Cyprus Education System: a native’s perspective

Written by Pervin Derin Erk

Cyprus is a small island with big issues; politically ambiguous, economically unstable, physically divided and socially discriminative. A long-standing ethnic conflict that has the island divided with a recognised legal republic in the southern part and a de facto state in the northern part of Cyprus. The relationship between the two sides is essentially based on mistrust, a bloody history, and disagreements on the past, present and the future. Within this context, education is one of many areas that the island faces challenges in. There are a lot of things that need to be improved in the education system of the island, but I will lay down the top problems I have experienced or have seen my peers experience. So, from a native’s perspectives, here are the educational challenges in Cyprus…  

Background

First, let’s explore the brief history of the island and its current social conditions. Cyprus is an island in the Eastern Mediterranean and was visited colonised by many civilisations over history. Currently, the island’s natives belong to four distinct ethnic groups, which are Greek, Turkish, Maronite and Armenian Cypriots.1 The two main ethnic groups, the Greek and Turkish groups have been in conflict for the past century, which has led to the division of the island between the Greek-speaking groups (Greek, Maronite, and Armenian Cypriots) and the Turkish-speaking group. The two sides essentially have their own governments and their own education systems, even though the northern administration is not recognised by any international organisation or country apart from Turkey, its neo-colonialist. To keep this article as clear and inclusive as possible, I will focus on the challenges in both states’ educational systems, as well as what happens when the two groups interact in schools.  

Republic Schools and Their Turkish-Speaking Students  

The quality of education is considered better by many Turkish-speaking Cypriots and therefore families that can afford it send their kids to the private schools in the Republic. This leads to the problem of biased curriculum against the Turkish-speaking students as well as a language barrier in the communication among students and with their Greek-speaking teachers. Even though there are Greek lessons for Turkish speakers and Turkish for Greek speakers, the language abilities do not reach a point where there can be fluent and effective communication in either language. This, coupled with a general racism towards each other, makes the experience of education more difficult and discriminative than it should be. As a result, the learning environment and the learning experience is not as welcoming for non-Greek speaking students. They make up a small percentage of the entire student population but deserve the same level of quality and experience as their Greek-speaking classmates get.  

Moreover, the divided nature of the island has led to divided views on its history. As mentioned before, the relationship between the two sides is based on mistrust and disagreement. Curriculums created within such an atmosphere are not objective and can be violent. Not violent in the sense that history teachers physically abuse their Turkish-speaking students, but violent in the sense that the use of bloody and gruesome imagery history books, or the listing of every person killed in the armed conflict phase. This may seem trivial but imagine being one of the only Turkish-speaking students in the class and seeing the Turkish names on the history books and having them be accused of murder.

What About Northern Cyprus? 

The curriculum in the north is influenced heavily by Turkey and relies on the regime’s approval to be taught in schools. The regime does not do this openly, but rather by interfering with the local politics and ensuring its allies sit in high places. By doing this, Turkey holds the northern part of Cyprus and subsequently its education system in its fist. Let me explain further with a personal anecdote… 

I went to a public college, considered the best school in the northern part of the island. It was renowned for its educational quality and the teaching staff, who would have to wait in line for many years to be appointed to the school. For the ‘Religious Studies and Morality’ course, a teacher would be appointed from Turkey, given the lack of interest in religious studies by the locals. In my first year there, we had a religion teacher who was a good and understanding teacher. Let’s call him X. When we went back to school the next year for grade 7, X had been replaced. At the time, we did not give this much thought since the replacement of teachers, especially for religious studies was common. A couple years later, the subject of religious education came up in another class and, as an example, our teacher casually mentioned X and how he got sent back after being discovered as a Turkish spy, if we had already heard about it. The class was in shock. A spy?! That guy?!  

We questioned the teacher further and she finally admitted that he used to listen in to the teachers’ conversations in the teachers’ lounge and whenever he heard something suspicious or anti-regime, he would report it to the Turkish government. A group of teachers started suspecting him after some time, though I forget why exactly, and requested an investigation. Sure enough, he was confirmed to be a spy and was sent back before the new school year. That was the first time we, as students, felt exposed and vulnerable. We had been so sure of our safety because our state could, to a certain extent, still have some autonomy. Luckily, when we were told of this, the religious studies phase of our education was already over. 

After this experience, it all started to jump out at us. The specific words used in the history curriculum and how our anti-regime teachers would make us ignore pages and pages of information for their unnecessarily long and detailed incidents; the pictures used, and the people it depicted… it all became clearer and more obvious. Even our Cypriot history books were printed and published in Turkey first. This bias and tight grip on the education of Northern Cypriot students not only creates a certain kind of knowledge, but also hampers accurate and broad knowledge production. As a result, students are fed certain propaganda that is anything but peaceful towards their fellow Cypriots on the southern side of the island. So, what kind of a generation is this curriculum raising and how can we expect improvement if we are taught to ruminate over the past still instead of moving forward? 

What Other Problems Are There?  

The teacher shortages, inadequate special needs education, policy mismatch and more can be further discussed and analysed.  

Compared to the other EU-27 countries, investment in education per student remains high in Cyprus in except at pre-primary level. However, it seems that this funding is not being diverted in a balanced way, with the special needs education not receiving sufficient funding.  

Further, the institutionalisation of gender disparities, sexist ideologies, and homophobia, coupled with a lack of sex education adds to the educational quality and integrity, as well as the experience of these for students of different backgrounds.  

Conclusion and Suggestions 

There is a lot to be done in the realm of education in Cyprus, for both the Republic and the northern part. To tackle the many challenges, there needs to be a concrete understanding of the institutionalised racism against Turkish speakers. It cannot be brushed under the carpet, nor can it be accepted as a thing that just is the way it is. The quality of education and the educational ambitions of students should not be undercut by the discrimination faced at schools from their peers, or from their lesson materials. 

What is more, a lot more research needs to be done. Empirical research about the educational experiences of students of different backgrounds is crucial to have a concrete understanding of how they are affected. By doing this, certain policies and lessons can be adjusted to be more welcoming and less discriminative to students. It would also highlight the areas that the curriculums are lacking in and see what students need to be taught in schools, such as a broader sex education. There also needs to be thorough statistical research that would clearly show the funding and policy imbalances as well as how many students are benefitting from it (e.g.: dropout rates).  

All these changes and research are difficult and time-intensive projects that will take years upon years to complete and implement, but better late than never!  

References  

Zembylas, M. (2010). Greek-Cypriot teachers’ constructions of Turkish-speaking children’s identities: critical race theory and education in a conflict-ridden society. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 33(8), 1372-1391. 

Cover Image via Freerangestock

Addressing Comprehensive Educational Challenges in São Tomé and Príncipe

Written by Liam Mariotti

São Tomé and Príncipe is a small island nation off the western coast of Central Africa, with a population of 220 000 people and a surface area of 964 square kilometers. Its issues stem mainly from the lack of economic and social capital within the country, a common feature across the African continent, compounded by the geographic isolation and remoteness of the island. The country grapples with numerous educational challenges that hinder its socio-economic progress.  This article delves into the key issues facing the education system in São Tomé and Príncipe and tries to identify some feasible solutions that can improve the conditions of education and the opportunities it can provide to young Santomeans. 

Education system 

   The first topic that will be discussed is the education system. São Tomé and Príncipe’s education system comprises pre-primary, primary, secondary, and tertiary levels. Education is compulsory for children between the ages of 6 and 14, but despite this mandate, many children still face barriers to accessing formal schooling.

