Setting Ethical Standards for Global Education

Secondary education – not “basic education” – is the pathway out of poverty and exploitation

On Friday 12th July 2013, Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani schoolgirl who was shot in the head in October 2012 while on a school bus, addressed hundreds of young people at the United Nations Youth Assembly. Malala is the new face of girls’ education and July 12th, her sixteenth birthday was declared Malala Day at the UN.

“Let us pick up our books and our pens. They are our most powerful weapons. One teacher, one book, one pen can change the world.”

In her speech, attended by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon who praised Malala for her courage and determination and former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown who now serves as the UN Special Envoy for Global Education, Malala called upon all governments to ensure “free compulsory education for every child all over the world.”

The world has a new hero in Malala who now attends secondary school in Birmingham, England. We salute Malala and her supportive parents for their moral victory over violence, standing for peace and advocating for girls’ education and universal education for all girls and boys around the world. We stand with Malala and her family. Girls and women must be protected from violence the world over.

However, it is important to emphasize that threats and acts of violence are not the reasons hundreds of millions of girls and children around the world never become educated. The major obstacle to the education of the majority of girls and children in the developing world is poverty

While some believe that eradicating poverty will lead to a fully educated society, we think that poverty will not be eradicated until a critical mass of society first becomes fully educated. In other words, it takes an educated society to eradicate poverty. As Julius Nyerere, the former president of Tanzania pointed out: “Education is not a way to escape poverty. It is a way of fighting it.”

So what does it mean to become educated, especially in the context of the developing world where, for instance, in sub-Saharan Africa, the majority of people live in poverty. We believe this question is too little discussed and there is a reason: there are no global standards for education.

Right now, because there are no global standards for education of the world’s children, we are reduced to setting goals. Goal setting is an important way of establishing benchmarks and measuring progress, but what the goals are should be governed by a set of ethical standards. In determining what those ethical standards should be, there needs to be a broader conversation about education of the world’s children who are drowning in poverty.

To its credit, the United Nations has taken the lead on that conversation through the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDG). The UN is a powerful force for good through its frontline agencies that address the health, education, cultural, rehabilitation and safety needs of millions of children, families and communities throughout the world who are victimized by hunger, war, poverty, disease and natural disasters.

The United Nations Millennium Development Goal (MDG) on education is to achieve “universal primary education” for all children everywhere.

We believe that this goal falls far short of the education needs of the world’s children, their families and communities in the 21st century. The goal should be universal secondary education, not primary education. There needs to be a conversation that shifts the goal from basic or primary education to secondary education. Moreover, there needs to be an additional conversation that establishes ethical standards for education of the world’s children.

Setting Ethical Standards for Global Education

Ethical standards should be established regarding the quality and levels of education required by the world’s children.

Setting ethical standards for services required by civil society is not a unique notion. It is the norm. For instance, the legal, accounting, banking and healthcare professions have established ethical standards by which they are governed.

Lawyers are governed by ethical codes of professional responsibility which are similar around the world. Lawyers may not violate the attorney-client privilege, for example. Legal codes of ethics govern how lawyers manage client’s funds and set the standards for professional competence. Without ethical standards, the legal profession would not be a profession. Through ethical standards, clients and society know what to expect from lawyers through ethical rules shaped by public-minded professional associations, and the rules are enforceable.

Likewise, accountants and their firms, bankers and financial institutions, doctors, nurses and hospitals are governed by ethical and professional standards that have been established by professional organisations with the rights of society in mind. These ethical standards are globally uniform and enforceable.

It is long overdue that the education profession through its professional associations set ethical standards that apply to the education of the world’s children.

Ethical standards for education will create ethical frameworks, codes and rules that govern the quality of education and the levels of education required by the world’s children to reach their potential and become economically and socially empowered through academic, vocational and technical proficiency, social and personal development.

We believe that professional education associations would set the completion of secondary education, not primary education, as the ethical standard for the world’s children.

Note: Setting ethical standards for education of the world’s children includes children in developed as well as developing countries. In many developed countries, disadvantaged, underserved children hailing from marginalized communities are not all doing well in their education journeys. Despite the fact that secondary school education is free in developed countries, many children growing up in poverty and in historically marginalized and neglected communities drop out of school, many of whom wind up in prison and addicted. While these issues are more comprehensive than the nature of the education systems, setting ethical standards for the quality of education and levels of education for children in developed countries will contribute to solutions and their educational needs. In other words, setting ethical standards for education will benefit children, their families and communities in both developed and developing countries.

Pushing the envelope for secondary education

Despite the strong evidence that “basic education” or primary school alone does not meet the educational and social development needs of the world’s children and youth in the 21st century, the conversation to shift mindsets from primary or basic education to completion of secondary school needs to rise from its current whisper to a strong, unified voice.

We believe the UN Millennium Development Goal on education should change from “achieve universal primary education” to “complete universal secondary education.”

Quality primary education is of course an important pathway to secondary education and as an educational foundation, powerful in its own right. However, primary school is simply not enough education and socialization for the world’s children in the 21st century, nor does it serve as a barrier to exploitation. In the 21st century, secondary education needs to be the bottom line goal.

