From the TUC

DFID’s new education strategy: tough on ignorance but not tough enough on the causes of ignorance

03 Mar 2010, by in International, Working Life

The Department for International Development (DFID) issues today its new education strategy, designed in particular to educate the 72 million children who currently don’t go to primary school, and the 300-400 million who get inadequate schooling. There are welcome proposals to build at least 15,000 classrooms a year; train at least 130,000 teachers a year (although the world needs another 10.3 million teachers by 2015); and raise DFID spending on education to over £1 billion a year.

But the strategy is almost all about the supply of education places and the quality of teaching – and access and quality are simply not the reason so many children currently don’t get an education. To tackle that would require a challenge to child labour: and as so often, DFID ignores the labour standards element of poverty reduction.

The ILO estimates that there are 218 million children in work – over 100 million of them girls, as the strategy acknowledges in its only reference to the issue of child labour. They won’t be lured into education by a newly built classroom or a new teacher. DFID needs a strategy for abolishing child labour in the countries where it works, in line with ILO conventions it says it supports, or it will fail to achieve its laudable goal of quality basic education for all.

There are, in its 53 pages, a lot of good proposals (not all about primary or secondary schooling, but skills training and higher education too) and a genuine commitment to attain the Millenium Development Goals for education. The level of detail (especially on funding) is impressive and will be helpful in keeping DFID to its commitments. But the gaps aren’t all just minor elisions that couldn’t be fitted in.

One other glaring omission is the role of teacher and other education unions. It’s obviously welcome news that DFID understand the need for more teachers, although one of the case studies suggesting that contract teachers are cheaper than permanent employees won’t go down well with the profession, and the scale of the challenge is daunting (and along with teachers, other staff are needed to make education for all a reality).  DFID plan to train 650,000 new teachers by 2015 but the world needs 15 times that many, not all of whom can be trained up by other rich country development agencies. But to put DFID’s strategy into action will require engaged allies, and education unions have a key part to play. There is a welcome reference to working with teacher unions to develop national teacher development plans, underpinned by teacher audits, but much more could be done.

Teacher unions will also be looking to ensure that the positive proposals on quality translate into proper training for the teachers supposed to deliver the strategy – you can’t give kids a quality education if the training standards don’t match up. Unqualified, underqualified teachers or even ‘pupil’ teachers won’t be good enough.