Mostrando entradas con la etiqueta rights. Mostrar todas las entradas
Mostrando entradas con la etiqueta rights. Mostrar todas las entradas

Futures of Education: Imagination and aspiration

Arjun Appadurai, Keynote speech at UNESCO, Paris, 25 sep. 2019, (1:02:13)

The Futures of Education
Learning to become

A global initiative to reimagine how knowledge and learning
can shape the future of humanity and the planet.

We all have seen that in the world that is emerging our biggest challenges have no national boundaries. So, global thinking is the need of the moment in such areas as big data, climate, security, disease, migration, and arms control, to name some of the most visible ones.

In our current moment we need to recognize the importance of youth, both demographically and politically. We also need to recognize the rise of populism and of political extremism that are now caring in far too many parts of the world. Inequality remains persistent and pervasive around the world. Advances in machine learning, artificial intelligence or biotechnology rise profound questions about what it means, and will mean in the future, to be human.

The benefits of technological advances and innovation are not being shared around the planet in a just manner and as the Secretary General of the United Nations and others have powerfully argued here and elsewhere the environmental and climate crisis are not just academic discussions for future sustainability but are life and death survival issues today.

Education is indeed a vital resource in addressing all of these challenges and many others. And the broad goals of the UN and UNESCO converge on a vision that brings together democracy and development. But much thinking on development in the 21st century has not been driven by democratic goals. It has been based on the idea that knowledge, expertise and goal-setting have to be transferred from a small group of technocrats to a large group of recipients who lack the capacity to design their own futures.

In recent times, this idea of expert-driven development has been challenged by ideas of participatory planning, local knowledge resources, and decentralized decision-making but as far as education is concerned there is still an emphasis on marketable skills rather than on imagination and anticipation.

For the majority of the world's population and especially those in the poorer regions and countries in the world the biggest obstacle to achieving development is the weak recognition of their capacity to define their own futures and to imagine the good lives in their own terms. This capacity to aspire is poorly developed. 

When vulnerable communities imagine their own futures they bring together their capacity to anticipate and their capacity to aspire. Nor human being, nor human community lacks these capacities but poverty, insecurity and institutionalized marginalization have not let them build these capacities. So, vital tasks for educators of all ages, sizes, shapes and colors will be to build the capacity of the young, the poor and the marginal to imagine, to anticipate and to aspire.

There are many ways that these capacities could be built. Many of you are pursuing them as policy- makers, activists or teachers. I want to add my own thoughts here in order to stir the pot and enrich the mix of possibilities for our collaborative visions.

In my view, the most important and most scarce resource we can provide as educators is the capacity to generate new knowledge. We generally think of the generation of new knowledge as a monopoly of universities and as the capacity of the postgraduate scholars and faculty among them. These are the people we usually refer to as researchers, discoverers of new knowledge.

We see research as a difficult, esoteric and elite practice which requieres years of primary, secondary and tertiary education, but I believe that we need to recognize the right to research as a human and a universal right. Any literate adult should have the right and the means to produce new knowledge and to do so in a careful, systematic and thorough manner. 

Why is it important to democratize the capacity to conduct research and produce new knowledge locally, without depending on the sphere of formal postgraduate education training alone? The answer is: the world’s problems may be planetary but the ways in which they are fed specific cities, regions and countries is intensely local.

Democratizing the capacity to conduct research and to produce new knowledge requieres a great deal of support from traditional funders, scholars, scientists and planners. It indeed cannot be done by marginal populations on their own but it is a vital capacity to develop among the younger citizens of the world for they are in the eye of the storm and they are the firtst to face the world's global problems, so we must empower them to be the first to generate solutions.

It is an honour to be part of this new initiative on the Futures of Education. I challenge us all to think deeply on the challenges and opportunities that we see now and on the horizon. And I invite us all to think about how we can enable people to aspire in their own terms, how to enable people to build their own capacities, to imagine, to aspire, to act, anticipate, advocate, and intervene. Surely this is how we shape these many futures.

International Initiatives for Education ▸ Iniciativas internacionales para la educación

Rosa María Torres

Compilación de textos sobre iniciativas y actividades vinculadas a organismos internacionales publicados en este blog

Compilation of texts on initiatives and activities linked to international agencies published in this blog

 Education for All (EFA) ▸ Educación para Todos (EPT) 

La década olvidada de la Educación para Todos (1990-2000)

Una década de Educación para Todos: La tarea pendiente (IIPE-UNESCO Buenos Aires, 2000)
One Decade of Education for All: The Challenge Ahead (IIPE-UNESCO Buenos Aires, 2000)

Basic Learning Needs: Different Frameworks

 Millennium Development Goals (MDG) Objetivos de Desarrollo del Milenio (ODM) 

What did the MDGs achieve?
¿Qué lograron los ODM?