  • Pre-Primary Education: Pre-primary education is available for children ages 3 to 6, although attendance rates are relatively low due to limited infrastructure and resources. Pre-primary education aims to provide a foundation for learning and development, preparing children for primary school.
  • Primary Education: Primary education in São Tomé and Príncipe typically spans six years, starting at age 6. The curriculum includes subjects such as Portuguese language, mathematics, science, social studies, and physical education. However, challenges such as overcrowded classrooms, insufficient teaching materials, and a shortage of trained teachers impact the quality of primary education.
  • Secondary Education: Secondary education consists of two cycles: a lower secondary cycle (grades 7 to 9) and an upper secondary cycle (grades 10 to 12). While completion rates for primary education have improved in recent years, enrollment in secondary education remains low, particularly in rural areas. The curriculum at the secondary level focuses on academic subjects as well as technical and vocational education to prepare students for further studies or entry into the workforce.
  •  Tertiary Education: Tertiary education in São Tomé and Príncipe is limited, with a few institutions offering higher education programs. The University of São Tomé and Príncipe, established in 2008, is the country’s primary institution of higher learning. Tertiary education opportunities are limited, and many students pursue higher education abroad due to the lack of diverse academic programs and research opportunities domestically.

General issues

The primary challenge to education in São Tomé and Príncipe is the limited access to it, particularly in rural areas. The country’s remote geographical location, coupled with insufficient infrastructure and transportation networks, makes it difficult for many children to attend school regularly. Additionally, poverty often forces families to prioritize immediate economic needs over education, further exacerbating the problem.

While access to education is crucial, ensuring quality is equally important. São Tomé and Príncipe struggles with inadequate resources, poorly trained teachers, and outdated curricula, leading to subpar educational outcomes. Moreover, the language barrier, as the official language of instruction is Portuguese, presents a significant challenge for students, many of whom speak local dialects at home. Gender disparities persist in São Tomé and Príncipe, with girls facing greater barriers to education compared to boys. Societal norms, early marriage, and traditional gender roles often restrict girls’ access to schooling, perpetuating a cycle of poverty and inequality. Furthermore, São Tomé and Príncipe’s economy faces numerous challenges, including limited fiscal resources and dependence on foreign aid. Budgetary constraints often result in underinvestment in education, hindering efforts to improve infrastructure, recruit qualified teachers, and provide essential learning materials.  Retaining qualified teachers in São Tomé and Príncipe is also a significant challenge due to various  factors such as low salaries, inadequate professional development opportunities, and difficult working conditions. Many teachers leave the profession or seek opportunities abroad, leading to a shortage of experienced educators and impacting the quality of education.

The country faces challenges in ensuring inclusive education for children with disabilities, marginalized communities, and those from disadvantaged backgrounds. Limited resources, lack of specialized support services, and social stigma contribute to the exclusion of these groups from educational opportunities. Effective governance and policy implementation are critical for addressing educational challenges and driving reform in São Tomé and Príncipe. However, governance issues such as corruption, bureaucratic inefficiencies, and political instability can hinder the effective implementation of education policies and initiatives. São Tomé and Príncipe’s education system should not only focus on providing formal schooling but also prioritize lifelong learning and skills development opportunities for individuals of all ages, equipping students with relevant skills and competencies is essential for their personal development and future success in a rapidly changing world.

Thus, to sum up, Sao Tomé’s education system is plagued by a lack of economic resources, which translate into lack of opportunity, for both students and educators, and an incapacity to govern effectively. The lack of social capital also is a major issue as it is very difficult to find skilled individuals who can educate others. The next section will focus on potential solutions to these issues.

Possible solutions

Strengthening governance structures, enhancing transparency and accountability mechanisms, and promoting participatory decision-making processes can improve the effectiveness of education governance in São Tomé and Príncipe. Additionally, fostering collaboration between government agencies, civil society organizations, and other stakeholders can facilitate coordinated efforts to address educational challenges.

To enhance access to education, the government and relevant stakeholders must invest in improving infrastructure, including building schools and enhancing transportation networks, especially in rural areas. Furthermore, targeted initiatives such as school feeding programs and scholarship opportunities can help alleviate the financial burden on families and encourage greater enrollment. Addressing the quality of education requires comprehensive reforms, including teacher training programs to enhance pedagogical skills and proficiency in Portuguese. Additionally, curriculum modernization aligned with the country’s socio-economic needs and cultural context is essential. Investing in educational technology and digital resources can also enhance learning outcomes and prepare students for the demands of the modern workforce.

Empowering girls through targeted interventions, such as awareness campaigns promoting the importance of girls’ education and providing support to families, can help break down these barriers. Implementing policies that promote gender equality in schools, including the recruitment of female teachers and the provision of menstrual hygiene facilities, is crucial. Moreover, addressing underlying socio-cultural norms through community engagement and advocacy efforts can foster a more inclusive and equitable educational environment.

While the government plays a central role in addressing economic challenges, partnerships with international organizations, NGOs, and the private sector are vital for mobilizing additional resources and expertise. Sustainable funding mechanisms, coupled with transparent governance and accountability mechanisms, can ensure that education remains a priority in national development agendas.

Implementing strategies to improve teacher retention and motivation, such as increasing salaries, providing ongoing professional development, and creating supportive working environments, can help attract and retain talented educators. Additionally, recognizing and rewarding teachers for their contributions to education can boost morale and job satisfaction.

Promoting inclusive education policies and practices that accommodate the diverse needs of all learners is essential. This includes providing access to inclusive classrooms, adapting teaching methodologies to meet individual learning styles, and offering support services such as assistive technologies and special education programs. Expanding access to non-formal and vocational education programs, promoting entrepreneurship and technical skills training, and fostering a culture of lifelong learning can empower individuals to pursue diverse educational pathways and adapt to evolving socio-economic demands.

Conclusion

In conclusion, addressing the comprehensive educational challenges in São Tomé and Príncipe requires a multifaceted approach that encompasses various aspects of access, quality, equity, governance, and lifelong learning. While the country faces significant hurdles in providing universal and high-quality education, there are viable solutions that can pave the way for sustainable development and positive societal transformation.

Investments in infrastructure, teacher training, and curriculum reform are essential to improve access to education and enhance learning outcomes. Additionally, efforts to promote gender equality, inclusive education, and community engagement can foster a more equitable and supportive educational environment for all learners.

Furthermore, addressing governance issues, including corruption and bureaucratic inefficiencies, is critical to ensuring effective policy implementation and resource allocation in the education sector. Strengthening partnerships between government agencies, civil society organizations, and international partners can facilitate coordinated efforts to address educational challenges and drive meaningful change.

By prioritizing education as a fundamental pillar of national development and investing in the well-being and potential of its youth, São Tomé and Príncipe can unlock opportunities for socio-economic progress and sustainable growth. Through collective action and sustained commitment from stakeholders at all levels, the transformative power of education can be harnessed to build a brighter future for generations to come.

In closing, addressing the comprehensive educational challenges in São Tomé and Príncipe is not only a moral imperative but also a strategic investment in the country’s future prosperity and well-being. By working together to overcome these challenges, São Tomé and Príncipe can realize its full potential and create a more inclusive, equitable, and prosperous society for all.

References

Cover Image: Children in São Tomé e Príncipe via Wikimedia Commons

Missing Childhoods: Child Kidnapping in Nigeria

Written by Iasmina-Măriuca Stoian

The statistics are disturbing; the reality is devastating. It has been 9 years since the horrendous abduction of the Chibok girls, yet the nightmare continues as children are still being kidnapped, forcibly recruited, killed and injured– their futures torn away,” said Cristian Munduate, UNICEF Representative in Nigeria.

