Report on persons with albinism and the right to education

Written by Caren Thomas and Daphné Rein.

This report is a Submission to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on persons with albinism and the right to education in France.

Image by Babar Ali from Pixabay

Data on persons with albinism

Please provide statistics and information on persons with albinism in your country.

According to the Genesis NGO in France, there are 5,700 persons with albinism in France, including 4,500 persons with oculocutaneous albinism and 1,200 persons with ocular albinism1. 2% of the French population carries the gene, which means that 1,200,000 persons have the gene2. These numbers are from 2014 and are the only statistics and data available in France. Otherwise, there are no statistics from national sources.

Please provide any data on persons with albinism in the education sector, be it primary, secondary, or tertiary level.

As of yet, there is no data regarding persons with albinism in the education sectors in France. Genespoir has ascertained that 80 babies are born each year with albinism in France1. Therefore, we can deduce that each year, 80 persons join the education sector in France.

You can download the full report in this link.

5A_Report_on_persons_with_albinism_and_the_right_to_education


References

1 Genespoir. “L’albinisme : une maladie rare.” Dossier de Presse. October 2014. www.genespoir.org. p.4 <https://archive.wikiwix.com/cache/index2.php?url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.genespoir.org%2Fdocuments%2FA01b_Documentation%2FDossier-Presse_2014.pdf%2Findex.html#federation=archive.wikiwix.com&tab=url >

2 Genespoir. “L’albinisme : une maladie rare.” Dossier de Presse. October 2014. www.genespoir.org. p.4

3 Genespoir. “L’albinisme : une maladie rare.” Dossier de Presse. October 2014. www.genespoir.org. p.4

Educational Challenges in Qatar

Written By Anna Moneta

Qatar’s history

Qatar, once a modest Gulf state, has undergone a remarkable transformation into a global economic powerhouse, largely attributed to the discovery and exploitation of oil reserves in the mid-20th century. The revelation of oil beneath Qatar’s arid desert sands in the early 1940s marked a pivotal moment, catapulting the nation into a dominant position in the global oil and natural gas markets. This economic ascent is intricately linked to Qatar’s historical ties as a British protectorate, formally established in 1868 with interactions dating back even earlier. [1]

The British, leveraging their extensive experience in oil resource management in the Gulf, played a crucial role by providing technical expertise and guidance for oil drilling and export infrastructure. This collaborative effort laid the foundation for Qatar’s thriving oil industry, enabling the nation to capitalize on its newfound resource wealth. However, the influence of British colonialism extended beyond economic realms, permeating into Qatar’s educational system. The British presence, which included military corps and colonial workers engaged in the oil industry, prompted the emergence of an educational system designed to cater to the children of both Qatari nationals and British colonial workers. This collaborative initiative led to the establishment of the Ministry of Education in 1956, shaping the trajectory of Qatar’s educational landscape. [1]

Today, Qatar stands among the world’s wealthiest nations, largely driven by its revenue from oil and natural gas. Nevertheless, the legacy of colonization raises pertinent questions about the enduring impact on the country’s educational framework. As we explore Qatar’s historical evolution and the complexities of its educational system, it is crucial to address contemporary concerns. The World Bank, in particular, underscores issues in early childhood development (ECD) outcomes in Qatar, shedding light on deficiencies in self-regulation skills and early literacy and numeracy skills among young children. [2] These concerns, despite economic progress, pose potential long-term consequences by impeding crucial brain development, adding a new layer of complexity to the narrative of Qatar’s historical and educational journey.

Qatar’s school system

Qatar’s educational landscape is characterized by a diverse system that includes both public, government-operated schools and privately-run institutions, each offering distinct curricula and languages of instruction. The prevalence of international curricula in many private schools has sparked discussions about the enduring influence of British colonialism on the nation’s education.

Government schools in Qatar are structured into three levels: primary school, serving students between the ages of 6 and 12; preparatory school, accommodating those aged 13 to 15; and secondary school, catering to students between the ages of 16 and 18. Additionally, for younger children, there is a range of options including nurseries for those aged 0 to 3, and kindergarten or preschool for children aged 3 to 5, providing flexibility based on individual needs. It is important to note that associated costs can vary significantly, typically ranging from QAR 15,000 to QAR 40,000.

In higher education, institutions in Qatar are classified as private, national, or branch campuses. The University of Qatar, established in 1973, stands as the oldest higher education institution in the country. Offering a diverse array of programs at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels, the university encompasses faculties of engineering, social sciences, education, Islamic studies, humanities, and sciences. The presence of these higher education institutions further enriches Qatar’s educational landscape, contributing to the nation’s academic and intellectual growth.

Issues arising from Qatar’s colonial history.

