to scrutiny by its own national civil society, as well as UN bodies reviewing its performance.
I. International Human Rights Standards
Right to Education
Education is a basic right enshrined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC)—the most widely ratified human rights treaty in history, ratified by all states except the United States—as well as in many other UN and regional treaties.International human rights law makes clear that all children have a right to free, compulsory, primary education, free from discrimination.State Parties should also ensure different forms of secondary education are available and accessible to every child, and take appropriate measures, such as the progressive introduction of free education and offering financial assistance in case of need.
State parties to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) must submit an action plan on how they will guarantee free and compulsory primary education to all children within two years of ratifying this treaty.
Right to Access Inclusive, Quality Education
The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) promotes “the goal of full inclusion” while at the same time considering “the best interests of the child.” Children with disabilities should be guaranteed equality in the entire process of their education. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the United Nations human rights agency, states that:
The right of persons with disabilities to receive education in mainstream schools is included in article 24 (2) (a), which states that no student can be rejected from general education on the basis of disability. As an anti-discrimination measure, the “no-rejection clause” has immediate effect and is reinforced by reasonable accommodation… forbidding the denial of admission into mainstream schools and guaranteeing continuity in education. Impairment based assessment to assign schools should be discontinued …. The legal framework for education should require every measure possible to avoid exclusion.
International law provides that persons with disabilities should access inclusive education on “an equal basis with others in the communities where they live,” and governments must provide reasonable accommodation of the individual’s requirements, as well as “effective individualized support measures in environments that maximize academic and social development.” The government must ensure that children are not excluded from the education system on the basis of their disability.
Duty to Ensure Reasonable Accommodation
The CRPD places an onus on governments to ensure that “reasonable accommodation of the individual’s requirements is provided” and that “persons with disabilities receive the support required, within the general education system, to facilitate their effective education.”
The CRPD defines “reasonable accommodation” as any “means necessary and appropriate modification and adjustments not imposing a disproportionate or undue burden, where needed in a particular case, to ensure to persons with disabilities the enjoyment or exercise on an equal basis with other of all human rights and fundamental freedoms.”
According to the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, a government’s duty to provide reasonable accommodation is “enforceable from the moment an individual with an impairment needs it in a given situation … in order to enjoy her or his rights on an equal basis in a particular context.”In assessing “available resources” to guarantee “reasonable accommodation,” governments should recognize that inclusive education is a necessary investment in education systems and does not have to be costly or involve extensive changes to infrastructure.
Quality of Education
According to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, “Every child has the right to receive an education of good quality which in turn requires a focus on the quality of the learning environment, of teaching and learning processes and materials, and of learning outputs.”
Under the Convention Against Discrimination in Education, states must “ensure that the standards of education are equivalent in all public educational institutions of the same level, and that the conditions relating to the quality of the education provided are also equivalent.”
The CRPD includes the right to access quality learning, which focuses and builds children’s abilities, and for children with disabilities to be provided with the level of support and effective individualized measures required to “facilitate their effective education.”
Progressive Realization of the Right to Education
Education, an economic, social, and cultural right, entails state obligations of both an immediate and progressive kind. This set of rights is subject to progressive realization, in recognition of the fact that states require sufficient resources and time to respect, protect, and fulfill these rights. However, according to the Committee for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, steps towards the Covenant’s goals must be taken “within a reasonably short time after the Covenant’s entry into force” and “such steps should be deliberate, concrete and targeted as clearly as possible towards meeting the obligations.” The Committee has also stressed that the Covenant imposes an obligation to “move as expeditiously and effectively as possible towards that goal.”
The OHCHR provides further clarification: “The treaties impose an immediate obligation to take appropriate steps towards the full realization of economic, social and cultural rights. A lack of resources, or periods of economic crisis, cannot justify inaction, retrogression in implementation or indefinite postponement of measures to implement these rights. States must demonstrate that they are making every effort to improve the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights, even when resources are scarce.”
International Cooperation and Assistance
The CRC and ICESCR refer to the need for international assistance and cooperation to support the progressive realization of human rights.
According to the OHCHR, “all Member States of the United Nations and United Nations agencies should respect and observe human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without discrimination in their international cooperation ... They should also respect the human rights obligations that the recipient country has accepted under international as well as national law. They should ensure that their cooperation will not undermine the recipient country’s efforts to realize human rights, including economic, social and cultural rights, and ideally facilitate and support such efforts.