Historical background

Situated on the West coast of Africa, Nigeria is a country with a rich history, that was also intertwined with its history as a British colony. Only after 1960, when it gained its independence, and it was declared a republic in 1963, Nigeria faced a difficult period of various dictatorships and political regimes that led to more political instability.

Additionally,  the country has faced issues such as cultural tensions, corruption and inequality. Recently, the numbers on child kidnappings have grown exponentially, particularly in conflict areas. These abductions not only have affected the families and the local communities but also have raised serious issues relating to the current administration and calls for urgent measures to be taken both at the national and international levels.

Despite the continuous efforts to address this issue, child kidnappings continue to remain one of the main challenges of the country, affecting not only the lives of children but also the country’s future. This article will look into the root causes that led to this serious issue, as well as the measures that were taken to combat the kidnappings and possible future measures to be taken by the government and international agents.

Understanding the issue

According to recent articles , more than 280 students were kidnapped from elementary schools in the northern region of the country, and seized by militants. This incident is reported to be bigger than the previous one[jc6] , also known as the Chibok girls abduction case. In 2014, Boko Haram, an Islamist jihadist group based in the northeastern region of Nigeria, abducted 276 girls from their dormitories, many of them still remaining missing to this day. This outrageous incident sparked international debate and led to the creation of the #BringBackOurGirls campaign on numerous social media platforms. The reality behind the abductions is even more horrific, leading to other crimes, such as rape, killing, and forced marriages.

Nine years after the Chibok girls incident, Amnesty International and UNICEF highlighted the lack of investigations by local authorities, abandonment of the cases and lack of action from the government. However, schools still are targets of abduction cases that are reported weekly, resulting in approximately 780 abducted children and 61 still held in captivity. [ii]Thus, international organizations are continuing to call for protection and justice for those children, as well as for measures to be taken by the Nigerian authorities.

This issue not only affects the lives of children and families, but it also associated with other issues in the country such as poverty, low rates of employment, political instability, and religious tensions. These challenges will be further discussed in the following paragraphs, explaining them in more detail.

Root causes

Poverty & unemployment

There is a strong link between poverty and unemployment and the issue of kidnapping in Nigeria. Recent rates indicate that almost 46% of Nigerians live in poverty, [iii] and this includes millions of youths who are unemployed and do not benefit from governmental help in any way.

Most of those children did not have access to education, finding their way of living on the streets, where they are most vulnerable. Kidnapping of children is used, besides for political bargains, also for economic gain (kidnapping for ransom), which seems to become more common as the economic gap between rich and poor families grows.

Religious & political factors

Religious differences and the constant tension between the Christian and Islamic citizens are also root causes of the kidnappings. The two religions have been in conflict for generations, thus leading to the abduction of numerous children who were secretly killed in the northern part of the country.

Boko Haram is an extremist terrorist group and their kidnappings are both religious and politically rooted, as declared by their leaders. They mostly target and abduct Christians, as well as people who do not recognize their ideology or political movement.

Methods and tactics of kidnappers

As methods, kidnapping of children can involve the use of offensive gadgets, weapons, specially designed technologies for tracking victims, as well as sensitive information about the targets in order to forcefully take them away from their families and instil fear in their minds. Moreover, kidnapping groups have an impressive organization strategy, in which they are structured on different teams, such as operation teams, guards, tax forces etc.

The reports show that most kidnappers carefully plan their abductions, calculating the costs and benefits of each action. Their preferences on targets vary between different factors that were previously mentioned, such as political, religious, and social backgrounds. This cost for each victim is calculated according to their Kidnap Ransom Value(KRV). In the context of child kidnapping, children from affluent families, with high social status, or from families that have bigger influence may have a higher KRV than others.

Impact on families and society

Child kidnapping can have a devastating effect on families and also on the community, instilling fear and anxiety. Apart from the evident trauma that is inflicted on the past victims, families are also affected. The emotional burden of not knowing the fate or the status of their relative who was abducted is a real trauma, that can cause stress, depression and anxiety in the long-term. Additionally, to the emotional impact, families can also be affected financially, having to face the costs of recovery, treatment or, in the cases of ransom kidnappings, the price they have to pay for having back their children.

On a larger scale, those abductions have also a long-term impact on the local communities. Kidnapped children, especially underaged girls, who can often be victims of other cruel acts, such as slavery, forced marriage and sexual molestation, have a higher impact on society. Thus, from affected families to a local community and later to the whole nation, this issue leads to insecurity, while insecurity leads to political tensions and instability.

Future challenges & solutions

Both present and past governments have tried so far to combat this issue of kidnapping children in Nigeria, through several measures. National and international bodies have collaborated and started several projects, to combat both terrorist threats by the Boko Haram group, and also the criminal activities associated with kidnapping. Other projects were designed to reduce poverty and to increase the quality and accessibility to education, in order to offer children an option and a chance not to end up living on the streets.

More effective solutions in combating this issue are to focus more and pay more attention to the root causes of kidnapping. This could include offering more employment opportunities for youth, investment projects in education, adoption of stricter and more protective laws and regulations and anti-kidnapping measures.

Conclusions

In conclusion, child kidnapping is a serious and complex issue that has different root causes, such as poverty, unemployment, religious and political tensions, and organized criminal group activities. The impact on families and society is enormous, leading to psychological and emotional long-term trauma. Thus, both international and national authorities should take urgent measures and also highlight the importance of international collaboration.

References


[i] See the articles from UNICEF titled “Devastating Reality: 9 Years After Chibok Abductions, Children in Northeast Nigeria Continue to Suffer the Brutal Consequences of Conflict”, and from CBS News “Witnesses in Nigeria say hundreds of children kidnapped in second mass-abduction in less than a week” for more details.

[ii] See the article from Amnesty International “Nigeria: Nine years after Chibok girls’ abducted, authorities failing to protect children”.

[iii] See Bello (2022) for more consideration.

 

The working children of Tanzania: poverty and labour 

Written by Mayeda Tayyab

Tanzania is a country with a population of 45 million people, half of which are under the age of 18. According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), about 4.2 million of Tanzania’s children (5-17 years old) engage in child labour, almost evenly split between boys and girls. Unfortunately, these children rarely earn anything for their labour as 92.4% work as unpaid family helpers while only 4% work in paid employment (International Labour Organisation and National Bureau of Statistics Tanzania, 2024). It is important to note that these numbers exclude any illegal activities involving children, like child trafficking, commercial sexual exploitation, and child slavery.

Why are these children working?

The main cause leading to child labour in Tanzania is poverty. As of 2022, half of Tanzania’s population – 26 million people – lived in extreme poverty (Cowling, 2024). Thus these families rely heavily on child labour to meet the financial needs of their home.

Poor families in rural areas dependent on farming for their livelihood cannot afford to buy machinery or hire help to assist with farming. Hence, children from these families take on a big part of the responsibilities that come with farming. This kind of child labour falls under the category of unpaid family work. Most of these children are exposed to harsh climates while working on farms and work gruellingly long hours.

In addition to carrying out unpaid family work to help with finances, these children simply cannot afford to go to school. Many children from such backgrounds, particularly those living in rural areas, also need schools within safe distance of their homes. With no access to public transport and the inability to afford private transport, children who go to school must walk long distances to do so. Therefore, many children in these cases end up dropping out of school, unable to keep up with the work at home as well as studies.

Unpaid family work: tobacco farms

Child labour itself is not the only problem faced by Tanzanian children, their safety and well-being in performing hazardous work for low to no pay is also a critical matter. A good example of this is child labour in tobacco-growing communities. This work takes the form of unpaid family work.