▸ Educación para Todos y Objetivos del Milenio no son la misma cosa - entrevista con la Campaña Latinoamericana por el Derecho a la Educación (CLADE)

 VI International Conference on Adult Education VI Conferencia Internacional sobre Educación de Adultos (CONFINTEA VI) 

 United Nations Literacy Decade Decenio de Naciones Unidas para la Alfabetización (2003-2012) 

 PISA - Programa para la Evaluación Internacional de Alumnos (OCDE) 

Artículos sobre PISA
Articles on PISA

 Laboratorio Latinoamericano de Evaluación de la Calidad de la Educación - LLECE (UNESCO) 

América Latina y las pruebas del LLECE

 Information Society ▸ Sociedad de la Información 

Education in the Information Society
Educación en la Sociedad de la Información

 Education as a Human Right La educación como derecho humano 

▸ The 4 As as criteria to identify "good practices" in education
▸ Las 4A como criterios para identificar "buenas prácticas" en educación

 Lifelong Learning (LLL) ▸ Aprendizaje a lo Largo de la Vida (ALV) 

About "good practice" in international co-operation in education

Gurbuz Calimar

Rosa María Torres
(document in process)

¿What would be good practice in "international cooperation" or "development aid" for education in countries in the South?

Just as "improving the quality of education" has become insufficient, showing the need for a radical shift and for renewed paradigms for education and learning, "improving the quality of international co-operation" and "improving aid effectiveness" is no longer enough. Major changes are needed to make financial "aid" and technical "assistance" really such and beneficial in the short, medium and long term for the countries they are supposedly addressed to.

Currently, "aid effectiveness" and its identified problems are defined as follows:

"Aid effectiveness is about ensuring maximum impact of development aid to improve lives, cut poverty and help achieve the Millennium Development Goals."
"At the beginning of the 21st century it became clear that aid was not delivering the expected results. Inadequate methods and differences in donor approaches made aid less effective. Action was needed to boost impact."
In: Fourth High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness, Korea, 29 Nov-1 Dec 2011


▸  Review "countries"
International agencies traditionally think of countries as divided in government and civil society.
When they say they work with "countries" they often mean government entities and officials. When they say they work with "civil society" or Civil Society Organizations (OSCs) they usually mean Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs). However, in most countries NGOs represent a small portion of civil society, a portion that is highly dependent on international funding and increasingly dependent on government funding (thus making it necessary to redefine the N of Non-). Grassroots organizations and social movements constitute the core of civil society, representing major social segments such as indigenous groups and nationalities, youth, women, peasants, workers or the unemployed, teachers, etc. In many countries, social movements are key social and political actors with national scope and representation.

▸  Review "development"  
The idea behind "development co-operation" is that countries in the South are "poor" - in need of "poverty alleviation strategies" - and "underdeveloped" or "less developed" -  in the process of "developing" in the same direction of developed countries. This route to development, and the very concept of development, are today under question all over the world and stressed by the global crisis of capitalism (see for example degrowth). Alternatives to development are also being proposed in several countries in the South, challenging conventional development cooperation and aid as we know them.

▸  Accept diversity and act accordingly
So-called "developing countries" ("the South") are highly heterogeneous even within each region: Africa, Asia, and Latin America and the Caribbean. Each country is unique in its own way, beyond economic categories (low/middle/high income) or even more complex indicators such as the Human Development Index and others. They are different in dimensions that are not easy to quantify or classify: history, languages, cultures, traditions, values, citizenship, democracy, education and learning practices, etc. While diversity is increasingly acknowledged in rhetoric, international agencies favor one-size-fits-all policies and policy recommendations for the South. Failure with so many education reform attempts shows the urgency for radical rethinking and doing in this regard. Countries, just as learners, need customized interventions. There is no one size fitting all. There are no universally valid "success stories" waiting to be replicated elsewhere. There is not "what works" and "what doesn't work" in general.
Single sets of education goals with the same deadlines for all - such as Education for All (EFA) or the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) - end up in the usual sense of failure for some and easy accomplishment for others.


Rights approach
Education is a human right -- the right to free and quality education for all, children, youth and adults. International agencies must thus enhance a rights approach to education, adopting the four As -
availability, accessibilty, adaptability and acceptability - as criteria to ensure such right as well as to identify and develop "good practices" in the fields of education, training and learning.

▸  Wide understanding of education and Lifelong Learning as framework
Agencies must review traditional ideas on education and embrace new knowledge and developments in this and in related fields. It is time for holistic and cross-sectoral approaches, looking beyond school education, beyond access (to schools, to computers, etc.), and beyond Ministries of Education as the obvious and only actors at the country level. It is time to really place learning at the center, beyond tests and testing, and beyond schooling, and to adopt Lifelong Learning (LLL) as a principle and a holistic framework from early childhood (and even before birth) to the elderly. LLL is not reduced to adults, neither does it call for the creation of new, separate sections or departments or new, separate education goals.

