Rosa María Torres
2011 WISE Prize for Education Laureate: Sir Fazle Hasan Abed (Bangladesh)
2012 WISE Prize Laureate, Dr. Madhav Chavan (India). Interview.
2013 WISE Prize for Education Laureate: Vicky Colbert (Colombia). Interview.
"The WISE Prize for Education is the first distinction of its kind to recognize an individual or a team of up to six people working together for an outstanding, world-class contribution to education. Established in 2011 by Her Highness Sheikha Moza bint Nasser, Chairperson of Qatar Foundation, the WISE Prize for Education sets the standard for excellence in education, giving it similar status to other areas for which international prizes already exist, such as literature, peace and economics. The Laureate receives a monetary prize of $500,000 (US) and a gold medal. The WISE Prize for Education Laureate is honored as a global role model and ambassador for education."
What are the educational innovations that draw the attention of the global education community at this point in time? The first three winners of the WISE Prize for Education (2011, 2012, 2013) and their respective education programs share several common characteristics. One of them: they are bottom-up innovators and innovations, that have started small and local, have become national and later expanded internationally over a long and sustained period of time. My personal knowledge of two of them, BRAC and Escuela Nueva, through study visits, research and follow up over many years, provides some insights into the specific nature and process of these inspiring educational models and experiences.
BRAC - Bangladesh
The 2011 WISE Prize for Education was awarded to Sir Fazle Hasan Abed, Founder and Chairman of BRAC, "the largest development organization in the world." Created in 1972 in a remote rural village, BRAC (Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee) reaches today nearly 135 million people in 11 countries in Asia and Africa, and also in Haiti in the Caribbean.
BRAC is not only an education-related NGO. Its holistic and multifaceted approach to development covers various areas and issues: microfinance, education, healthcare, legal services, community empowerment, and social enterprises. Education has been one of its key and most successful areas.
So-called BRAC Non-Formal Primary Schools, which became internationally renowned in the 1990s, have spread as a viable and replicable primary school model. Starting with ver modest primary schools, BRAC has developed a whole education system, that includes today BRAC University.
Pratham - India
The 2012 WISE Prize for Education was awarded to Dr. Madhav Chavan, Co-founder and CEO of Pratham, the largest education NGO in India. Pratham's mission is "Every child in school and learning well". It was created in 1994 to provide pre-school education to children living in the slums of Mumbai. Community volunteers were recruited, trained, provided basic teaching-learning materials, and encouraged to organize classes in any space available in the communities (temples, offices, people’s houses, etc.).
Pratham Balwadis (pre-school classes) multiplied in other locations. Today Pratham reaches millions of children in rural and urban areas in 19 of the country’s 28 states, through early childhood education, learning support to in-school and out-of-school children, mainstreaming of out-of-school children, computer literacy, vocational training for youth and special programs for vulnerable and working children.
An area approach (whole community interventions) was adopted in 2002-2003. Pratham’s Learn to Read (L2R) technique is an accelerated learning technique targeted at teaching both in-school and out-of-school children how to read in 4- 8 weeks. Facilitated by Pratham, The Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) is the largest survey undertaken in India by people outside the government. It measures the enrollment as well as the reading and arithmetic levels of children in the age group of 6-14 years.
Escuela Nueva - Colombia
The 2013 WISE Prize for Education was awarded to Vicky Colbert, founder and director of Fundación Escuela Nueva, and co-creator of the Escuela Nueva (EN) model from its start.
EN was initiated as a local project in 1975, covering a few public schools in rural areas, and grew as a regular program within Colombia's Ministry of Education. In 1985, EN was adopted by the Colombian government as a national policy to universalize quality primary education in rural areas.
EN has shown that the multigrade school (one or two teachers in charge of all levels in a single classroom), if given appropriate conditions and treated as a multigrade system, can become a quality alternative rather than a "poor temporary solution for the poor". In fact, Colombia has been the only country in Latin America where students in rural areas have shown higher learning achievements than children in urban areas when UNESCO's LLECE tests were applied. EN has also shown that, even with many problems and ups and downs, radical and meaningful innovation can be developed within government structures and within formal, mainstream education.
The Escuela Nueva Foundation was created in 1987 in order to help strengthen the program, adapt it to urban areas, and expand it to other countries (the EN model has been experimented in 16 countries). Over the years, EN has received numerous international awards, including a WISE Award in 2009.
What do these three education programs have in common?
What do these three education programs have in common? Two of them are located in Asia, in two of the "nine most populous countries" on earth, where education issues and problems are massive and extremely complex. The other one is located in Latin America, in comparatively small Colombia, affected by long-term violence, social inequity and conflict. Three very different "developing countries", each of them unique and specific within its own region.
The three programs:
» Have a long history and process behind: BRAC started in 1972, Escuela Nueva in 1975, Pratham in 1994.
» Started local and small, before expanding and becoming national and later international models. This bottom-up approach, plus the long term effort, have been undoubtedly key to their sustainability and success.
» Emerged as educational alternatives for the poor and some of the most disadvantaged groups in their respective societies. BRAC and Escuela Nueva were rooted in rural areas. Their respective education models were tailored for the specific conditions of rural areas.
» Serve children, through primary education in the case of BRAC and Escuela Nueva, and through early childhood and pre-school education in the case of Pratham. BRAC started targetting girls, given the huge gender gap in primary education enrollment and attendance in Bangladesh at that time.
» Expanded gradually beyond their original visions, missions and scopes, paying attention to the needs revealed by reality and by the learning process itself. They ventured into new areas, covered new ages and levels. All of them were aware of the importance of involving parents, families and communities, and have worked consistently in that direction.
» Focus on ensuring the basics: reading, writing and numeracy, survival, life and social skills, family and community empowerment.
» Give great importance to pedagogy and to pedagogical transformation, much more than to infrastructure, administration or technologies.
» Have been developed by NGOs, with the exception of Escuela Nueva, which was built within the existing ministry of education structure. In this case, the NGO has played an indispensable role in accompanying, sustaining and promoting the innovation.
» Are low cost: they take advantage of all human and material resources available in the school, the family and the community.
» Have been supported by several international agencies, especially from the United Nations as well as from the World Bank and other regional banks and organizations.
» Have received much recognition both at national and international levels.
» Curiously enough and worth noticing: all of them have a rather low technological profile. Technologies are not the driving force. Human beings, participation, volunteering, school-community relationship, pedagogical transformation, are the key.
Doha, 30 October 2013
WISE Education Summit 2013
Rosa María Torres and Manzoor Ahmed, Reaching the Unreached: Non-formal Approaches and Universal Primary Education
Rosa María Torres, Escuela Nueva: An innovation within formal education (Colombia)
Rosa María Torres, "Antes, aquí era Escuela Vieja" (Colombia)
Rosa María Torres, On Innovation and Change in Education