Education for all: the quality imperative

Improving teaching and learning is crucial, especially for the marginalized

Education for all: the quality imperativeBy Dr. Yusuf Sayed, Reader in International Education at the University of Sussex

The sixth Education for All goal was the focus of the 2005 EFA Global Monitoring Report, The quality imperative. As part of our 10th anniversary countdown to the launch of the 2012 report on October 16, we asked Yusuf Sayed, a former member of the EFA Global Monitoring Report team, to assess progress in education quality.

Meaningful learning is crucial to ensure that children enrol, stay on and complete education. Unfortunately, progress on providing quality education is still lagging behind advances in enrolment. Regional patterns vary, but the global divide between rich and poor countries and rich and poor learners is marked.

This divide is one reason the UN Secretary General’s Education First initiative, to be launched at the end of this month, has a core focus on teachers and learning. Learning is also central to the debate about what happens in the post-2015 Education for All agenda.

A quality education is one that satisfies basic learning needs, and enriches the lives of learners and their overall experience of living. Quality is the focus of the sixth Education For All goal, established at the World Education Forum in Dakar, Senegal, in 2000: “Improving all aspects of the quality of education and ensuring excellence of all so that recognized and measurable learning outcomes are achieved by all, especially in literacy, numeracy and essential life skills.”

The Dakar Expanded Framework of Action identifies eight conditions for “basic education of quality for all, regardless of gender, wealth, location, language, or ethnic origin”:

  • healthy, well-nourished and motivated students
  • well-trained teachers and active learning techniques
  • adequate facilities and learning materials
  • a relevant curriculum that can be taught and learned in a local language and builds upon the knowledge and experience of the teachers and learners
  • an environment that not only encourages learning but is welcoming, gender-sensitive, healthy and safe
  • a clear definition and accurate assessment of learning outcomes, including knowledge, skills, attitudes and, values
  • participatory governance and management
  • respect for and engagement with local communities and cultures.

For the poor, in particular, quality matters more than the number of years that a child is in school. The wealthy have access to social and cultural capital that gives them an advantage in schooling and compensates for poor quality education.

To improve education quality for the poor, it is crucial to provide inclusive and responsive learning environments by making sure that schools are safe, healthy and free from discrimination.

It is essential, obviously, to ensure that teaching and learning are effective. Making sure that children are taught in the home language is part of this. The teaching of ‘values’ is also critical. Curriculums need to provide a broad-based framework of learning to live and work as critical and active citizens in society.

Effective learning resources are vital in ensuring good quality learning environments. Many learners in developing countries face an acute shortage of good quality textbooks.

There must be qualified, motivated, and committed teachers, and better agreement on the characteristics of good quality teachers and the incentives to perform effectively. As the 2005 EFA Global Monitoring Report showed, rich evidence consistently points to the teacher as the single most important determinant of effective learning. There must be robust systems to assess student performance and help improve learning.

Improving institutional capacity is vital. The more schools are held to be accountable, the more effective they are. There also need to be incentives at the institutional level to ensure that schools focus and promote effective learning.

The need to assess performance and learning has become part of the recent dialogue about the post-2015 agenda. This is welcome, yet often the assessment is of what learners know, often referred to as assessment of learning. This alone does not improve learning outcomes (or to put it another way – you do not fatten a chicken by weighing it frequently). It is equally important, if not more so, to focus on assessment for learning, which emphasizes how teachers assess performance with a view to improving learning. If the debates and developments around assessment are to make a real impact, they must be both of and for learning, reflecting multiple indicators and multiple assessment processes.



  1. Great post, and I love the “you don’t fatten a chicken by weighing it frequently” analogy. I expect to use it often in the future; thank you. I also appreciate the clear reference to teachers, who are truly the ultimate factors in moving good education ideas to good classroom practice and true learning. At the same time, I encourage us to speak less of “schools” as impersonal institutions that can affect learning but rather to specify the folks who make this happen, recognizing that education is a distinctly human endeavour. I also look for us to move beyond training teachers as a mere factor of production but to cultivating, unleashing and supporting (with policy, materially and with technical assistance) their potential to operate with creativity and initiative, adapting the standard national education programme and standards to the unique context that is each individual classroom. I also argue that a crucial part of creating this dynamic is the promotion of peer support via the active engagement of teachers within local, permanent communities of reflective practice. As we strive to strengthen systems, this can only truly be accomplished ultimately because of and by teachers, not despite them.

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