III. Violations and Barriers Affecting the Right to Education
This serves as a grim reminder that the world has yet to fulfil its original promise to provide every children with a primary education by 2015.
— UNESCO, Global Education Monitoring Report, 2015
Millions of children have no access to education, or in some cases, interrupt their education, because of ongoing human rights abuses, and governments’ failures to provide adequate protections they are entitled to under the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) or to counter abuses perpetrated by state and non-state actors.
All children have a right to go to school, to have equal access to education at all levels, and to be guaranteed a quality education. While many governments have focused on legislating the right to primary education, the right to secondary education—both lower and higher—remains unprotected and unfulfilled in many countries.
Guaranteeing equal access to schools to all children satisfies one basic component of the right to education. However, without a quality education, children may leave schools unmotivated, illiterate, and unprepared for life after education. The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child underscores that “the key goal of education is the development of the individual child’s personality, talents and abilities, in recognition of the fact that every child has unique characteristics, interests, abilities, and learning needs.” Governments need to ensure that “no child leaves school without being equipped to face the challenges that he or she can expect to be confronted with in life.”
To make this happen, governments should put in place mechanisms to ensure education is widely available to all children on an equal and inclusive basis. As Kofi Annan, then-UN Secretary-General said in 2000: “More than buildings are required, however. Schools must be accessible, have qualified teachers and offer such amenities as textbooks and supplies for the poor.”
The following sections outline numerous human rights violations and key barriers to children being able to claim their right to education.
The Cost of Going to School
Most [students at] mainstream schools don’t have to pay. But for us, we have to pay school fees. Lots of parents who have children with disabilities can’t work—we have to take care of them 24 hours. Schools write to ask why we haven’t paid but they don’t understand our situation. The schools are away from our locations. All the [care dependency] grant is going towards the fees, so there’s no money for transport… and our children have equal rights?
—Father of an eight-year-old boy with autism, Johannesburg, October 2014
The Universal Declaration on Human Rights of 1948 includes the right to free education “in the elementary and fundamental stages,” and reinforces the compulsory nature of elementary education.
Since then, most governments have accepted, through their ratification of various human rights treaties, a legal obligation to ensure primary education is free and compulsory, and to gradually make secondary education free and available to all. According to the World Policy Analysis Center, a global social protection research and data initiative, only six countries in the world charge formal tuition fees at primary level, 22 charge fees in lower secondary, and 35 in upper secondary.
Fees in Primary Schools
While many governments have adopted policy measures to expand free primary education to all children,some have not translated their international obligations into national legislation, which binds governments to provide free primary education to all children in their territories. The lack of political will to move towards fully “free” education, and to oversee an adequate implementation at the local level, has a very significant impact on children from the poorest families or children who belong to traditionally excluded groups.
South Africa’s constitutional protections of the right to basic education have long been used as a progressive model for other constitutions. Although the government has taken numerous steps to remove financial barriers for the poorest students, primary and secondary education are not automatically free in constitutional obligations or education legislation. While the majority of the school population can access “no fee schools” or fee waivers, Human Rights Watch research found that many thousands of children with disabilities who go to public schools are expected to pay significantly high school fees and pay for other conditional expenses which children without disabilities do not pay in public schools. This is a discriminatory practice.
Fees in Secondary Schools
I passed [the exam] to go to secondary school. My mother did not have money to send me to secondary school. She then forced me to get married saying it was improper for me to stay at home.
—Amber T. (pseudonym), 18, married at 15, Kahama, Tanzania, April 2014
Governments have an international obligation to make secondary education accessible and available to all children, and to progressively make secondary education free or take measures to fund students requiring financial assistance.According to UNESCO, a growing number of young adolescents are also out of school, with the global total reaching almost 65 million in 2013. Adolescents of lower secondary school age—ranging from 12 to16 years—are almost twice as likely to be out of school as primary school-age children, with 1 out of 6 not enrolled.
Yet, many governments have struggled to expand the availability of secondary education in line with demand from primary school graduates, and have not built enough infrastructure to cater to the increased demand for further levels of education. In countries like Tanzania or Bangladesh, Human Rights Watch has found that access to secondary education is often limited through national assessments in the form of primary school exams, which filter the number of students passing through to secondary education, and school fees.
Families often incur further financial obligations when their children proceed on to secondary education. Limited availability of secondary schools in rural or remote areas means students may have to pay to travel very long distances on a daily basis or rent rooms or pay for boarding facilities in bigger towns.