Postcolonial theorists, exemplified by scholars like Hickling-Hudson (2006), provide a critical lens through which to examine the lasting impact of colonialism on education systems in former colonies. One of their central arguments revolves around the deliberate under-resourcing of education by colonial powers as a means of perpetuating control and exploitation of local populations.

The British presence in Qatar necessitated the establishment of an educational system to cater to the children of both Qatari nationals and British colonial workers. This early system laid the groundwork for Qatar’s educational landscape. Thus, when the nation embarked on its journey of economic transformation fuelled by oil wealth, its educational foundations were influenced by its colonial past. [3]

The postcolonial argument put forth posits that colonial powers intentionally kept education under-resourced in their colonies. This tactic was not merely neglect rather; it was a calculated strategy to exploit local populations. In fact, by depriving colonized peoples of adequate education, colonial powers could maintain control and perpetuate socio-economic inequalities. [3] The 2015 OECD study, which ranked Qatar in the bottom 10 of its educational index, hints at the implications of such deliberate underinvestment.

The correlation between Qatar’s colonial history and its educational challenges becomes apparent when considering the consequences of insufficient educational resources. While Qatar has made remarkable advances in various sectors, including infrastructure and healthcare, its education system has faced persistent disparities in terms of quality and access. These disparities are a reflection of the historical under-resourcing of education, an issue that postcolonial theorists emphasize.

Educational Challenges

The 2015 OECD ranking serves as a stark reminder of the enduring impact of this historical underinvestment. Qatar’s educational system, despite the nation’s substantial wealth, lagged in international assessments.

A significant development in Qatar’s education landscape has been the proliferation of private international schools, particularly in the last three decades. These schools cater primarily to Western expatriates and offer curricula in languages such as English, French, and German. While these institutions have contributed to Qatar’s educational diversity, they have also exacerbated disparities. Students attending private international schools often receive what is perceived as a higher quality education, leading to unequal opportunities in terms of academic performance and prospects. This educational divide raises questions about equity and access within the Qatari education system.

One further challenge facing Qatar’s education system is the need to strike a balance between the Arabic and English languages. Arabization and hybrid approaches have emerged as potential solutions to this linguistic dilemma. Arabization advocates argue that a strong emphasis on Arabic is crucial to preserving cultural and linguistic heritage. Conversely, advocates of the hybrid approach argue that a bilingual model, combining English and Arabic, is essential for equipping students with the skills needed for the globalized world while preserving traditional cultural values. This linguistic draw reflects the complexities of navigating a postcolonial educational path. Although, concurrently, the Qatari government has been active in its efforts to build a cohesive national identity through its governmental curriculum. This curriculum not only imparts knowledge in core subjects like mathematics, science, and the arts but also emphasizes Islamic studies, history, and the Arabic language. While these efforts aim to instil a sense of pride and national identity in Qatari students, they encounter challenges when it comes to preparing students for higher education and the workforce. The need for a curriculum that can adapt to the evolving global landscape while preserving cultural values is a complex task.

The World Bank’s Concerns

The World Bank has raised concerns regarding the state of Early Childhood Development (ECD) in Qatar, specifically highlighting deficiencies in self-regulation skills and early literacy and numeracy skills among young children. Despite the country’s economic progress, these developmental gaps pose long-term consequences by impeding crucial brain development. The World Bank recognizes the potential transformative impact of enhanced ECD, not only in academic realms but also in promoting better health outcomes and fostering economic prosperity. [2]


The World Bank proposes a comprehensive three-fold strategy to enhance Early Childhood Development (ECD) in Qatar. Firstly, it advocates for the establishment of a Qatar-based multisectoral body to coordinate and oversee the implementation of a holistic ECD strategy. This body would prioritize the formulation of robust child protection policies, creating a secure environment for young children, while also emphasizing the expansion of support for breastfeeding and parental leave. [2] Secondly, to ensure a more inclusive ECD approach, the World Bank recommends broadening the coverage of programs to encompass all children in Qatar. This expansion involves a significant increase in the scope of nutrition programs and the introduction of pre-primary education initiatives. The focus extends beyond the supply side to cultivating public demand for ECD programs and addressing existing inequalities across socioeconomic lines [2]. Lastly, the World Bank stresses the necessity of establishing a robust quality assurance system for Qatar’s ECD. This involves harmonizing standards for teachers and educational providers, ensuring a coherent curriculum spanning ages zero to six, and implementing monitoring mechanisms. A comprehensive set of key performance indicators, supported by a robust data system, is proposed to track child development outcomes and monitor progress effectively. [2]

Conclusion

In conclusion, Qatar’s educational journey reflects a profound transformation, evolving from an initially inadequate educational provision to a nuanced landscape deeply influenced by historical colonialism. Although commendable strides have been made in enhancing educational performance, the enduring legacy of colonization persists, leaving an indelible mark on the country’s educational framework. This narrative gains additional complexity with the World Bank’s highlighted concerns regarding early childhood development (ECD) outcomes, emphasizing the urgency of addressing contemporary challenges.

