One of the great development success stories of the twentieth century was the universalization of basic education. Countries around the world enthusiastically expanded the provision of education. By the early 2000s, however, millions of people still weren’t in school. Even those who did attend school only learned little during their time there. What were the reasons for this discrepancy? Is schooling a substitute for learning? This question was asked by scholars of education and political settlement, who analyzed the politics of education reform across six countries.
A World Bank study found widespread parental payments for basic education in 77 out of 79 countries. These user payments may cover the salaries of teachers, materials, and maintenance. Parents may also make payments in kind by providing food for teachers, helping in the classroom, or contributing labor for the construction of a school. In some countries, such payments are not permitted. Despite the advantages, user payments should never replace universal public education.
In low-income countries, girls are disproportionately under-represented in school. In South Asia and Africa, gender bias is particularly pronounced. While boys are generally educated, their ratio is more than twice as high as in developed countries. Children with disabilities are particularly under-served. In Africa, only 5 percent of learning-disabled children attend school, while as many as 70 percent of such children would attend if schools were equipped with the appropriate facilities. Many parents send their disabled children out to beg instead of enrolling them in school.
The goal of education can vary a lot from country to country. Some people think education is a way to acquire valuable facts, become critical thinkers, or become future workers. Others see it as a way to build the society, including the country. Whether it’s for the country’s citizens or for workers will depend on where the education takes place. For the most part, however, the goal of education is the same.
France, for example, offers the nine-year-old program of basic education. In France, this education is compulsory. Estonians refer to it as “primary school” or “Pohikool”. The first three years are called “Algkool,” which literally translates to “beginning school”. The difference is that it’s not compulsory in most countries. Similarly, the latter type of education is only offered in low-density areas. Consequently, students in bigger cities will go on to secondary school.
Another difference in the concept of basic education is the extent of parental involvement in education. In Chad, community-managed schools had been in place during the colonial period, but after independence, parents’ associations took over abandoned schools and built new ones. Today, more than 20% of the primary-school population in Chad attends such community-run schools. There are also no formal laws protecting children who are excluded from school.
While school hours vary in different countries, most students attend school for five or six hours. In Brazil, students are able to attend school until 7am. In France, the school day ends at four in the afternoon. In Britain, state-run schools start at nine in the morning and end at three in the afternoon. Even in these states, there may be after-school clubs and homework. For the youngest students, six hours is plenty.
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