▸  Systemic vision
Dealing with education and with educational change requires abandoning
narrow sectoral and piecemeal approaches, and adopting a systemic vision: (a) of education, including all levels, modalities and all types of learning, in and out of school; and (b) of society, understanding that education policies cannot be dealt with in isolation, without taking into account the economy, and broad social and cultural issues, which determine to a great extent the teaching and learning conditions and expectations of the population.


▸  Co-operation among agencies themselves 
Agencies must co-operate, rather than compete, among themselves, if they want to effectively co-operate with countries. Co-operating means, among others, looking for common understandings on issues and concepts, sharing a common statistical base, harmonizing evaluation and reporting criteria and mechanisms, etc. This would alleviate terminological and conceptual confusion in the field, avoid usual overlapping of agendas and duplication of efforts, reduce waste, and save lots of time and resources. Co-operation requires will to dialogue and to coordinate, identifying specific strengths and weaknesses so that they complement each other and ensure synergy. The term "international community" still needs to become a reality. 

▸  Acknowledge and assume their own learning needs
If they are to provide technical advice, international agencies have the responsibility to permanently upgrade their own professional competencies, as well as the knowledge related to the countries where they work. Good technical assistance and advice require people who
see themselves as lifelong learners, open to new realities, humble and ready to listen, dialogue and rectify whenever necessary.

▸  Review the ‘event culture’
International co-operation is usually associated with abundant travel and with events (each with its own report and follow-up process). It is essential to reduce both - events and travel  - looking for more effective and less costly strategies, and taking full advantage of modern technologies, in order to cut costs and ensure efficiency and good use of scarce financial resources.

▸  Redefine publication and dissemination strategies
Agencies routinely produce heavy and fancy national and international reports. Most of the international ones are published in English, sometimes with translations to other languages that are made available with big delay. Few people understand and use such reports for meaningful research or action purposes. It is thus important that agencies review their production and dissemination strategies, making sure they come up with relevant new information and knowledge, easy to access and use by policy-makers, researchers, specialists, journalists, etc. Evaluating the real use and impact of such reports is also essential, without assuming that distribution is an indicator per se.

▸  Support South-South and South-North cooperation 
Not only the term "aid" but also the broader term "co-operation" are conceived as unidirectional: the North doing something for the South. The usual wording of "recipient countries" and "donor countries" makes this transparent. Although South-South co-operation gains ground, it is often also mediated and even coordinated by international agencies themselves. South-North co-operation remains mostly inconceivable. However, the North genuinely interested in the advancement of the South needs not only to learn together with, but also from, the South. 

▸  Work so as to become unnecessary 
Countries' "ownership" - the much repeated phrase "putting countries on the driver's seat" - has been long advocated but little implemented. It is time to do it, abandoning traditional top-down approaches and strategies of international agencies vis a vis "developing countries". Working towards ownership implies respecting and honoring countries' needs and priorities, eliminating conditionalities and untying "aid", giving top attention to the development and use of national capacities and national research rather than continuously importing/imposing them from abroad. The South needs to develop a generation of cadre that manages both relevant international knowledge and country-specific knowledge so as to be able to understand and deal with the interconnectedness between the local and the global. We need competent professionals equipped not only with knowledge but also with empathy, critical thinking, holistic perspectives and systemic understandings of education, learning, community and human development.

The best international co-operation is, ultimately, that which works to benefit countries and not agencies' own interests and agendas, and which deliberately works to become unnecessary. International co-operation and aid have been ineffective so far especially in that they have rather contributed to perpetuate technical and financial dependency as well as external debt.

To learn more

The Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness and the Accra Agenda for Action (2005)
Fourth High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness, Korea, 29 Nov-1 Dec 2011
Aid Effectivesness (Wikipedia)
Eurobarometer Special Surveys: Making a difference in the world: Europeans and the future of development aid, EB76.1, Nov. 2011
Demystifying Aid, by Yash Tandon
The Indicator Tree - a visualisation of the right to education indicators

Related texts by RosaMaría Torres
▸ International initiatives for education ▸ Iniciativas internacionales para la educación
Lifelong Learning in the South: Critical Issues and Opportunities for Adult Education, Sida Studies 11, Sida, Stockholm, 2004.
The 4 As as criteria to identify "good practices" in education  
Lifelong Learning: moving beyond Education for All
On Innovation and Education
Knowldedge-based international aid: Do we want it? Do we need it?
▸ The green, the blue, the red and the pink schools

Lifelong Learning for the North, Primary Education for the South?  
Children's right to basic education
Over two decades of 'Education for All' ▸ Más de dos décadas de 'Educación para Todos'
The World Bank and its mistaken education policiesEl Banco Mundial y sus errores de política educativa

Children of the Basarwa ▸ Los niños Basarwa

Rosa María Torres

(abajo el texto en español)

In Botswana I learned of the existence of the Basarwa, a nomadic group living in the Kalahari desert and whom the government has been trying to persuade, without much success, to attend school.