Parents may also prevent girls from accessing further levels of education due to costs and safety concerns when provision of education is limited. Human Rights Watch has found a strong correlation between child rights violations, such as the early marriage of girls under the age of 18, or the worst forms of child labor, and the expenses associated with secondary education.
Bangladesh has the highest rate of child marriage of girls under the age of 15 in the world, with 29 percent of girls in Bangladesh married before age 15, according to the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF).Successive inaction by the central government and complicity by local officials allows child marriage, including of very young girls, to continue unchecked, while Bangladesh’s high vulnerability to natural disasters puts more girls at risk as their families are pushed into the poverty that helps drive decisions to have girls married. Additionally, despite the government’s pledge to end child marriage by 2041, Bangladesh’s Prime Minister attempted to lower the age of marriage for girls from 18 to 16 years old.
Many girls interviewed by Human Rights Watch dropped out of secondary school because of fees and associated expenses and married at a young age. The government’s nationwide female stipend program for primary and secondary education to further girls’ education has resulted in the gross enrollment rate of girls at secondary level rising to 53 percent. However, even the smallest associated costs in secondary education, including exam fees and private coaching, mean children from many of the poor families cannot attend school and are vulnerable to early marriage.
Khadija, 35, has 4 children, and decided to take her 13-year-old daughter out of school: “I can’t pay so she will have to quit.” Her family lives in two rooms and survives through Khadija’s husband doing agricultural work and any other work they can find. “She studied until class five, but now she needs to go to high school. The high school charges 2,500 taka [$32] in registration fees. I would also have to pay for private tutoring and books.”
Indirect Costs and Expenses
There are a lot of parents who would send their children to school if it weren’t for these costs…there are a lot of people who can’t even afford a 10 taka [$0.13] exam fee.
-Nongovernmental organization worker in Laxmipur, Bangladesh, October 2014
The removal of formal school fees significantly contributes to opening the school doors to the majority of children. However, the associated costs of education in primary and secondary schools result in direct financial barriers—such as transport costs and payments for books, uniforms, stationery and equipment, exam fees or parent teacher association fees, and personal assistants (for children with disabilities). Indirect costs and expenses tend to be much higher than school fees, and “constitute disincentives to the enjoyment of the right and may jeopardize its realization.”
Although the impact of these additional financial barriers are often blamed on poverty, governments have to fulfill an “unequivocal requirement” to ensure education is “free of charge” and to take measures to eliminate financial barriers.Such measures should begin at the school level, where school officials and teachers collect additional fees and in many cases, punish or stop children from attending school who have not paid additional charges.
In Bangladesh, Morocco, and Tanzania, Human Rights Watch found that some indirect costs exclude poor children as a result of questionable practices by teachers. Abuses where teachers do not teach students compulsory subjects during class hours, but instead charge students and their families to teach these classes outside of school, remains widespread and impacts on children’s equal access to the same standard of education.
Endah, a child domestic worker in Indonesia, explained to Human Rights Watch why she started work at age 15:
I couldn't continue school so I decided to get work. [My last year of school was] the first semester of the first year of junior high. I really wanted to continue studying, but I really didn't have the money. [The school fee] was 15,000 rupiah [$1.50] per month. But what I really couldn't afford was the 'building fee' and the uniform. It was 500,000 rupiah [$50] for the building fee and uniform…. Then each semester we had to buy books.
In the Democratic Republic of Congo, Human Rights Watch found that many children living and begging on the streets may be driven by their parents’ or guardians’ inability to pay school fees and other related costs of primary education. For example, Peter, in Lubumbashi, told us:
I had to leave school after I finished the third grade. My parents could no longer afford the fees, so I started coming to the streets to look for something to do. Life here on the streets is hard, there is never enough to eat, and I am hungry. I would like to return to school and continue my studies.
These additional—and often unofficial but obligatory—expenses lead to inconsistent attendance of children and eventual drop-outs, particularly of girls and children with disabilities, and particularly impact on secondary school-going students who often pay higher fees and expenses.In many cases, they become disincentives for poorer families who are no longer able to pay for their children’s expenses.
Parents or guardians may consider forcing children into harmful labor practices or early marriage to offset the costs of their education.In Nepal, Ram Kumari Chaudhary, 16, studied to class six and married at age 14. She told Human Rights Watch: “My father stopped my schooling because he could not afford my fees, stationery, and uniform.”
