Inclusive, equitable lifelong learning for all

Virginia Muwanigwa Gender Protocol
AS the 2015 date for reviewing progress in meeting the Sadc Gender Protocol targets approaches, education and training have come under the spotlight not just in southern Africa but at the continental and international levels. This is more clearly shown in the content of the SDGs expected to be adopted by the UN General Assembly this September. SD Goal 4 on education commits, by 2030, to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and to promote lifelong learning opportunities for all. Several targets under this goal seek to deliver both academic and life skills.

This is expected to begin with early childhood development and progress through primary, secondary and tertiary education opportunities. The focus on not just academic but technical and vocational education is in recognition that most adults in the Sadc region are earning their living not through jobs based on educational qualifications, but through skills learnt by other means.

With the formal employment market only able to absorb less than 20 percent on average, more attention is being given to preparing people for entrepreneurship. The first target seeks to “. . . ensure that all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education leading to relevant and effective learning outcomes.’’

Assessment of progress within Sadc countries using Sadc Gender Protocol Article 14 on Education and Training shows that a plethora of laws and policies have been adopted to promote equal access to and retention in primary, secondary, tertiary, vocational and non-formal education.

By 2030, world leaders are committing to “ensure that all girls and boys have access to quality early childhood development, care and pre-primary education so that they are ready for primary education”. Where in the past pre-primary education was not seen as a requisite, contemporary discourse shows that it is at those early stages that a child is moulded and their perspectives shaped.

This has resulted in the proliferation of crèches and or nursery schools that are clamouring to provide the first socialisation outside of the family and household. A challenge remains that of ensuring standards and regulation of the sector.

Statistics on gender parity at the lower levels reveal that this has largely been achieved. However, disparities largely remain on affordable quality technical, vocational and tertiary education, including university. Except for the vocations traditionally associated with drawing more girls, the situation remains that most higher education facilities have more boys.

The SDGs hope to increase the number of youth and adults who have relevant skills, including technical and vocational skills, for employment, decent jobs and entrepreneurship, in 15 years time. This is in line with current labour market which is largely informal. That most students being spewed by the education system into the labour market are failing to find jobs has also catalysed interest in nurturing entrepreneurship. This, it is hoped, will also create jobs at a comparatively small scale.

Amplification of the calls for social inclusion has resulted in more visibility of persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples, and children in vulnerable situations. This has broadened the narrative seeking to eliminate gender disparities in education and ensure equal access to all levels of education and vocational training for vulnerable groups, within and among women and men.

With the formal provision of life skills now clearly one of the priorities within the education sector, by 2030, the SDGs seek to have all youth and targeted percentage of adults, both men and women, achieve literacy and numeracy. This ensures that people will be able to at least read and write in this world which expects one to do so, if they are to be recognised as a productive adult.

While education is mostly associated with literacy and numeracy, its wider scope includes the expectation that people acquire adequate information, knowledge and skills to interface with their surroundings.

It has been noted that while development is welcome and shows advancement, in some cases, this has led to unsustainable use of resources at the expense of future generations. Climate change discourse, for example, has related pollution from industrialisation and carbon footprint of too many vehicles on the roads.

This should have inspired the target under education goal to ensure all learners acquire knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development, including among others through education for sustainable development and sustainable lifestyles, human rights, gender equality, promotion of a culture of peace and non-violence, global citizenship, and appreciation of cultural diversity and of culture’s contribution to sustainable development.

This target in essence challenges the world to find a balance in the ecosystem that defines extraction, production and consumption and the socio-economic, political and cultural relations prevailing, if the interest of future generations is to be protected. This balance includes embracing but managing diversity in all its forms.

The SDGs can therefore borrow from the Sadc Gender Protocol which sought to facilitate adoption of gender sensitive educational policies and programmes addressing gender stereotypes in education and gender based violence, amongst others.

The drive for not just accessible but quality education has seen the inclusion of a sub-target to build and upgrade education facilities that are child, disability and gender sensitive and provide safe, non-violent, inclusive and effective learning environments for all.

This refers to not just physical access, but as the target cites, the psychosocial issues that need to be addressed to not exclude anyone. Gone are the days where disability was viewed as inability as efforts have been made to adjust societal perspectives and ensure inclusion. That we now have special Olympics and Paralympics at a global level is testimony to the principle of not leaving anyone behind. However, this requires extensive social transformation as media reports still show that some parents give up on or ostracise children with disabilities.

The proliferation of access to information that comes with technology in the global village has considerably expanded opportunities for children and those seeking higher education in the developing world. It is not unheard of that a student who finishes high school in the most remote areas of Zimbabwe, can through access to internet and email, find themselves in a university across the world.

Thus, the sub-target, by 2020, to increase “. . . globally the number of scholarships for developing countries…and African countries to enrol in higher education, including vocational training, ICT, technical, engineering and scientific programmes in developed . . . and other developing countries” seeks to leverage on this trend.

Lessons learnt in past initiatives to improve access to quality education are that efforts should also be equally put to increasing availability and supply of qualified teachers. Within the SDGs, qualified teachers are expected to be supplied, including through international cooperation for teacher training in developing countries. However, it should be noted that investment in local teacher training is just as important.

The challenge lies not in a shortage of laws and or policies, but on implementation. Every year, budget allocations fall short of matching aspirations guaranteed in these instruments, resulting in continued deference of actions to ensure realisation.

Virginia Muwanigwa is a gender activist and chairperson of the Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe. She is also the director of the Humanitarian Information Facilitation Centre (HIFC).

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