Asked why they do not send their children to school, fathers and mothers have basically the same responses: in their culture, adults do not shout at children or hit them; when children do something wrong, adults talk to them. In school, they state, there is no dialogue; mistakes are paid for with punishment.

What do the Basarwa know of school? Some have actually been to school. Others have heard stories of reprimands and punishments, threats and teasing, humiliation and slaps on the hand and the head. The word has spread. Now, neither adults nor children want to go to school.

What kind of people are the Basarwa? What kind of adults and parents are these who neither shout at nor hit their children, who talk to them, respect them and treat them with sensitivity? What kind of children are these exceptional Basarwa children who grow up without fear of punishment, ill-treatment, and physical violence, without fear of telling the truth and admitting to error?

Nomadic, poor, unschooled, in a perpetual struggle for survival, the Basarwa teach us a lesson in ethics, humanity and hope. Their contempt for school, for the type of school they know or of which they have heard, is indeed a sign of mental health, an act of love and protection for their children.

From their hidden retreat in the Kalahari desert, Basarwa children coalesce the hopes of all the children of the world, regardless of race or culture, economic income or social status. Unknowingly, Basarwa parents give life to the utopia so often envisioned and reiterated, signed and ratified, of the right of children to be loved, respected and heard. Through their dignified illiteracy, the Basarwa remind us of the inevitability of a school meant to love and respect children.

* Published originally in: Education News, UNICEF Education Cluster, New York, 1994.

Los niños Basarwa

En Botswana supe de la existencia de los Basarwa, un grupo nómada que habita en el desierto del Kalahari y al que el gobierno viene tratando hace mucho de persuadir, sin éxito, de enviar a sus niños y niñas a la escuela.

Preguntados acerca del por qué se resisten a la escuela, padres y madres tienen básicamente la misma respuesta: en su cultura, los adultos no gritan ni pegan a los niños; cuando los niños se portan mal, las personas adultas hablan con ellos.  En la escuela - dicen - no hay diálogo; los errores se pagan con castigo.

¿Qué saben los Basarwa sobre el sistema escolar? Algunos de ellos han asistido efectivamente a la escuela. Otros han escuchado historias de reprimendas, amenazas y burlas, humillación y golpes en las manos o en la cabeza. Las historias han circulado. Hoy, ni adultos ni niños quieren saber nada de ir a la escuela.

¿Qué clase de personas son los Basarwa? ¿Qué clase de adultos y de padres de familia que no gritan ni pegan a sus hijos, que hablan con ellos, les respetan y les tratan con sensibilidad? ¿Qué clase de niños son estos excepcionales niños Basarwa que crecen sin miedo al castigo, sin maltrato, sin violencia física, sin miedo a decir la verdad y a admitir el error?

Nómadas, pobres, no-escolarizados, en perpetua lucha por la supervivencia, los Basarwa nos enseñan una lección de ética, de humanismo y de esperanza. Su desprecio por la escuela, esa escuela que conocen o de la cual han escuchado, es de hecho un signo de sanidad mental, un acto de amor y de protección hacia su prole.

Desde un lugar remoto en el desierto Kalahari, los niños Basarwa portan la bandera de todos los niños del mundo, independientemente de su raza, cultura, ingreso económico o estatus social. Sin saberlo, los padres y madres Basarwa dan vida a la utopía tanta veces imaginada y reiterada, tantas veces acordada y ratificada, de niños y niñas con derecho a ser queridos, respetados y escuchados. Desde su digno analfabetismo, los Basarwa nos recuerdan la inevitabilidad de una escuela hecha para amar y respetar a los niños.

* Texto en español publicado originalmente en: Página editorial El Comercio, Quito, 21/8/1994.

Some related texts / Textos relacionados en OTRAƎDUCACION
» Children's rights: A community learning experience in Senegal
» Open Letter to School Children
» Carta abierta para niños y niñas que van a la escuela
» Children's Right to Basic Education
» El derecho de niños y niñas a una educación básica
» Escuelas del mundo  |  Schools in the world
» Por qué los maestros están llamados a ser los primeros defensores de los derechos de los niños

Children's right to basic education

(texto en español aquí)

The Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) acknowledges education as a right of every child. The World Declaration on Education for All (1990) and the World Summit for Children (1990) adopted an "expanded vision of basic education" as the foundation of learning for every individual - children, youth and adults. This expanded vision of basic education was defined as an education able to "satisfy basic learning needs" of children, youth and adults, in and out of school. In the International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED) basic education comprises primary education and lower secondary education.
Within this framework, what does it mean ensuring children's right to basic education?