Discrimination in Schools
The teacher tells us to sit on the other side. If we sit with the others, she scolds us and asks us to sit separately… The teacher doesn’t sit with us because she says ‘we’re dirty.’ The other children also call us dirty everyday so sometimes we get angry and hit them.
—Pankaj (pseudonym), a child belonging to the Ghasiya tribal community, Uttar Pradesh, India, April 2013
Me and my cousin are the only two Syrians in the class. The rest of the students have ‘ganged up’ on us and are saying we speak a lot, that we misbehave. The teacher sent us to the back of the class. All teachers treat me badly because I’m Syrian. When one of the teachers asks a Jordanian girl and she answers the question then the teacher says ‘Bravo!’ When I answer, I get nothing. Once, going up the stairs with a Jordanian girl, I was told off and asked to go back to the line and wait until everybody went off.
—Mariam (pseudonym), 11, Al-Zarqa, Jordan, October 2015
Globally branded as children who have been “left behind”or “the hardest to reach,” many children have been consistently denied an education because of pervasive discriminatory beliefs or practices. On every continent, children suffer direct and indirect discrimination based on their gender, race, ethnicity, disability, religion, health status, or sexual orientation—or a combination of all—on a daily basis. Many of these children first face the harsh realities of the outside world when they reach school where looking, acting, or feeling different often means ridicule, harassment, and at times, abuse at the hands of classmates, teachers, and others in schools.
According to the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights—an independent body of experts overseeing the human rights treaty applicable to this set of rights, including education—discrimination constitutes “any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference or other differential treatment that is directly or indirectly based on the prohibited grounds of discriminationand which has the intention or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise [of rights] on an equal footing.”
UNESCO’s Convention against Discrimination in Education—ratified by over 100 countries—also provides strong obligations on governments to eliminate any form of discrimination, whether in law, policy, or practice, which could affect the realization of the right to education. Under the Convention, states must “ensure that the standards of education are equivalent in all public educational institutions of the same level, and that the conditions relating to the quality of the education provided are also equivalent.”
In addition to removing any forms of direct discrimination against students, governments should also ensure indirect discrimination does not occur as a result of laws, policies, or practices which may have the effect of disproportionately impacting on the right to education of children who require further accommodation, or whose circumstances may not be the same as those of the majority school population.This is particularly the case with children with disabilities globally, or children belonging to minorities, such as the Roma, who may be placed in segregated or specialized schools in countries like the Czech Republic or Bosnia and Herzegovina, or many Kurdish children who are blocked from learning in their mother tongue in Turkey.
Despite the numerous specific commitments to ensure that boys and girls have an equal right to education, adopted or endorsed by governments through special global initiatives, girls continue to face unique gender-specific barriers.These will be outlined in a separate section.
Children Belonging to Ethnic, Religious or Language Minorities
The lack of acknowledgment of or dedicated action to remove direct or indirect forms of discrimination experienced by particular groups of children from minority groups continues to affect access to education for millions of children.
Some government continue to enforce discriminatory policies within their education systems.These policies often relate to the prohibition of ethnic or cultural practices or languages, or may lead to the separation of children into different education systems, according to their ethnicity, race, or belief.
In a number of cases, persistent discrimination in schools—by school officials or teachers—may lead to drop-outs or lower school performance. In Nepal, for example, Human Rights Watch found that teachers adhere to social or cultural traditions which perpetuate discrimination in classrooms. Sunita married a classmate of a different caste at the age of 15. They decided to elope prompted by the harassment they faced in school. “The teachers would call me out of class and say, ‘He’s lower caste—you shouldn’t talk with him or be seen with him,’” Sunita said. “They used to beat me with sticks and pull me out of morning assembly and beat me in front of my friends. They said, ‘We’re doing it for her own good because she’s going around with a lower class boy.’”
In 2001, Human Rights Watch found that in Israel, Palestinian Arab and Bedouin children, as well as Palestinian children in East Jerusalem, faced discriminatory access to quality education relative to Jewish Israeli children. Even today, schools predominantly catering to Palestinian Arab and Bedouin children receive less funding, and are often overcrowded, understaffed, and sometimes unavailable. Palestinian children in East Jerusalem suffer through grave shortage of classrooms and adequate school infrastructure, and are subjected to security barriers and checkpoints. In 2011, Israel’s Supreme Court ruled that a shortage of quality constituted a violation of the constitutional right to education for students in East Jerusalem.
In India, the government adopted the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act in 2009. The Act guarantees free and compulsory education to all children aged 6 to 14, and makes it mandatory for government schools to provide free books and uniforms in government schools, while private schools are required to provide at least 25 percent free seats for those from weaker sections and disadvantaged groups.