Children working in this industry perform a wide range of duties from field preparation to construction of barns, packaging, and cutting firewood. Working in open tobacco fields exposes these children to extreme weather conditions: scorching heat from the sun. On top of that, children spend hours working in unsanitary and unventilated sheds used to manage and store tobacco. All of this work involves handling tobacco and toxic fertilizers without any protective gear, having detrimental effects on the health of these developing children. There is also limited access to first aid kits in cases of injury while working on the farm.

In 2016, ILO and ARISE conducted an assessment on children working in hazardous conditions and its impact on their health. During the research, it was found that half of the children interviewed for the study were working 5-8 hours a day, while one-third were working more than 8 hours a day – exceeding the standard working limit for adults – in dangerous conditions. Hence, in addition to the health risks associated with working in tobacco fields without protection, these children also suffer from extreme exhaustion due to the long hours and the physical demands that such work requires.

Child domestic workers

Another type of child labour common in Tanzania is in the form of child domestic workers. According to Anti-slavery International (2024), around 3% of the urban homes in Tanzania have child domestic workers. Almost a third of these child workers are between the ages of 10 to 14 and most of them (more than 80%) are girls (Anti-slavery International, 2024).

Tanzanian children end up in domestic servitude in two main ways: 1) Girls who run away from their families escaping domestic violence or forced marriages – a common practice in rural Tanzania where daughters are married off at a very young age for ‘the bride price’ to reduce the financial burden on the family, 2) Girls who are sent to cities to work as domestic workers by their families as an alternative to child marriage.

This kind of child labour comes with its risks. Unfortunately, many child domestic workers suffer physical and sexual abuse at the hands of their employers. Parents who send their kids to cities for this kind of work are often unaware of the abuse and exploitation faced by the children at the hands of their employers. These child domestic workers find themselves in extremely vulnerable positions and under the complete control of their employers as most of them do not have any formal work contract (only about 0.5 % of them have formal contracts), little to no pay for working up to 60+ hours a week, and no access to proper schooling (Anti-slavery International, 2024). With no financial independence and isolation from family, these children have no means of escaping the abuse they suffer at the hands of their employers. According to Anti-slavery International (2017), 40% of children working as domestic workers suffered physical abuse, 17% experienced sexual abuse, and more than 60% were illiterate.

Education and child labour

Child labour has a direct impact on children’s early education and a long-term impact on decent employment in adulthood. According to the International Labour Organisation (2018), most of the children engaged in child labour (nearly 95%) work in agriculture and almost all agricultural labour (92.5%) is unpaid family work. This type of work entails long hours, leaving no time for studies, hobbies, and activities with friends. Hence, Tanzanian children in child labour have a much higher school dropout rate than children who are not working. These working children, even if enrolled in school, are at a disadvantage in maintaining their studies and grades than children who are not in child labour.

Furthermore, 8% of Tanzanian children within the compulsory schooling age (7-13 years) are not enrolled in school (International Labour Organisation, 2018). 40% of these children have either never been to school or have dropped out of school due to several reasons such as the distance of the school from home, and the cost of attending school (International Labour Organisation, 2018). Some of these children are not interested in attending school, while some of them are looking for work, others cannot go to school due to family responsibilities such as caring for sick family members or children.

Thus Tanzania’s child labour has a detrimental impact on its children’s early education and development, creating adults with little to no basic skills needed to secure decent employment, therefore creating an endless cycle of poverty and child labour.

References

Cover Image “Helping Hands” by USAID/Tanzania via Flickr

Nepal: Discrimination in the Educational System

Written by Iasmina-Măriuca Stoian

Nepal, also known as the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal, is situated in the southern part of the Himalayas.  It is famous for its breathtaking mountainous landscapes, diverse population, and rich cultural and spiritual heritage. However, behind this picturesque panorama lies a more stressful landscape full of millions of children facing a serious and persistent issue, spread all over the country. An issue which has been affecting the country’s prosperity and aspiration for socio-economic development.

Inclusion and access to education are two fundamental rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), specifically in Article 26. Furthermore, the education given must be provided without discrimination, as it is linked to another fundamental right, freedom from discrimination, as stated in Article 7.

However, the discrimination in the educational system in Nepal seems to have numerous causes, from political conflicts, that cause disruptions and displacements of entire families, to socio-economic backgrounds, that include poverty, inadequate infrastructure, and others. This article aims to explain the fragile connection between the causes and the results, namely the types of discrimination that exist in the educational system in Nepal. It will further present some of the solutions for those issues and the government’s perspective for the future, according to the School Education Sector Plan (2022)

Origin-based discrimination

While the term “Dalit” does not have an official definition, it can be understood from the Nepalese context as “untouchables” persons or as a minority caste group that is (especially) educationally disadvantaged. In Nepal, Dalits experience a poverty rate of 42%, compared to the national average of 25.2% (International Dalit Solidarity Network, 2021). While poverty is not a direct cause for educational exclusion for Dalit groups, it is one of the factors that lowers this group on the caste hierarchy

Despite the adoption of the Caste-based Discrimination and Untouchability (Crime and Punishment) Act in 2011, cast-based violence and discrimination towards Dalit people are still a reality. In the educational system, there is a discrepancy between what is taught in classrooms and what is effectively happening. While teachers are not always showing direct discrimination, some cases show the tendency to avoid staying, drinking or eating near them, a sort of ‘hidden’ or ‘silent’ discrimination. Caste-based discrimination is therefore one of the reasons why Dalit students are falling behind in education, whether it is related to the accessibility to education or discriminatory behaviour from other students or teachers. On a further basis, this discrimination can lead to other issues, such as the higher risk of child labour compared to other children.

Gender biases

In Nepal, Dalit female students experience double discrimination, as they are both females and part of Dalit culture. According to a survey from 2020 (World Economic Forum, 2020), Nepal is ranked as the 101st out of 153 countries on the Gender Gap Index. The statistics reflect gender-based discrimination on enrolment rates, dropout rates and academic performance rates. What is interesting is that, like origin-based discrimination, gender biases are interconnected with educational exclusion, influenced by social, cultural, and economic factors.

In the socio-cultural context, there is a tendency towards a patriarchal system of social relations, where male students experience less discrimination than female ones, and girls are under the burden of housework. Even the educational system promotes gender inequality, by providing textbooks and other materials that lack female representation or are mostly presented as passive characters. In contrast, male characters are represented as the main source of knowledge and wisdom.

Disability inequity

This issue has an underlying bigger issue, at the national level. It was reported that the current national disability classification system is very restrictive and does not meet international standards. Moreover, it lacks proper collection of data regarding persons with disabilities both inside and outside the school children. In the end, more and more children not only lack proper access to education, but they are also victims of discrimination, abuse and other injustices, but nothing has changed. Only about 50% of schools in Nepal are providing remote teaching and learning support for students with disabilities (Sherpa et al., 2020). This number increased especially after the pandemic. However, not only the quantity is important, but the quality of education given also plays a crucial role.

Despite the progress in policy and the adoption of new policies to promote disability rights, such as the Disability Rights Act and an Inclusive Education Policy for Persons with Disabilities in 2017, children are still offered poor education and are facing discrimination. Segregation from other children from other classrooms is one form of discrimination, as children with any kind of disabilities are divided from the other students, despite some children’s wish to learn in the same classrooms as normal people, according to some interviews conducted by Human Rights Watch. In the end, the lack of trained teachers, lack of reasonable accommodations, physical accessibility and segregation are some of the obstacles that are a constant burden on the backs of children with disabilities in Nepal.