To effectively navigate the intricacies embedded in Qatar’s historical and educational context, a compelling solution emerges—the establishment of robust national educational institutions. These institutions should not only aspire to academic excellence but also actively integrate globally relevant subjects into the curriculum. A strategic imperative lies in prioritizing Qatar’s national educational system over international institutes, ensuring alignment with the nation’s distinctive history, cultural values, and contemporary requirements. Through this strategic emphasis, Qatar can pave the way for an education system that not only preserves its rich heritage but also equips its youth with the skills and knowledge essential for navigating the complexities of the modern globalized world. Embracing this transformative approach ensures that Qatar’s educational landscape becomes a beacon of cultural preservation and global readiness.

 


REFERENCES

[1] Zahlan, R. S. (2016). The creation of Qatar. Routledge.

[2] Nikaein Towfighian, S., & Adams, L. S. (2017). Early Childhood Development in Qatar. The World Bank.

[3] Hickling-Hudson, A. (2006). Cultural complexity, postcolonial perspectives, and educational change: Challenges for comparative educators. In J. Zajda, S. Majhanovich, & V. Rust (Eds.), Education and Social Justice (pp. 191-208). Springer Netherlands.

General Secretariat for Developing Planning. (2018). Qatar Second National Development Strategy 2018-2022. Retrieved from https://www.psa.gov.qa/en/knowledge/Documents/NDS2Final.pdf.

Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. (2015). PISA 2015 Results in Focus. Retrieved from https://www.oecd.org/pisa/pisa-2015-results-in-focus.pdf.

 

Educational Challenges in the United States of America

Written by Dimitrios Chasouras & Jimena Villot Lopez 

Introduction

The United States of America is one of the wealthiest countries in the world, with a GDP of $25 trillion as of 2022.i However, as of 2020, the expenditure on education was 12.7% of the total government spending that year.ii This fiscal allocation shows the funding system of schools in the US, where the financial support is divided between government revenue and local resources, which bind school budgets to their respective districts. This funding model creates a large divide in the educational opportunities available to students. Schools in wealthier areas, with low-poverty percentages, benefit from significantly higher spending per student, in contrast with those in economically disadvantaged areas, which have lower budgets available. The effects of this gap regarding education are increasingly evident in students’ lives and school performance.

Another issue dealt with in this article is the constant presence of gun violence cases in schools, which is another of the biggest challenges faced by educational institutions in the United States. The addition of resource limitations and security concerns posed by gun violence cause a multifaceted threat to the well-being and safety of students all over the country. Both issues will be discussed separately, dealing with the complexities which surround the problem, along with potential measures to rectify them, or at least try to do so. It is important to remember that education is vital in a child’s development, and therefore it is paramount that these issues are taken seriously. Additionally, attention by government and local authorities is necessary to take into action comprehensive strategies (such as financial plans, security measures, and mental health support) to ensure the safety and well-being of all students, regardless of their socioeconomic or ethnic background.

Gun violence and consequences in schools

With around 50% of American households having at least one registered firearm and an exponential increase in gun manufacturing,iii gun violence incidents have been increasing drastically in the last couple of years, within households and publicly, including school premises. Incidents include suicides, assaults and school shooting, which has led to firearms being the leading cause of death among children and teens. 76% of school shootings have occurred by students who acquired guns from either their own households or relatives.iv Compared to other high-income countries, children between the age of 5-14 years old are 21 times more likely to be shot, while teens between 15-24 are 23 times more likely.v Additionally, around 4,000 children and teens (ages 0-19) are shot and killed annually, while 15,000 are wounded by firearms, totalling up to an average of 53 children being shot a day. Those statistics clearly outline a serious problem that plagues US adults and minors in their everyday lives. Gun violence incidents have long-lasting effects not just on the direct victims but the victims’ friends, family, and witnesses as well. Survivors of gun violence have to battle a multitude of psychological and mental issues, such as fear of death and PTSDvi which can lead to violent behaviour and abuse of drugs/alcohol.

To combat gun violence on school campuses, certain states have applied legislation permitting authorised gun possession on campus, even mandatory.vii Schools, colleges, and universities still have the final judgement on gun safety laws (e.g., authorised gun possession by school staff), but due to the increasing number of incidents, statehouses continue to promote such policies. Most attempts to decrease shootings in schools have been reactive, with other examples including eye-catching graphics, involvement and mentoring of adults and peers.viii Out of all, the one that has been suggested the most is community-based solutions, as they tend to be more tailored to the issues the state, school or district faces. Unfortunately, certain districts are unable to carry out such programs due to a lack of funding.

