Deputy General Secretary – General Agriculture and Plantation Workers’ Union of Zimbabwe (GAPWUZ) – ZIMBABWE
“Education is freedom” says Paulo Freire when looking at the revolution of education development process over the past hundred years. It is argued education has drastically changed by the passage of time as industrial and technological developments reflect. What remains to be seen is whether, due to the developments witnessed in education so far, people have moved closer to freedom or people continue to lack the freedom of the national independence that education should have brought. Article 26, of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights emphasizes the right to education. It makes universal free primary education compulsory for everyone and since its inception, the UN, has reported it as one of the most achieved provision of the UDHR, list of human rights, and reports that more children around the world have access to education than ever before, with rates of access to primary school attendance for girls rising to parity with boys in some regions and a huge decline in the overall number of children not attending school. However, this is just an outlook; more critical thinking and analysis needs to be done at all levels. There is need to examine the inclusive approaches to education systems.
It should be noted that with industrialization and high technological developments there has been expansion, internationalization and growth of the global knowledge economy, proliferation of institutions, universities, becoming internationally focused, prioritization of international partnership and students, educators as well as research being highly valued by international community and modern economies. However, the developments have not addressed adequately the national independence of the education systems across the globe.
The UN has reported that, lack of education especially in girls has an enormous impact in society at large in areas like health, economic development, and deprivation of the right to education often spans generations and perpetuates entrenched cycles of poverty, exclusion and marginalization of adults and children making it impossible for them to play an active role in the processes and decisions that affect them.
Thus, the UN saw education as a fundamental right, essential to exercise other rights as it promotes individual freedom and contributes definitely to a child’s broader empowerment, wellbeing and development ensuring that they are equipped to understand and claim their rights for the rest of their lives.
In assessing the interdependence of the progress of national education systems, it is best to look at the local, regional and international systems of educations in relation to Article 26, on the fundamental right to education, taking into consideration issues affecting the practice of this right, whether cultural, religious or political. UN member states have an obligation to provide free primary education for all regardless of sex, age, religious and political affiliation, race and so on but have the member states ensured progress in education systems to ensure the right to education for all.
Amnesty International South Africa in 2020 posed a question after its research on the South African Education system on whether South Africa has fully complied with both, its own, constitutional and international human rights obligations with respect to education and proposed a complete overhaul as a major change was needed urgently. This was after the observance of crumbling infrastructure, relatively poor educational outcomes, racial and socioeconomic inequality in the education system resulting with the poor hardest hit in receiving quality education.
This raised question on the definition of the right to education for all. Is it all about school attendance and numbers or is it about the quality of education received, where learners are safe to learn and have adequate infrastructure and facilities to do so? Research has shown this is not the reality in most marginalized communities.
Therefore, the major issue on Article 26 should not only be about school attendance and numerical data but, on the quality of education received by everyone.
Stephen Thompson said education is freedom and in general it has changed drastically over the last 100 years, but are people moving closer to freedom or some people continue to be left behind. There is need to examine inclusive approaches to education and pedagogy.
Digitalization is creating new opportunities including online distance learning and development of new interactive digital spaces. International policies and goals support international education e.g., disability inclusive education. The SDGs focus explicitly on the delivery of inclusive and equitable quality education and promote learning opportunities for all.
Barriers to access remain, as many people globally have been untouched by the potential benefits of higher education and while growth in education is undeniable, serious challenges with regards to equitable higher education remain. Globally, people with disabilities are often excluded from higher education due to a variety of social attitudes and physical barriers. Ethnic minorities continue to be marginalized in terms of all the outcomes. Discrimination based on gender, religion, social status and others continue to characterize different groups of people included in ‘inclusive’ education.
The future of the world without classroom has shown the digital development of education, knowledge is provided to anyone with internet connection. The concept of interdependence is that we do not learn or educate in a vacuum. Contexts and constraints include families, cultures, available technologies, religion as well as political and financial realities. Many institutions mention transformational programs but many of the programs are provided with no dependence.
Knowledge should not be isolated into discrete inputs; learners need to see the relationship of all the stakes involved. Interdependence means that the global trends have greater effects at the local level; more local communities are affected by events beyond their borders. Analysis of education from a historical perspective that analyzes education within the global world or through the international perspective is required.
The role of educational institutions, actors and technologies as well as pedagogical ideas that for centuries have crossed regional and international borders have also been affected by international movement of educational policies, curriculum pedagogies, universities within and across different socio-political settings. Centrality of colonial education needs to be dealt with through decolonization.
Interdependence is the key to post-secondary education, need for academic freedom and the ever-changing technologies offer a new way of learning methods. Universities that have tried to decolonize curricula remain low. Discrimination based on gender, religion, sexual orientation and other characteristics continue to result in some people or groups being excluded.
Historical links of education to colonization, poverty, power imbalances, within the discipline including conceptualization and philosophy of education as a progressive process should be understood with an aim to improve the human experience. There are deep structural, social inequalities that have been historically extended and there is a need to uplift higher education systems that address the current challenges.