Rosa María Torres
Texto en español: ¿Qué es 'educación básica'?
Texto en español: ¿Qué es 'educación básica'?
The term basic education is widespread. However, there are very different understandings and uses of this term in countries and among international agencies. We revise here the uses of basic education in: (a) the global 'Education for All' initiative, co-ordinated by UNESCO, (b) UNESCO's International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED), and (c) school systems.
Education for All and the "expanded vision of basic education"
"Basic education is more than an end in itself. It is the foundation for lifelong learning and human development on which countries may build, systematically, further levels and types of education and training". (Article 1. World Declaration on 'Education for All').At the World Conference on Education for All (Jomtien-Thailand, 1990) organized by UNESCO, UNICEF, UNDP and the World Bank, the Education for All initiative was launched. Governments agreed to ensure six quality 'basic education' goals embracing all ages: early childhood, childhood, youth, and adulthood.
Education for All adopted an "expanded vision of basic education", an education aimed at "meeting basic learning needs" of children, youth, and adults, in and out of school. Such basic learning needs comprised theoretical and practical knowledge, values and attitudes required by human beings to:
2 develop their full capacities,
3 live and work in dignity,
4 participate fully in development,
5 improve the quality of their lives,
6 make informed decisions, and
7 continue learning.
Current uses of the term basic education are distant from this "expanded vision". Essentially, governments assumed "expanded" as adding school years to compulsory education rather than as radically rethinking conventional basic education.
Restricted Vision Expanded Vision
refers to children refers to children, youth and adults
within the school system in and out of the school system
equivalent to primary education not defined by number of school years
or to some established school level
it aims at learning a curriculum it aims at meeting basic learning needs
it is limited to a life period it is lifelong
it is homogeneous, same for all it is differentiated (persons have different basic learning needs)
it is static it is dynamic, changes over time
it is the responsibility of the Ministry of Education it involves all ministries
it is the responsibility of the State It is the responsibility of State and civil society
Elaboration: Rosa María Torres, in: One Decade of Education for All: The Challenge Ahead, IIPE-UNESCO Buenos Aires, 2000.
International agencies and plans
International agencies use the term basic education in different ways.
The World Bank, for example, which used to understand basic education as non-formal education for youth and adults, and later as primary education, now uses it as equivalent to primary and lower secondary education, coinciding with ISCED, UNESCO's official classification (see below). UNICEF, on the other hand, emphasizes initial and primary education with the concept of basic education.
The education goal within the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) does not refer to basic education ducación but to primary education, but it does not coincide with primary education (usually of six years) since it comprises only four years of schooling.
International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED), UNESCO
ISCED was created in the 1970s to facilitate comparisons of education statistics and indicators across countries on the basis of uniform and internationally agreed definitions. The first ISCED was approved at the International Conference on Education (Geneva, 1975) and later at UNESCO's General Conference.
In 1997 ISCED was revised and approved at UNESCO's General Conference in November 1997.
In 2011 the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) proposed another revision, to take into account significant changes in education systems since 1997.
Another review took place in 2012. A panel of experts led by UIS developed a classification called the ISCED Fields of Education and Training (ISCED-F), which was adopted in November 2013. "This classification has been designed principally to describe and categorise fields of education and training at the secondary, post-secondary and tertiary levels of formal education as defined by ISCED 2011".
ISCED 0 Early childhood education. Duration: variable.
ISCED 1 Primary education (first cycle of basic education). Duration: 4 to 7 years, 6 most common.
ISCED 2 Lower secondary education (second cycle of basic education). Duration: 2 to 5 years.
ISCED 3 Upper secondary education. Duration: 2 to 5 years, 3 most common.
ISCED 4 Post-secondary non tertiary education. Duration: 6 months to 3 years.
ISCED 5 Short cycle tertiary education. Duration: 2 to 3 years.
ISCED 6 Bachelor's or equivalent level. Duration: 3, 4 o more years.
ISCED 7 Master's or equivalent level. Duration: 1 to 4 years.
ISCED 8 Doctoral or equivalent level. Duration: 3 years minimum.
In this classification basic education comprises primary education and lower secondary education. It is clear that UNESCO never adopted the "expanded vision of basic education" agreed upon in Jomtien in 1990, which went beyond the school system and the number of years of schooling.
However, at the UIS-UNESCO website (Glossary) we find this definition of basic education:
"Whole range of educational activities, taking place in various settings, that aim to meet basic learning needs as defined in the World Declaration on Education for All (Jomtien, Thailand, 1990). According to ISCED standard, basic education comprises primary education (first stage of basic education) and lower secondary education (second stage). It also covers a wide variety of non-formal and informal public and private activities intended to meet the basic learning needs of people of all ages".School systems
Source: World Conference on EFA: Meeting Basic Learning Needs, Jomtien, Thailand, 1990.
In most countries, basic education continues to be used to refer to school education and to children. In many countries, basic education and primary education are used as equivalent. In many countries, basic education is considered equivalent to compulsory education. When basic education refers to youth and adults, it is generally associated to school education (formal or non-formal) and equivalent to primary education.
In Latin America, each country uses basic education in its own way. Some countries use the term General Basic Education (Educación General Básica). Some adopt the ISCED classification: basic education comprising primary and lower secondary education. This is the case of Mexico or Colombia. In Ecuador, basic education comprises 10 years of schooling: one year of pre-school, six years of primarry education and three years of lower secondary education. In other countries, basic education covers 8 years. In Argentina, basic education covers 9 years and compulsory education 12 years.
Brazil's new legislation introduced the concept of basic education as equivalent to compulsory education and expanded compulsory education, covering initial, primary and secondary education (14 years of schooling, from 4 to 17 years of age). Thus, basic education comprises the entire school system prior to higher education. It includes children, youth and adults. The reform aims at an "integral school" working 7 hours a day (no shifts), so as to expand and diversify learning experiences, in and out of school premises (community, socio-cultural, recreative, sports, etc.). Jomtien's "expanded vision of basic education" is somehow being re-invented in contemporary Brazil. (See: Secretaria de Educação Básica).
One can find totally inconsistent definitions and classifications on the Internet. In Wikipedia, for example, primary, elementary and basic education appear as equivalent. However, the entry basic education refers to Education for All and its "expanded vision" as well as to the ISCED 2011 classificaton.
In conclusion: the "expanded vision of basic education" agreed upon in Jomtien in 1990 by governments and international agencies, and its understanding as an education capable of "meeting basic learining needs" of children, youth and adults, in and out of the school system, was never incorporated by spcielaized international agencies, UNESCO in the first place. Adopting it would have meant a genuine education revolution, still pending.
More than education, it is schooling (school education) that is at the heart of national and international education agendas, thus making it difficult to understand and incorporate the LifeLong Learning paradigm.
When the world reaffirms its commitment to quality basic education for all and monitors Education for All goals, it is unclear what has been promised and what is being monitored.
Related texts in this blog
1990-2015: Education for All | Educación para Todos
Children's rights to basic education
Escolarizado no es lo mismo que educado
Aprendizaje a lo largo de la vida (ALV)