1. The right to be children
, to play and enjoy playing, to be protected from the abuses of child labour, to have enough time to attend and stay in school, and learn. The right to a home and a family; to the nearby school, to teachers who enjoy teaching and like children, to an education that prepares not only for adulthood but, most importantly, for a happy childhood.

2. The right to learn in and out of the school. The right to be curious, to ask and to be answered, to doubt, to think and argue, to err, to be consulted and to participate, to express themselves spontaneously and with liberty, to be listened and respected in their opinions, to disagree, to imagine and to create, to learn to learn. The right to self-esteem, to parents' and teachers' high expectations, to feel both confident and challenged in their capacities and rewarded for every small gain.

3. The right to continuous learning, starting at birth, in a continuum that does not recognize other limits than the child's own interest and capacity to learn. Since the foundations of personality and knowledge are built in the first years of life, and since it is in this period that the most important and spectacular cognitive development takes place, the most basic right to basic education children have is the right to a good start in life. The right to an early childhood that plants good seeds for their future growth and development.

4. The right to open learning, at home, in school, in daily life, through play, in their interaction with friends, through mass media and the Internet, in their own exploration of the world. The right to enjoy libraries, the sports yard, the museum, the park, the zoo, the circus; to access to books, newspapers, comics, fairy tales, encyclopedias, dictionaries, videos, movies, works of art; to learn not only from books but from the contact with reality, with people and with nature. The right to learn not only from adults but from other children. The right to learn from others but also from personal experience and error, from reflection and discussion.

5. The right to go to a good school and remain there the time required to develop the knowledge, skills and attitudes that are essential to survive, to get to know their own bodies and protect their health, to learn about their culture and roots; to express themselves orally and in writing; to calculate and solve the basic problems of daily life; to better understand themselves and the world around them; to protect the environment; to internalize the values of justice and solidarity; to be aware of their rights and duties; to build the foundations of their self-esteem and self-confidence, and to continue learning.  

6. The right to an education tailor-made for children in which everything -- relationships, contents and methods, buildings and spaces, calendars and schedules, regulations and norms -- is designed to meet the needs of children, not adults. An education that respects the knowledge, points of view and dreams of children. An education based on joy, play and music, surprise and adventure, movement and laughter, not as complements but as the raw material for teaching and learning.     

7. The right to quality and relevant education, oriented to learning, aware of the importance not only of how much but also of what is learned and how. The right to an education free from prejudice and stereotypes, that fights racism and sexism, respects differences and acknowledges the value of the child's own language and culture; an education that highlights what children know and are able to do, rather than what they don't know and are unable to do; an education that privileges cooperation over competence, dialogue over monologue, doing over saying; an education that aims at achieving what constitutes the dream of any good parent and teacher: children and students who are better than themselves.    

8. The right to basic learning conditions essential to take advantage of school and other educational opportunities, and to fully develop the child's capacities. The right to basic education assists each boy and girl to demand from their communities and societies not only free schools, trained teachers, relevant curricula and necessary materials, but also the indispensable economic, social and affective conditions: nutrition, health care, proper housing, and, above all, love, emotional support, respect, and a general environment of stability, security and peace.

9. The right to educated parents, because parents' education is crucial for children's survival, well-being, learning and future perspectives. The right to informed parents, aware of the importance of educating both girls and boys, respectful of child play, open to dialogue and persuasion rather than to punishment. The right to literate parents, who appreciate the effort involved in learning, distinguish bad from good teaching, take part in school matters, and are willing to demand quality education. The right to parents who are knowledgeable of their rights and obligations, and possess the self-confidence and the fundamental knowledge to help their children grow, learn and develop.

10. The right to responsible information and communication media, sensitive to children's needs, capable of complementing and enriching their education: of putting the urban child in contact with the field and the rural child in contact with the city; of widening their vision of the world and transporting them to other realities, countries and times; of introducing them to the possibilities and limits of modern science and technology; of showing them the greatness and also the smallness of mankind; of developing their appreciation for universal art, science and culture; and of developing their vocation for peace, non-violence, tolerance, solidarity and justice.

Basic education is a universal right. It assists all children: boys and girls, rich and poor, those living in the city, in rural and remote areas, those with special needs, working children, indigenous children and those coming from ethnic minorities, those who have a family and those who live in the streets, migrants, children who are refugees and displaced by war.  

Related texts in this blog:
Rosa María Torres, Open Letter to School Children

Rosa María Torres, Children's Rights: A Community Learning Experience in Senegal
Rosa María Torres, On LifeLong LearningSobre Aprendizaje a lo Largo de la Vida

Children's rights: A community learning experience in Senegal

Children's rights: A community learning experience in Senegal
(Visit to Thiès, Senegal, 18 November 1994)

Four o'clock. The expected day and time has arrived: by foot or by bus, chanting and singing, children and adults from a nearby rural village begin to stream into this village. Learners - children and adolescents - from the other village want to share what they have learnt in school around children's rights, through a special act they have prepared with the help of their facilitator. Children and adults are present, many of them students of either the adult or the adolescents programme, parents, the facilitators, and the members of the Village Management Committees of both villages. This is part of the non-formal basic education programme in national languages initiated in 1988 and implemented in Thiès by TOSTAN, a Senegalese NGO, with UNICEF and CIDA support.