Language barriers

This issue is closely linked to the discrimination between indigenous children in schools. Nepal, apart from its  diverse culture, is also one of the most linguistically diverse countries in the world, having 123 spoken languages and ethnic groups, according to the Census Report from 2011. Moreover, 36% of the total number of children in Nepal are indigenous. However, children from minority language backgrounds or who have limited proficiency in Nepali, also have limited access to education, while some children have access to education in their native language. As a result, the lack of educational materials combined with the lack of trained teachers in different languages heavily affects the education process of students who are indigenous or from minorities, leading to low academic performances, illiteracy, and high dropout rates.

Future Perspectives and solutions

To mitigate those issues, the Government took steps to improve the educational system and lower the discrimination rate. Most of them are outlined in the School Education Sector Plan, drafted by the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology.

Among the proposed solutions, the ministry highlighted the need to adopt an inclusive curriculum in schools that ensures equity (especially) for students that come from marginalized groups, such as the Dalits, and ones with disabilities. The plan also includes making the education system more effective, improving its quality, and including alternative pathways of education to be more accessible. Additionally, there is a recognized need for multilingual education to eradicate language-based discrimination and for more trained teachers and staff, for the purpose of encouraging community engagement.

Some policies drafted by UNICEF also recognize the need for collaboration between international organizations and the government, to make sure children’s rights are protected and help with implementing more protective programs.

Lastly, it is important to monitor and closely look at the progress, in the hope that is ensured the effectiveness of the policies and accountability in the battle to eliminate discrimination in the educational sector.

Reflections and summary

Reflecting on the multi-layered issues that affect the educational system in Nepal, discrimination is a main barrier to equitable education, whether it is based on origin, gender, disability or language. Despite the government’s efforts to tackle this issue, the problem persists. The mixture of the social, economic and cultural factors reflects the complexity of the issue. Looking into the future,  there is a need for a collective effort in order to make schools more inclusive, more accessible, and more supportive.

References

  • Nepal: Separate and Unequal Education | Human Rights Watch. (2011, August 24). https://www.hrw.org/news/2011/08/24/nepal-separate-and-unequal-education
  • How the Nepali education system furthers gender inequality—The Record. (n.d.). https://www.recordnepal.com/how-the-nepali-education-system-further-gender-inequality
  • International Labour Organization. (September 2023) Executive summary. Issue paper on child labour and education exclusion among indigenous children. https://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/—ed_norm/—ipec/documents/publication/wcms_894323.pdf
  • UNICEF. (August 2021). Disability-Inclusive Education Practices in Nepal https://www.unicef.org/rosa/media/17006/file/Country%20Profile%20-%20Nepal.pdf
  • Human Rights Watch.(2018).Nepal: Barriers to Inclusive Education. https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/09/13/nepal-barriers-inclusive-education
  • Human Rights Watch. (2021). World Report 2022. https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2022/country-chapters/nepal
  • Gupta, A. K., Kanu, P. K., & Lamsal, B. P. (2021). Gender Discrimination in Nepal. Journal of Contemporary Sociological Issues, 1(2), 145-165. https://doi.org/10.19184/csi.v1i2.25592
  • Maya S.,Aedo, Kartihka R. (2020, December 4). Making learning accessible to all in Nepal. https://blogs.worldbank.org/endpovertyinsouthasia/making-learning-accessible-all-nepal
  • Deviram Acharya.(2021). Status of Girls’ Participation in Higher Education in Nepal. 6(2), 68-85.https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1328281.pdf
  • Sonu Kahali, Sipra Sagarika. (October 15 2021). Education and Caste Based Discrimination: A Sociological Understanding. 10(2). https://www.researchgate.net/publication/356161834_Education_and_Caste_Based_Discrimination_A_Sociological_Understanding
  • Damodar Khanal.(2015). The Quest for Educational Inclusion in Nepal: A Study of Factors Limiting the Schooling of Dalit Children. https://pure.manchester.ac.uk/ws/portalfiles/portal/84027010/FULL_TEXT.PDF
  • Government of Nepal, Ministry of Education, Science and Technology. (2022).School Education Sector Plan. https://moest.gov.np/upload_file/files/post/1668690227_1997409338_Nepal%20School%20Education%20Sector%20Plan%20final%202022%20.pdf
  • Adhikari, K. P., & Gellner, D. N. (2023). Two Steps Forward, One Step Back: Dalit Experiences of Primary and Secondary Education in West-Central Nepal. In K. Valentin & U. Pradhan (Eds.), Anthropological Perspectives on Education in Nepal: Educational Transformations and Avenues of Learning. Oxford University Press. https://doi.org/10.1093/oso/9780192884756.003.0005
  • UN General Assembly. (1948). Universal declaration of human rights (217 [III] A). Paris.
  • Gupta, A., Kanu, P., & Lamsal, B. (2021). Gender Discrimination in Nepal: Does It Vary Across Socio- Demographics? Journal of Contemporary Sociological Issues, 1, 61–82. https://doi.org/10.19184/csi.v1i2.25592
  • Convention on the Rights of the Child Shadow Report Submission: Indigenous Children’s Rights Violations in Nepal. (2016). https://www.culturalsurvival.org/sites/default/files/media/nepalcrcreport.pdf
  • Sangmo Yonjan-Tamang. Linguistic discrimination and conflict. (n.d.). Retrieved 18 March 2024, from https://kathmandupost.com/columns/2021/03/02/linguistic-discrimination-and-conflict

Cover image: Grade 8 student studies at Shree Dharmasthali Lower Secondary School, Pokhara, Nepal. Photo by Jim Holmes for AusAID. via Wikimedia Commons

International Day of Living Together in Peace – May 16th

Written by Astrid Euwe Wyss and Panashe Marie Louise Mlambo 

On 16 May, the world celebrates the International Day of Living Together in Peace, established by the UN General Assembly in its resolution 72/130 on 8 December 2017.1 This day calls upon individuals and communities globally to unite in the spirit of peace, understanding, and cooperation, fostering an environment where differences are respected and harmony is pursued. 

Broken Chalk, a dedicated advocate for educational rights and human rights, proudly reaffirms its commitment to promoting peace and understanding in educational settings worldwide. Our organization tirelessly engages with international bodies, governments, and key stakeholders to champion the cause of living together in peace, particularly within the education sector.2 

The essence of the International Day of Living Together in Peace aligns seamlessly with the principles enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states, “Everyone has the right to education” and “Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.”3 Broken Chalk stands firmly behind these ideals, advocating for educational environments where peace, tolerance, and mutual respect are paramount. 

Broken Chalk recognizes the urgent need to bridge this gap and ensure that educational laws worldwide promote peace and non-discrimination. By advocating for stronger legal frameworks and inclusive policies, we aim to uphold the fundamental right to education for all individuals, regardless of their background or circumstances. 

“Our work is driven by a commitment to fostering peace and understanding in education. On this International Day of Living Together in Peace, we urge governments and stakeholders to prioritize the promotion of peace in education and to take decisive action to address systemic inequalities and conflicts.” – Broken Chalk representatives.  

As an international organization, Broken Chalk remains steadfast in its mission to achieve both local and global perspectives in its advocacy efforts. Through collaborative action and collective engagement, we strive to create a world where every individual has access to quality education in a peaceful, inclusive, and respectful environment and continue to promote peace, tolerance, inclusion, understanding, and solidarity. 

Education Cannot Wait: Empowering Children in Crisis Through Global Fund for Education

Written by Frida Brekk

In a global landscape characterized by conflicts, disasters, and protracted crises, the fundamental right of education often finds itself neglected. However, since its establishment in 2016, Education Cannot Wait (ECW) has emerged as a beacon of hope for countless children and youth affected by such circumstances. Functioning as the United Nations’ global fund for education in emergencies, ECW strives to bridge the gap that exists between immediate humanitarian response and long-term development aid. Its primary objective is to ensure that children can avail themselves of safe, high-quality, and inclusive education.