Completing secondary school in the developing world is a game-changer
The benefits of girls’ and boys’ secondary education are well known:

  • Social and economic empowerment
  • Personal development and transformation of youth
  • Greatly reduced exposure to killer diseases, including HIV/AIDS
  • Increased access to health services
  • Improved family planning and reproductive health
  • Reduced infant mortality
  • Children who complete secondary school are far more likely to send their children to secondary school, breaking cycles and syndromes of poverty
  • Children who complete secondary school are far less likely to be exploited as child labour, in child marriage or human trafficking. These ills occur mostly to children who do not complete secondary school
  • Completing secondary school is a pathway to higher education, including technical, certificate, diploma and degree levels

Why do the majority of children in sub-Saharan Africa not complete secondary school?

For most children and families, the costs are prohibitive. In most sub-Saharan African countries, secondary education is neither free nor affordable. For most African families, the costs of secondary school fees combined with the costs of school uniforms and scholastic materials are prohibitive. When there is more than one secondary school age child in the family, the financial pressure becomes exacerbated. Oftentimes, boys are chosen to enroll in or complete secondary school over girls.

Poverty is the chief reasons most children in sub-Saharan Africa do not complete secondary education. Many who start do not complete secondary school as families find it difficult to sustain the costs, which in many countries, rise each year.

Other factors include:

  • Early marriage of girls, which is largely poverty and culturally related
  • Uneducated parents and caregivers are not sufficiently aware of the benefits of secondary education for their children and families
  • Children, especially girls, are needed at home by their parents or caregivers to care for siblings and elders and help provide food and family income
  • Low quality primary education has not prepared all children for the rigours of secondary education

African countries are advancing Universal Secondary Education

Education is among the highest priorities of most African countries, such as Uganda where education is the top budget item (or in some years, the second highest budget item) in the annual national budget. In most sub-Saharan countries, the education budget is among the highest line item in annual national budgets.

Uganda is the first African country to establish Universal Secondary Education (U.S.E.), in 2007. The purposes of U.S.E. are to make secondary school more accessible and affordable, create a more literate, educated, gender-equal and prosperous society and help advance development and eradicate poverty. U.S.E. provides grants which reduce the costs of secondary school education and improves the infrastructure of schools.

U.S.E. has increased secondary school enrollment rates. Challenges exist, such as increased enrollments put pressure on teachers, school administration and infrastructure. In addition, U.S.E. grants do not cover the full costs of secondary school for all children.

U.S.E. is a developing programme that creates more opportunities for access to secondary education. U.S.E. should be supported by all stakeholders in society so that the vision and goals of U.S.E. are fulfilled, benefiting children, youth, families and communities throughout Uganda.

What we believe

  • Secondary school education is a necessary and realistic goal for all children everywhere
  • Ethical standards must be set to determine the educational standards for children everywhere. The educational needs of children should no longer be left to chance, lack of budget or humanitarian efforts
  • The cost of fully educating children – early childhood, primary, secondary and higher education combined – is less than the costs of prisons, alcoholism, disease, social services, and lack of productivity
  • Secondary school education combined with higher education stems the tide of urban drift and contributes to community development, rural transformation and environmental conservation
  • Emerging Universal Secondary Education programmes such as in Uganda and elsewhere are opportunities that need to be embraced by society, especially by parents, caregivers, youth, schools, local government, international partners, the private sector and key stakeholders for maximum collaboration and partnership
  • Ultimately, universal secondary education must no longer involve the payment of school fees, such as in a growing number of countries in the developing world and throughout the developed world. This is a process that will take time so alternative strategies must effectively result in secondary school completion for all
  • Universal Primary Education needs to be strengthened to ensure children are fully prepared for secondary school
  • The relationship between schools and communities must be strong
  • As societies become increasingly educated, more people will become income earners and contribute into the country’s tax system, increasing national revenues for development. This is a pathway from an undeveloped to a developed country which will lead to free, compulsory universal secondary education
  • Creating a greater demand for secondary education is a critical element of universal secondary education
  • Parents and caregivers need to have a better understanding of the benefits of secondary school education for their children and long term security of their families, motivating more parents and caregivers to find ways to send their children to secondary school
  • More secondary schools need to be built near primary schools. This provides more motivation and access for primary school students to transition to secondary school
  • Girls must be supported to stay in school through secondary school completion in order to avoid early marriage and exploitation
  • Education reform is critical to achieving universal secondary education goals – such as curriculum reform that includes practical entrepreneurship and practical skills being taught in general secondary education combined with an academic curriculum
  • Secondary schools must foster jobs creation as well as job seeking
  • Information technology and fully equipped libraries and science labs are essential elements of 21st century secondary school learning environments

What we are doing to broaden educational opportunities for all

  • We run the Northern Uganda Education Programme (NUEP), now in Year 9 in which we sponsor war-affected children and youth from Northern and Northeast Uganda in secondary school through higher education graduation. Read more about NUEP
  • We are developing The A-Factor Project™ (A for Agriculture) as a model to shift the paradigm of dependence on donors to fund the costs of secondary, technical and vocational education to sustainable self-sufficiency through youth-led agricultural entrepreneurship. Read more about the A-Factor Project
  • We are developing The E-Factor Project™ (E for Education) as a means to integrate public health strategies with increased opportunities for girls’ secondary school education. Read more about The E-Factor Project
  • UMECS staff and NUEP students are writing a book, The Transformational Power of Education: Personal Journeys and Action Plans of War-Affected Youth for Universal Education, Flourishing Economies and Sustainable Peace, designed to sensitize, motivate and mobilise parents, caregivers, youth, schools, local government, partners and key stakeholders to collaborate in common cause to advance education for all strategies, with a focus on increasing secondary school completion throughout Uganda
  • We support the broad goals and endeavours of the Ministry of Education and Sports as a supportive partner in the mission to empower all members of society through education

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