The village comprises of barely a dozen homes. The houses are small and built with mud and straw, clustered together and separated from another cluster by wooden fences made out of branches. A few scattered trees and dusty narrow streets complete the scenario.

Most adults present are women. Many of them are mothers of the students, many are students or ex-students themselves of the adult education programme. Today, Friday, many men are at the mosque.

The entertainment has been organised in the open air, at the entrance of the village, next to a big baobab tree. A huge canvas hung between the tree and a fence provides a tent to protect against the sun. Children and adults sit on the floor, on mats or on small wooden seats. According to my count, over 200 people are gathered here. Facing them is a big map, a blackboard, a flipchart and a table.

Several signs with written texts in Wolof are to be seen all over the village: on the tree, on the wooden fences, on the houses. They are part of an effort to create a "literate environment", surrounding villagers with written texts. Streets have been baptised with such names as STREET OF KNOWLEDGE and STREET OF PEACE. The Boutique (a small village shop where mainly matches, oil, salt, are sold) -which, together with the school, is the only "modern" cement house in the village - displays on its facade a sign in Wolof that reads:


The facilitator is the master of ceremonies. He has made the drawings to illustrate children's rights, prepared his students, and promoted and organised this encounter. Everything is conducted in Wolof, one of Senegal's six national languages.

A series of songs introduce the act. The “alphabet song” seems to be one of the most popular ones: they tell me that the words remain the same, but each village puts it to its own melody, some of them with chorals. Most of the songs have been written by the students with the help of their facilitators. Thus, through music and rhythm, they welcome the visitors, praise the facilitator and acknowledge the organisations in charge of the education programme. A special song has been created on children's rights.

The facilitator announces the official start of the programme and explains it al length to the audience. Then he begins to unfold the flipchart.

Children of the world

The first picture is an introduction to the flipchart and presents children of different races and countries, wearing different costumes. The facilitator asks the students to describe what they see in the picture, and then asks them to point out differences. Children raise their hands and snap their fingers. They all want to speak. They give all sorts of answers: the hair, the shoes, the skin colour, the height, the clothes, the eyes. He then asks about their similarities and the children again answer: they are all people, they all have joys and problems, they all have to eat food. One small girl shyly states:

- "All the children have rights."

Everyone claps. Now the facilitator asks for a volunteer to come to the front, identify and choose a sheet of paper on which a text is written corresponding to the subject of the drawing, in this case, "All the children of the world have rights". A girl comes to the front: she studies the sheets displayed on the table, picks the right sheet, and then "reads" it aloud while turning around several times so that the phrase is visible to the entire audience. While "read" is here a verb between inverted commas - these young learners have started school only two months ago - since it is rather visually recognising words and phrases, this is actually the very first step to real reading, to reading with meaning and with fun!

Adults are expectant, laugh and applaud, seem both proud and annoyed. Perplexed and uneasy at the beginning, they begin to feel increasingly at ease as the act unfolds.

The whole presentation on children's rights will follow this pattern: introduction of the picture; questions to children on what they see illustrated; discussion of the specific right suggested by the picture; interpretation of the right by the children through a short, often provocative, dramatisation or poem they have created; discussion of the play or poem; and identification and reading aloud of small texts written on sheets of paper and which correspond to the drawings.

The right to good nutrition

The picture shows millet, chicken, tomatoes, fish, papaya, monkey bread (a fruit from the baobab tree), and eggs. After an introductory discussion on the right to good nutrition, a child reads a poem about a selfish father who wants all the good morsels of food saved for himself, and is not concerned about his children's nutrition. A man in the audience, who has been listening to the story with evident anxiety, raises his hand and says, genuinely annoyed:

- "But I hide when I do it. How do you know?"

Everyone laughs. The facilitator then asks the children how they would answer the selfish father. Further discussion follows among the men. Volunteers come to the front and pick up sheets with colourful drawings of food and short phrases written in Wolof:

children and chicken
children and papaya
children and millet
children and good nutrition

The right to health

The illustration shows a mother immunising her young child. Following the questions and answers on children's right to health, a skit is staged with a husband and wife discussing the immunisation issue. The wife - a young volunteer who has borrowed a baby from a real mother in the audience - asks her husband for money in order vaccinate the child. He refuses and argues that he does not have the money. She blames him for spending the money in playing the lottery and buying himself tea. Finally, he agrees and she takes the baby to the vaccination post. Laughter and applause follow from the audience as the boy (playing the husband) dances off into the crowd. A lively discussion among the parents ensues in reaction to the husband's attitude. A girl volunteers to identify, pick up and read aloud the message "Children and health".