Through its significant and impactful initiatives, Education Cannot Wait plays a crucial role in empowering children worldwide. Emergencies, whether arising from conflicts, natural disasters, or other crises, disrupt lives and inflict profound devastation upon communities. Amidst such chaos, the fundamental right to education is often relegated to a secondary concern.

Displaced children, in particular, frequently find themselves deprived of access to schools, teachers, and educational resources, thereby jeopardizing their prospects for a better future. The absence of education further exposes these children to heightened vulnerability, exploitation, and the perpetuation of cycles of poverty and inequality. Acknowledging the pressing urgency of this situation, Education Cannot Wait was established with the explicit purpose of addressing the educational needs of children enduring crisis situations.

The fund operates as a unique partnership that brings together governments, United Nations agencies, civil society organizations, donors, and other stakeholders. Its goal is to mobilize resources and coordinate action to deliver quality education to children and youth affected by emergencies. By aligning humanitarian and development efforts, ECW aims to create sustainable solutions and provide education as a lifeline for affected communities.

How does the ECW fund work?

Key Objectives and Strategies of ECW include endeavours to secure and invest resources for education in emergencies. By leveraging both public and private funds, the fund aims to close the financing gap and ensure sustained support for education programs during crises.

Through its Rapid Response Mechanism, ECW can quickly disburse funds in the early stages of a crisis. This enables the immediate establishment of temporary learning spaces, the recruitment and training of teachers, the provision of learning materials, and the delivery of psychosocial support.

Education Cannot Wait promotes innovative approaches and partnerships to improve education outcomes in emergencies. By collaborating with governments, NGOs, and the private sector, ECW strives to harness technological advancements, adapt education models, and implement effective programs that reach vulnerable children.

Impact and Sucess Story in Africa’s Lake Chad

Since its inception, Education Cannot Wait has made a significant impact on the lives of crisis-affected children. It has reached over 4 million children and youth across more than 30 countries, providing them with access to education and restoring a sense of normalcy amidst chaos. ECW’s initiatives have resulted in increased school enrolment rates, improved learning outcomes, enhanced protection measures, and the empowerment of marginalized groups, particularly girls. 

One notable success story is ECW’s partnership with UNICEF in the Lake Chad Bassin region. Through innovative programming, ECW has established learning spaces, trained teachers, and delivered essential educational materials to children affected by the Boko Haram insurgency. These interventions have allowed children to regain a sense of stability and hope, paving the way for a brighter future.

The violence in Cameroon’s Far North region, coupled with challenges such as poverty, weak public services, armed conflicts, and climate change, have put the affected children and adolescents at risk. ECW’s funding seeks to ensure their safety, rights, and access to quality education. The investment is supporting teacher training, infrastructure development, and community-based initiatives to promote inclusive education and empower girls. This funding complements previous ECW investments in Chad, demonstrating a commitment to education in emergencies and the well-being of crisis-affected children and adolescents.

Education Cannot Wait’s tireless efforts to prioritize education in emergencies have brought hope and transformation to countless children and youth affected by crises worldwide. By bridging the gap between humanitarian response and development aid, ECW has proven that education can be a powerful catalyst for change.

Cover Image: Lake Chad Bassin crisis january 2017 via Flickr

References

Education Cannot Wait (ECW) Official Website https://www.educationcannotwait.org/

Ibid. “Where we Work”, Chad. https://www.educationcannotwait.org/our-investments/where-we-work/chad

From Challenges to Triumphs: Latvia’s Educational Narrative

Written by Anastasia Bagration-Gruzinski

Education plays a vital role in the development and prosperity of any nation. In Latvia, a Baltic country in Northern Europe with a population of 1.9 million, the post-Soviet era brought opportunities for growth and reform across various sectors. However, as Latvia embarked on its independent path, it faced significant challenges within its education system. This article delves into the diverse educational challenges facing Latvia and proposes potential solutions to ensure a brighter future for its youth and the nation as a whole.

Quality of Education

One of the primary challenges plaguing Latvia’s education system is the uneven quality of education. Although some improvements have occurred over the years, Latvian students’ average performance in international assessments, such as the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), continues to lag behind the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) average.

For example, Latvia ranked 30th out of 79 countries in mathematics, science and reading in the 2018 PISA assessments and 21 in the 2022 PISA. Such trends highlight underlying issues within teaching methodologies, curriculum design, assessment practices and learning environments that need attention and reform. Insufficient training for teachers and limited education funding contribute to this challenge.

Regional Disparities

Latvia’s education system exhibits significant regional disparities in access to quality education. Rural areas and small towns, especially Latgale – the poorest region, suffer from inadequate educational resources. This includes shortages of well-trained teachers, crumbling school infrastructure, lack of access to technology, limited course options, and inadequate learning facilities like libraries or laboratories.

For instance, schools in rural Aluksne had 10 teachers per 100 students in 2020, compared to just 6 teachers per 100 students in urban Riga. Such inequality in opportunities based on geographical location is a matter of grave concern and requires immediate policy and resource allocation interventions.

Teacher Shortages

Similar to many countries worldwide, Latvia faces an acute shortage of qualified teachers across subjects, which exacerbates educational challenges. Low salaries, limited professional development opportunities, high workloads and stressful working conditions contribute to the lack of new entrants to the teaching profession.

For example, the average monthly salary for teachers was just €930 in 2019, nearly 25% below the national average. Subjects like mathematics, sciences, foreign languages, and vocational skills face especially dire shortages. The consequences of teacher shortages are far-reaching, negatively impacting the quality of education and student outcomes.

Language of Instruction

Latvia’s ethnically diverse population, including a significant Russian-speaking minority comprising over 30% of the populace, poses challenges regarding language of instruction policies. The current national educational policy prioritizes Latvian as the primary medium of instruction. This can disadvantage students from Russian or other linguistic minority backgrounds who struggle with academic Latvian.

Critics argue this language barrier can result in lower educational attainment and assessments for minority-language students. Hence, balancing preservation of the national language with principles of equity and inclusion remains a persistent dilemma.

Early School Drop-out

Latvia has one of the highest rates of early school leaving in the European Union, with over 8% of 18-24 year olds classified as early school leavers in 2020. This premature disengagement from education severely limits students’ future higher education and employment prospects in today’s knowledge economy.

Complex factors like poverty, learning difficulties, family problems, disability or cultural biases contribute to early school abandonment. Tackling this urgent issue requires identifying and addressing its multifaceted root causes.

Possible Solutions to Latvia’s Educational Challenges:

1. Teacher Training and Professional Development

Investing in rigorous pre-service and in-service teacher training programs is crucial to enhance the quality of education in Latvia. Providing teachers with ample opportunities to learn modern pedagogies, educational technology skills, subject content knowledge and classroom management strategies can positively impact their teaching quality and student learning.

Incentives like salary increases for professional development, reduced workloads for new teachers, and training costs coverage can encourage continuous upskilling. Latvia must elevate the teaching profession and empower teachers to provide an outstanding education.

2. Equitable Resource Allocation

To mitigate regional disparities, the Latvian government must prioritize the equitable allocation of educational resources, including qualified teachers, infrastructure upgrades, learning technologies and instructional materials. Needs-based funding formulas can help ensure rural schools receive resources matching their student requirements. Upgrading rural school facilities and amenities is essential to bridge the urban-rural divide.