However, discrimination against children from economically and socially marginalized communities, such as the so-called lower castes, tribal groups, and Muslims, by school authorities plays a significant part in children’s irregular attendance and low retention rates. Human Rights Watch research shows how teachers ask Dalit (formerly known as “untouchables”) children to sit separately in classrooms, or to wait for their free school lunches only after all the other students have had theirs. Teachers often continue to make insulting remarks about Muslim and tribal students, and Human Rights Watch found that village authorities would make efforts to encourage parents to send their girls to school when they were kept away by their families.
Children with Disabilities
We tried to put him in a [mainstream] school but they said they couldn’t put him in that school because he has disabilities. The school said that he was naughty. Because of Down syndrome he isn’t like other children so they [said they] can’t teach him.
—Thandi, mother of an 8-year-old boy with Down Syndrome, South Africa, November 2014
Subjects such as physics and chemistry were missing. When we asked to study more things, the staff members cited our diagnosis: profound mental retardation. We were not thinking about our diagnosis. We just wanted to learn something new.
—Anton K. (pseudonym), 21, diagnosed with ‘Profound Mental Retardation’, Russia, June 2013
In many countries, children with disabilities continue to be discriminated against and “disproportionately” denied their right to education compared with children without disabilities.
Human Rights Watch research indicates that many governments continue to have a strong focus on specialized, separate education for children with disabilities, with limited meaningful inclusion in mainstream schools. This has often led to significant tension on what type of education is best for children with very different types of disabilities.
Inclusive education focuses on promoting accessibility, identifying and removing barriers to learning, and changing practices and attitudes in mainstream schools to accommodate the diverse learning needs of individual students. Despite a global push to ensure schools are “universally designed”—or conform to inclusive standards of building which take into account mobility, access, and other requirements—classrooms, toilets, and school buildings remain inaccessible for children with disabilities.
Rather than investing in more effective and cost-efficient changes to promote inclusive education in existing schools, Human Rights Watch has found that governments seeking to increase enrollment rates for children with disabilities focus on building costly special schools which cater to smaller numbers of children with disabilities, often grouping children by types of disabilities. In Lebanon, for example, where there is limited inclusion of children with disabilities in education and many remain out of school, the government announced plans to build 60 new specialized schools for children with learning disabilities in 2016.
Moreover, governments do not always implement “reasonable accommodation”—a key legal requirement under the CRPD to ensure schools accommodate children’s needs and do not discriminate against them—in ways that facilitate children’s accessibility or inclusion. The burden is often on children and families to adapt to whatever service or type of education is available, or to drop out of school where schools do not provide additional services.
In Nepal, children with disabilities represent a substantial group of the primary school-aged children who remain out of school. An estimated 85 percent of all out-of-school children in Nepal have disabilities. The Nepalese government has adopted an inclusive education policy, but it has not done enough to ensure that children with disabilities attend school. The enrollment of children with disabilities in primary and secondary education continued to decline in 2014, despite government efforts which increased school scholarships for children with disabilities, developed a special curriculum for children with intellectual disabilities, and established a team tasked with developing a new national inclusive education policy.
According to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), “Inclusive education systems are designed to provide for a diverse constituency of students.”
In dealing with specific individual needs of students, “an inclusive system would respond by reviewing its practice to determine whether the gaps might be addressed systemically or through a reasonable accommodation measure. A reasonable accommodation fund should be set up to address the gaps.”
Even when children with disabilities are in school, their education is often of poor quality. In China, Nepal, India, Russia, and South Africa, Human Rights Watch found that children with disabilities are affected by their teachers’ lack of knowledge, training, skills and motivation; and an absence of individualized planning and learning. In many cases, pchildren with disabilities felt their teachers paid limited attention to their educational development, assuming they would not be able to learn or progress within school. In many cases, mainstream schools do not receive additional budgets to accommodate children with disabilities, or to implement adequate measures to make schools more accessible.
Institutionalization of Children with Disabilities
In Greece, India, Russia, Japan, and Serbia, among many other countries, the harmful practice of institutionalizing children with disabilities continues, further isolating children from their communities, exposing them to violence and abuse in closed institutions, and depriving them of their right to education. The lack of education programs in state institutions also severely impacts the ability of children and young adults with disabilities to study in schools and proceed to universities or technical or vocational colleges, and to feel included in their communities when leaving these institutions.