The right to a clean environment

The picture shows a woman with a broom, cleaning up her yard, and several garbage baskets aligned by the fence of the house. After discussion, the children present a skit in which they have been working on a village clean up and are discussing further actions to assure success. Then an older man comes along and throws down paper from the food he has been eating. When the children try to explain to him that he should not dirty the environment they are working to clean up, he becomes angry and says that children do not have the right to tell adults what to do. Discussion follows this skit among the children and the adults.

The facilitator asks:
- "What will happen in the future if everyone continues to pollute the environment?"

The children respond in unison:
- "Our whole country will be a garbage pile!".

The adults are delighted with this outburst.

The right to education
The drawings illustrate four types of learning ("houses of learning"): a woman teaching her child to cook (life learning), a blacksmith teaching a young apprentice (traditional job learning), a boy with a wooden slate on his knees (religious learning), and a boy and a girl with modern clothing and books under their arms (learning brought in from the outside, the French school system). The facilitator asks questions on each type of learning: what for? what methods? what differences?. A child comes forward and reads a poem on the importance of learning in national languages.

The right not to work too much

In this drawing, a girl is busy with many domestic chores. An eight-year-old girl comes to the front and reads a poem that speaks of a girl who does all the work in the house and has no time to play. She ends the poem with:

"At night, when I finally lie down to sleep,
I think and think and think about life.
My heart is full and I begin to cry
Because I do not know
When all this suffering will end."

Adults - and, particularly, mothers - seem uncomfortable and distressed.

[A parenthesis on children's responsibilities]

At this point, a sheet on RESPONSIBILITIES is inserted in the flipchart, apparently to counterbalance the many rights of children and the increasing anxiety of parents. There are no pictures on this paper, only written text. The facilitator asks the children to name their responsibilities and duties. Some of the answers are:

to be polite
to be respectful
to love oneself
to love one's country
to be obedient
to help out
to promote peace

The right to play

The illustration shows several children at play: a boy and a girl playing together; a girl on a swing; another girl dancing. The facilitator asks volunteers to show the audience certain traditional Senegalese games. Five girls come to the front and show two such games, combining song and rhythm.

The right to free expression

The drawing shows children talking to each other in a circle. A boy recites a poem that ends with "all children have good ideas, so let us speak up". Adults laugh nervously.

The right not to be exploited
The illustration shows a Marabout - traditional teacher in the (religious Koranic school) - with a child chained next to him, and another child begging near a bus full of people. The issue appears to be very sensitive. A man, visibly upset, asks for an explanation. The facilitator explains that there are different types of Marabouts, and that this one belongs to the type that do not really educate children under their care, but instead exploit them and live off them, forcing children to beg and to bring them money, or else they get punished and chained. Then, he tells his own story while he lived in a with a Marabout: he begged for alms, but only in his own neighbourhood and at that time begging was considered a formative experience, learning to be humble and to see how hard it is to be poor. Everyone is really attentive to his explanation. Many mothers nod their heads in agreement.

The right not to be punished

The drawing shows a father beating his son. Children comment that no one has the right to beat anyone (literally, in Wolof, "no one has the right to take the personality away from another"). Parents remain quiet.

One of the visitors intervenes and challenges the children with the question:
- "But how do you teach children if you do not punish them?."

A small, skinny girl immediately responds:
- "You take him or her to the back of the house or into a room, and there you talk to them and advise them."

There is sustained laughter. Many seem surprised at the young girl's quick, sharp and wise response.

In concluding the act we, the visitors, are introduced. The Presidents of both Village Management Committees address the audience. They congratulate and applaud the facilitator. A girl spontaneously reminds everyone to also congratulate and applaud the facilitator's trainer.

In his brief address, one of the Presidents of the Committee says to the children:
- "If I were you, and had learnt what you have learnt in two months, I would be shouting and praising your teacher more than you do".

A father in the audience thanks children because "they have brought a lot of knowledge to the adults".

A mother says: "It is the first time that three neighbouring communities have met together. And this is thanks to the education of both the children and the adults."

A young boy, full of enthusiasm, jumps into the centre of the stage and starts to dance. Someone grabs a huge plastic bowl and uses it as a drum.

And the big party begins. Girls and boys, children and adults: all are in the mood to dance. The same spot, different choreography. Brief, intense, frantic, individual dancing performances that commit the whole body, the mind, the entire person. While one dances, the others clap hands, and others - mainly women - play on improvised drums (plastic, metal, wood) that multiply very quickly. An educational act turns into a village celebration. The critical issue of children's rights has brought children and adults closer, and two villages in contact for the first time.