3. Multilingual Education

Promoting competency-based multilingual education is key to cater to Latvia’s diverse populace. Students should build a strong foundation in Latvian while also gaining proficiency in languages like English and Russian to thrive in a globalized world. Introducing immersive bilingual programs, recruiting multilingual teachers and encouraging exchange programs can support an inclusive multilingual vision.

4. Vocational Education

Latvia should strengthen and elevate vocational education and training (VET) programs as a viable pathway for students. VET provides relevant skills for trades and careers like engineering, IT, healthcare, business, hospitality and more. Work-based learning through apprenticeships and partnerships with industry can boost employability. Promoting VET through career guidance initiatives and highlighting its benefits is imperative.

5. Early Intervention Programs

Implementing targeted early intervention programs is vital to identify and assist students at risk of dropping out. Academic, social, psychological and career counseling services can help struggling students overcome challenges. Initiatives like vocational or alternative schools, online/remote learning options, and modified curriculum or evaluations may re-engage disconnected students. A holistic support system can get students back on track.

6. International Collaboration

International cooperation provides invaluable insights into global best practices that can inform Latvia’s education reforms. Participating in exchange programs, partnering with international education experts, and exploring successful initiatives from high-performing school systems worldwide can accelerate improvements. The OECD and EU provide important technical guidance and networking platforms.

7. Parental Engagement

Schools should actively encourage parental participation in education through frequent communication and workshops on supporting children’s learning. Equipping parents with tools like reading aids, disciplinary techniques and homework strategies fosters positive home learning environments. Regular parent-teacher meetings and volunteering opportunities can strengthen family-school partnerships and student outcomes.

8. Technology Integration

Integrating digital technologies like online learning platforms, interactive simulations, education apps and multimedia creation tools can enhance instruction and learning. However, this requires infrastructure investments, teacher training, well-designed e-content, and equitable student access. Blending online elements with traditional classroom teaching can make learning engaging, collaborative and tailored to diverse needs.

9. Quality Assurance Mechanisms

Robust quality assurance frameworks are essential to monitor and evaluate school performance, teacher practices and student outcomes. Standardized assessments, inspections, surveys and performance targets can help identify areas for improvement. Data analytics should guide evidence-based reforms and resource allocation. Sharing best practices between high-performing and struggling schools also facilitates growth.

10. Comprehensive Education Reforms

Fundamental reforms are imperative to address deep-rooted, systemic challenges. Policy initiatives could encompass modernizing curricula, elevating teacher status, implementing equitable funding structures, improving vocational education and creating inclusive language policies. A long-term roadmap for phased reforms with clear goals and monitoring systems can drive impactful change.

11. Increased Public Investment

Adequate public financial resources are critical to execute impactful reforms, upgrade infrastructure, support teachers and improve overall quality. Education funding in Latvia remains below EU averages. Policymakers must make education a top priority in annual budgets. Supplementing with support from parents, communities and private sector can create synergies.

In conclusion, Latvia’s key education challenges encompass uneven quality, regional disparities, teacher shortages, language barriers, and high early school leaving. Tackling these requires a multidimensional approach including teacher development, equitable resource allocation, multilingual instruction, vocational training, preventive interventions, digital adoption, quality assurance frameworks, public investment and international collaboration. Investing in such solutions can empower Latvia’s youth to excel academically and professionally while fostering inclusive growth. Education is the foundation for Latvia’s progress, competitiveness and prosperity in the 21st century global economy. With comprehensive reforms and collective effort from all stakeholders, Latvia can transform its education system challenges into triumph.

A special mention goes to my dear friend Ana Mamaladze, whose valuable insights and discussions greatly enhanced the depth of my research.

Educational Challenges in Spain

Written by María Núñez Fontain

A BOAT WITHOUT A CAPTAIN IS CONDEMNED TO SINK

Spain is a developed country and member of the European Union, which would give it a clear advantage in terms of educational levels and resources. Nevertheless, taking a closer look at Spain’s educational system, this quickly proves not to be the case.

At first glance, Spain’s most predominant issue seems to be clear: despite numerous attempts to modernise and adapt the educational curriculum, it still seems to be far and detached from the demands of its society.[1] Due to its decentralized State, this also proved problematic when attempting to achieve unity and equality.

As recent as 2021, Spain introduced the LOMLOE,[2] the new law on education that built upon the previous one – LOE – and obliviated the previous legislation, the LOMCE. This new law highlights sustainable development, gender equality, childhood rights, digital transformation and the adoption of a transversal approach to ensure success throughout constant improvement.

DROPOUT RATES

Spanish students tend to obtain low results on the PISA tests, despite being one of the countries that spends most time in classrooms.[3] The PISA is a test which measures 15-year-old´s educational level, and it is taken every three years. These low results reflect Spain´s teaching method, which focuses on memorizing information and not developing one´s autonomy and problem-solving skills. Another issue which may be linked to Spain’s low results is the fact that it currently has the highest school drop out rate of all European Union, as the current teaching methods make it difficult to maintain the student´s motivation and interest.[4] Unfortunately, this apathy also translates onto the teachers, who should be the ones sparking the interest of the students but, at the same time, should be motivated themselves.

The rate of early school dropout reached 14% in 2012, 5% above the EU target for 2030 which is set at 9%. This number makes Spain the second country in Europe with the most amount of people between 18 and 24 years old without basic education and training.[5] This percentage being highest among students whose mothers did not complete their primary education.[6] Ultimately, this reflects the biggest challenge currently facing Spain’s education system: the socioeconomic segregation.

SOCIOECONOMIC SEGREGATION

This is an issue which the European Commission and the United Nations have repeatedly requested Spain to address, and the socioeconomic disparity was also targeted in a report by the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights in 2020. Before analysing its content, this article will offer a brief outlook at the socioeconomic situation of Spain with regards to education.

When addressing educational shortcomings, debates often revolve around aspects such as religion as a school subject or the strict use of the State’s official languages.[7] These two issues, while relevant, are far removed from the immediate problem. Spain shows high rates of inequality, scholarly failure, lack of monetary resources and scholarly segregation for socioeconomic reasons.[8]

In Spain, public schools host a high percentage of immigrants and students from low income families, which only increases the correlation between the quality of the education and the monetary resources to afford it – ultimately turning public schools into “guettos” with limited possibilities for their students and teachers.[9]

With the new legislation, the criteria for selecting students into public and private schools will fall on the hands of the public Administration, in what seems as an attempt to bridge this gap. In spite of this, the lack of awareness – or willingness to do so – must be addressed first if any solutions are going to be discussed.

Boy walking with a backpack in Spain. Picture by Jesús Rodríguez (2017)

THE ROLE OF TEACHERS

There is one challenge around which there is – almost – universal consensus: the role of the teachers. As the figures in charge of guiding students from an early age, teachers are often not given the respect they deserve as attending school is seen as a “tedious chore” in Spain. This might be because of the education teachers themselves receive, which is focused on the institutional aspects but does not give them the tools from a pedagogic perspective.[10]

Furthermore, the profession of a teacher presents a high percentage of instability, which prevents them from growing professionally.[11] This is exacerbated by the numerous changes in the educational laws that have taken place during recent times, a common object of concern and condemnation amongst teachers. With education often being used as a political weapon, its legislation changes along with the different governments.

Broken Chalk had the opportunity to interview Raúl Prada, the Head of Language Departments of a school in Spain. His answers will allow the reader to gain a better perspective on the education challenges that Spain currently faces from the perspective of a teacher who, as said by himself, is “in love with his profession”.

Q. What, in your opinion, are the main educational challenges in Spain?

I believe that the main challenges facing education in Spain are an excessive ratio in the classrooms that prevents the teacher from giving personalised attention. With the increase in students with special needs in each classroom, the problem worsens: these students are the most affected by this inability to provide them with special care and, ultimately, it plays a role in moving them further and further away from their integration into society.