In India, the involuntary admission and arbitrary detention of girls and women with psychosocial or intellectual disabilities in mental hospitals and residential care institutions significantly limits their right to education, despite national legislation which protects the right to education and makes it compulsory. Girls interviewed by Human Rights Watch were often denied their right to leave the institution to go to school, and those who did attend school often received an inferior education. According to a representative of a local Child Welfare Committee, girls with disabilities in these institutions, “are not being taught anything. There is no dignity, no engagement. Nothing is being done for their self-esteem.”
Violence and Abuse in Schools
They would beat me when the teacher couldn’t see them, and my teacher didn’t know so wasn’t stopping it. My father visited the school director to complain, and the director said, ‘You should stop sending her to school if you’re worried about it.’ But my dad said I needed to study, so the director then told me not to interact with the other kids. I have no friends. It was difficult.… I didn’t enjoy anything about school this year. My teacher tried to scold the other kids, but they never stopped. They’d chant at me, ‘Syrian, Syrian,’ curse at me, and make fun of me for being older than them. In Syria, I loved school. I had friends. I loved learning. I miss my school in Syria very much.
—Fatima, 12, Turgutlu, Turkey, June 2015
School-based violence, including bullying, deeply affects children’s experience in schools. Violence within or near schools undermines children’s ability to learn, puts their physical and psychological wellbeing at risk, and often causes them to drop out of school entirely. According to the UN Girls’ Education Initiative, approximately 246 million girls and boys around the world experience school-related violence each year.
The Convention on the Rights of the Child mandates governments to take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social, and educational means to protect children from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury, abuse, or negligence, among others.
In 2014, UN member states committed, “to take all appropriate measures to prevent and protect children, including in school, from any form of violence, including forms of bullying, by promptly responding to such acts, and to provide appropriate support to children affected by and involved in bullying.”
Sexual Violence and Abuse In and Around Schools
In many countries, sexual abuse and exploitation perpetrated by teachers and school staff, students, or adults providing school services is common. Sexual abuse can happen in school toilets, classrooms, and staffrooms, on the way to and from school, and in teachers’ houses.
Adolescent girls may also be exposed to sexual exploitation for grades, which may include mainly transactional encounters such as good reports or good marks in exchange for sexual acts, or sexual relations as payment for school fees or supplies.
In Tanzania, Ana, a 16-year-old girl from Mwanza, who dropped out of secondary school as a result of the sexual harassment she experienced, told us:
In many countries, a pervasive culture of silence remains in schools, leading to insufficient accountability for perpetrators of sexual assault or violence against students. In South Africa, where Human Rights Watch found that sexual violence was a pervasive practice in many schools across the country, the very low rates of investigation and prosecution of perpetrators of sexual violence against school-going children have contributed to the widespread violation of girls’ rights in and around school. In Tanzania, nongovernmental organizations focused on child protection told Human Rights Watch they struggle with justice at the school level, particularly when families of a child survivor of sexual violence often decide to settle for compensation from the family of the perpetrator to avoid stigma against the family.
Girls’ negative experiences of sexual abuse and ongoing harassment in school will drive them out of school. Yet, too often teachers and school personnel who abuse children remain in schools. The lack of action to suspend, investigate, and remove teachers who abuse school children acts as a barrier for many girls, and indicates the lack of commitment to justice at the school level. Moreover, the absence of child protection mechanisms accessible to children at the school level makes it difficult, if not impossible, for children and their families to seek redress.
Enforcing school safeguards, sensitizing male and female teachers, and creating space for child and adolescent-friendly reporting to relevant school authorities and the police should be strengthened in all countries where children experience ongoing violence and abuse in schools.
Compulsory Pregnancy and Virginity Testing
When we find a pregnant pupil in school, we call a school board meeting where we agree to expel the pupil.
—Head teacher, secondary school in Tanzania, August 2014
Under the guise of schools’ responsibility to monitor the upkeep of moral standards, many adolescent girls are routinely subjected to compulsory pregnancy tests in schools, and in some cases, may be subjected to humiliating, degrading, and unscientific virginity testing which has been condemned by international organizations, such as the World Health Organization.
School officials are allowed to perform such tests on site, including groping students’ abdomens, or often identify girls who are ‘at risk’ of becoming pregnant and refer them to nearby hospitals for urine tests. In schools, mandatory pregnancy testing can contribute to adolescent girls dropping out of school to avoid any humiliation or stigma.