We have witnessed a memorable occasion in the lives of these children and adults, and of these villages. Nothing here has been conventional. Education and rights, school and life, students and parents, parents and teachers, teachers and students, reading-writing and singing-dancing, flipcharts, poems and plays: they all seemingly interact and go together naturally. Conventional categories and classifications - formal/ non-formal/ informal education, school/out-of-school, or the distinction between children/ adolescents/ adults, or between children's education/ adult education, or even the term "community participation"- do not help to capture and explain what this is all about.

There is definitely an innovative approach to literacy; not necessarily a new method but a renewed understanding and a fresh insight on the meaning and joy involved in teaching and learning to read and write. Literacy as something that involves both children and adults, as a creative undertaking on the part of both teachers and learners, as an intelligent act, as a communication challenge. Literacy not per se but to know about one's rights, to reflect upon and to discuss them. Literacy as a social and cultural capital to share with others, with other children, with other adults, with other villages. Children and adults learning together, becoming literate and aware together, in a genuine family and community learning process.

No conventional terms or prefabricated educational jargon can describe what the villagers and ourselves, the visitors, experienced in those two hours in Thiès. This is why I have preferred to describe it, and to describe it as I saw it, to share it with you.

Related posts in this blog
Rosa María Torres, Children's right to basic education
Rosa María Torres, Open Letter to School Children

Open letter to school children

Rosa María Torres

Dear children:

There are many things you should know about, and I am going to tell you about these things in this letter, so that you know what to do in school, and what to expect from it, from your teachers and classmates.

You have probably been told what you are supposed to do, that is, what your duties are: behave yourself, respect your teachers and classmates, do your homework, keep your notebooks tidy and up to date, come to class clean, be nice to everybody. But here we won't talk about your duties but about the things that others must do for you. We are going to talk about your rights.

No one should pull your ears, hit you or hurt you. No one should make fun of you, put you down, embarrass you in public, tell you to stand in a corner of the classroom, or be rude to you. Children must be loved and respected. You should always go to school happy and without fear. The most important people in school are children, not adults.

Being poor is not a crime ans is not your fault. Your teacher is probably poor, too. Everywhere in the world, most children are poor, and most poor people are children. If there are so many poor people, it is because there is injustice. It is our societies and our governments that are wrong, not you.

In the world there are different nationalities, cultures, languages, religions, skin colors. No race, culture or language is better than the other. No one should make you feel badly because of the color of your skin or the language you speak. We all deserve the same respect and the same opportunities.

Boys and girls, men and women, have the same capabilities. Don't allow anyone to ignore you and leave you behind, to force you to accept the least, to prevent you from developing all your potential, to give you false advantages because you are a girl. Don't allow anyone to make you believe that women are inferior to men, because it is not true.

A handicap is not something terrible, and it isn't your fault to have one. Even children who are blind, deaf, mute, or who have a serious disease, can learn if they are given love and proper attention. Children with problems, precisely because they have them, must be treated in a caring, special way.

No one should make you feel bad because you come from a different country, city, or town. Maybe you have a different language, different way of speaking, different likes, customs, and ideas. But being different is not a problem. Everyone is unique, different from the rest. We all have to learn to understand and respect what is different from what we are or have.

Each child learns in a different way. Some are good at some school subjects while others are good at others. If you don't learn fast, maybe there is nothing wrong with you, but with those who teach you and with how they teach you. Nobody can learn if they do not understand what is being taught, or if they don't find it interesting or useful, or if they are constantly threatened and punished. It is difficult to learn if you are hungry, tired, have not slept well, or have no time to play. Don't allow anyone to call you dumb, ignorant, or stupid. If you don't understand something, ask. You have the right to ask questions and to demand that teachers explain to you and teach you well. That is why there are schools. That is why there are teachers.

Dear children: school was created for children to be together, to play, to learn, and to be happy. If you feel sad or uncomfortable, there is something wrong with the school, not with you.

Dear children: don't allow people to only remind you of your obligations. Stand up for your rights. Start learning to speak up for your rights now, as a child, so that you defend them better when you grow up.

* Originally published in English in: Education News, Nº 11, UNICEF, Education Cluster, New York, January 1995. Published in various countries and languages, in international bulletins and journals. Printed on the back cover of the textbooks for Bilingual Intercultural Education published by the government and UNICEF in Bolivia (1993). Also included in the Libros del Rincón Collection published by Mexico's Secretary of Public Education (SEP), and distributed to all rural schools in the country. Edited and distributed as a small booklet in Ecuador in 2003, while I was Minister of Education and Cultures. 

To know more:
Convention of the Rights of the Child (UNICEF)

Related texts:
Rosa María Torres, Children's right to basic education
Rosa María Torres, Children of the Basarwa ▸ Niños Basarwa
Rosa María Torres, Child learning and adult learning revisited


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