Q. Do you think that in Spain there is a problem of socioeconomic segregation when it comes to education? Why? Why not?

Socioeconomic segregation is clearly connected to what was answered above, since the excess ratio at all levels causes students with more personal, social and economic difficulties to see themselves in clear inferiority with respect to those whose families can afford external support. This becomes even more evident in those families who cannot afford for their children to participate in activities during extracurricular hours.

Q. Have you encountered any experiences of socioeconomic segregation?

The aforementioned is a fact that we encounter every day in any classroom in Spain: an excess of students who should have more and better attention and teachers who cannot give more than they do, causing great frustration in them.

Q. How do you think teachers are viewed in the Spanish educational system?

The role of the teacher in Spain has been socially degraded increasingly each year, becoming not very well regarded by some families who question their decisions and, in many cases, far from helping, hinder their work. This is aggravated by the Administration, that increases every year the bureaucratic burden and forgets that the most important objective of the teacher is to educate.

Q. What measures or ideas would you suggest to improve the situation of the teachers?

The main solutions I would recommend based on my personal experience are firstly, to lower the ratio in the number of students per classroom, and secondly, to decrease the bureaucratic burden that exists in education and schools.

Q. Would you like to share any experience – positive, negative or both – about your experience and role as a teacher?

I am a positive person and in love with my profession, so any experience I can contribute with is positive. I always keep in mind what my students share with me while I try to be mindful of their needs. I feel that they appreciate and value it. However, I still always regret not being able to give more to those who need it.

Q. From a personal perspective, how do you feel the educational system has evolved and changed since you first started teaching and why do you think that is?

Unfortunately, the evolution of our educational system in the last 25 years is little or not enough. The reason is that the different governments that Spain has had in these years have made Education a political reason and approved successive laws – 8 different ones in 25 years. In doing so, they have failed to consider whether or not they enjoyed support from the entire political spectrum, rather focusing only on the political value of it. The result is that each party has approved a law tailored to its needs, which has been successively repealed when a party with a different ideology comes to government.

This situation has created great instability in the Spanish educational systems and has prompted some changes with no follow-up. Spain urgently needs an Educational law of general and permanent consensus, although subject to small variations.

Q. Any thoughts, comments or messages you would like to share as a teacher.

As a teacher, I say that the only way to survive on a day-to-day basis is the love for this profession and dedication to your students, and you must put aside the obstacles that grow every day because otherwise demotivation and helplessness will dig in us.

UN SPECIAL RAPPORTEUR ON EXTREME POVERTY AND HUMAN RIGHTS

All of the aforementioned concerns – and some more – were crystallized into the report by the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, written during his visit to Spain.[12]

The UN Rapporteur starts by saying that “education and poverty are closely linked”. Indeed, the socioeconomic resources of a family dictate the schools they have access to, and the public schools grow overflooded with low income and immigrant students, whose education cannot be ensured at the level that should be.

This is also due to the lack of public investment in education, which despite being free, shows a reality in which its crucial role does not match the resources thereby attributed.[13] The UN Rapporteur correctly concludes that “school segregation increases grade repetition, failure and dropouts, decreases assessment scores and adversely affects students’ expectations of pursuing university studies”. Finally, the education section rescues a quote from a Save the Children report from 2018, which reads: “concentrating children from the poorest backgrounds in the same schools is no recipe for educational success or overcoming poverty”.[14]

UN Special Rapporteur Philip Alston in Spain. Picture by Olivier de Schutter (2020)

CONCLUSION

Examining Spain’s educational system, it has become apparent that it presents several flaws. First, not only is the curriculum outdated, but it also fails in motivating the students and in preventing – or at least mitigating – the elevated school dropout rates. Second, Spanish schools do not cater to the needs of the population: not every school has the same resources and not every person can afford to attend any school. Instead of correcting this trend, in the last years it has been exacerbated, making schools a mirror of the social status of the students and their backgrounds. This effectively prevents a system based on equal opportunities.

Additionally, those in charge of actually providing the education are not motivated enough. The stability of their jobs is not ensured, and the lack of resources or their inadequate distribution prevents the teachers from giving individualised attention to the students. This overall contributes to a general environment of apathy which has an impact on both ends (students and teachers). Lastly, as long as education continues being a tool of politics, adjustable to the ideologies of the dominant political party, it will remain as a subdued element instead of a priority, and Spain will continue to suffer from low quality education and the inability to achieve efficient results.

References

2024 Thematic Report to the 79th Session of the UN General Assembly

Presented by Olimpia Guidi and Sarah Kuipers

Human rights organisations and NGOs play a crucial role in monitoring the impact of sanctions on human rights and providing support to affected parties. 12

In addressing the impact of sanctions on rights, Russia has recourse to various international mechanisms. These include the United Nations (UN), which it can engage through the UN Security Council, leveraging its position as a permanent member to voice concerns and negotiate resolutions. 15 Additionally, as a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO), Russia can challenge trade-related sanctions that contravene WTO agreements through dispute settlement mechanisms. 16

Furthermore, Russia’s membership in the Council of Europe subjects it to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). 17 Individuals or entities affected by sanctions can bring cases before the ECHR alleging violations of human rights protected under the European Convention on Human Rights. 18 Moreover, Russia could potentially utilise the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to challenge sanctions it believes violate international law or treaties. 19

However, ICJ jurisdiction requires the consent of all parties involved, posing limitations on its effectiveness. 20

Despite these avenues, the effectiveness of international mechanisms in safeguarding rights impacted by sanctions is subject to various limitations. Political considerations often hinder progress, with powerful actors reluctant to challenge one another’s actions. 21 Legal processes within these international bodies are typically time-consuming, offering delayed relief. 22 Enforcement of decisions and compliance by sanction-imposing countries can also be challenging. Furthermore, the scope of these mechanisms may not fully address the extraterritorial application of sanctions or their broader economic ramifications.

Download PDF

24A-Input_for_GA79_thematic_report_-_2024

Photo by Frederic Köberl on Unsplash


References

12 Goncharenko, G., & Khadaroo, I. (2020). Disciplining human rights organisations through an accounting regulation: A case of the ‘foreign agents’ law in Russia. Critical Perspectives on Accounting, 72, 102129. Available at:https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S104523541930108X

15 Gifkins, J. (2021). Beyond the veto: Roles in UN Security Council decision-making. Global Governance: A Review of Multilateralism and International Organizations, 27(1), 1-24.
16 Gantvarg, I. (2023). Categorisation and Legality of Trade Sanctions Imposed on Russia: Examining Compatibility with WTO and UN Legislation.
17 Nelaeva, G. A., Khabarova, E. A., & Sidorova, N. V. (2020). Russia’s Relations with the European Court of Human Rights in the Aftermath of the Markin Decision: Debating the “Backlash”. Human Rights Review, 21, 93-112
18 Ibid.
19 Sarkin, J. J., & Sarkin, E. (2022). Reforming the International Court of Justice to Deal with State Responsibility for Conflict and Human Rights Violations. International Human Rights Law Review, 11(1), 1-35. Available at:https://brill.com/view/journals/hrlr/11/1/article-p1_001.xml
20 Wulandari, R. (2022). Jurisdiction Issues of the International Court and the effectiveness of ICJ’s Decision in the Russia-Ukraine Dispute Resolution. Nurani: Jurnal Kajian Syari’ah dan Masyarakat, 22(2), 343-350.
21 Frye, T. (2022). Weak Strongman: The Limits of Power in Putin’s Russia. Princeton University Press.
22 Ibid.