The outcomes of the above-mentioned policies and programs have not caused much change in gun violence incidents, and most students feel increasingly threatened and intimidated.ix Schools that have introduced gun safety programs or authorised gun possession or the presence of law enforcement have been burdened with additional financial costs that they are unable to pay. At the same time, students who go through shooter drills suffer from more depression, stress, anxiety, and the fear of death.

Some researchers suggest that stricter gun laws have opposite effects than the ones mentioned, for example, a decrease in the probability of missing a school day due to feeling unsafe, students carrying a weapon on campus, and students getting injured.x

The challenges of gun violence and the proposed solutions statistically have a disproportionate impact on students based on ethnic backgrounds.xi More specifically, black teens are 17 times more likely to die by homicide and 13 times more likely to be hospitalised for firearm assault compared to white teens, as well as Latinx, who are 2.7 times more likely to die by homicide.xii Such statistics are true even within the same states and cities, which creates unequal challenges for certain students compared to others. Policy decisions in place and disinvestments in certain parts of cities have left African-American and Latinx communities with a struggle to implement the above programs or counsel victims due to lack of resources, poverty and unemployment, which has led to an increase in gun violence in the last few years.xiii

Graph from CDC, Wonder.

Even when gun safety laws are implemented, African-American students tend to feel more threatened by the presence of guns and law enforcement on campus compared to others.xiv White students, although less likely to die of gun violence, have a higher risk of committing suicide when guns are in their household and/or on campus. Evidently, gun violence has created challenges for students across America, but different communities and ethnic groups differ in the type and extent of threat they perceive and experience. This has impacted overall school performance regarding attendance, test scores, graduation rates, feeling of safety, and perceived threat.

Consequences of lack of funding on the learning process

Teachers march in protest for education funding in Los Angeles. Photo by LaTerrian McIntosh on Unsplash

Since the 1800s in the United States, public schools have been primarily funded through local and state sources, the primary source of local funding being property taxes from individual community school districtsxv. This means that the money used to fund a school in a certain district comes from the property taxes paid by the owners of the houses in that same district. The advantage of this is that it ensures local control, which means the budget is allocated according to the specific needs and priorities of the schools in each district, however, it also has disadvantages.

Education funding largely depends on property taxes, resulting in disparities between schools in wealthy and disadvantaged areas. This funding model has left many schools struggling to provide the resources and opportunities that students need. Schools in wealthier neighbourhoods, or even those which have less low-income students attending, receive significantly more funding per student than those in high-poverty areas, with a more considerable number of low-income students. For example, as of 2020 in Illinois, Golfview Elementary School served 550 students, where 86% of them are considered low-income. On the other hand, Algonquin Lakes Elementary had 425 students, with reportedly less than 50% of them being low-income, and Algonquin received over $2,000 more than Golfview per student a yearxvi. This will mean that the educational needs of children in Algonquin have a higher likelihood of being met, improving their educational experience while leaving Golfview students with significant disadvantages.

Another one of the consequences of the funding disparities in the different areas is the inadequate compensation that educators receive in schools. To make ends meet, many teachers find themselves working multiple jobs. The demand for a higher livable wage is growing louder because committed educators need to be able to devote all of their energy to their work rather than worrying about their financial stability. It goes beyond just fair compensation.

Teacher shortages are causing larger problems in public schools. Wealthier schools, with students coming from high-income families, tend to hire more experienced, qualified teachers, which in turn costs more money. Since the pandemic, schools have been struggling to hire qualified teachers, and most of the low-income schools could not afford the salaries of experienced teachers, which has lowered the pool of potential applicants for teaching positions immenselyxvii. Due to this, some states have started making credential requirements lower, allowing for non-certified teachers to take over the vacant teaching positions, which affects children’s education. Christopher Blair, the former superintendent of Bullock County, Alabama, was quoted in 2022 stating that “when you have uncertified, emergency or inexperienced teachers, students are in classrooms where they are not going to get the level of rigour and classroom experiences.”xviii

The consequences of this shortage extend to overcrowded classrooms, which makes it difficult for teachers to provide individualised attention and support to students. In 2022, CNN went to a school outside of Phoenix where a teacher reported having to teach over 70 students in her biology classxix. This has negative consequences for the students, as it gets in the way of individualised attention, but also for the teacher, as it can cause burnout and stress to have to focus on so many students at one time. Furthermore, outdated textbooks and inadequate classroom supplies remain a prevalent issue in underfunded schools.

As can be seen from the previous analysis, the funding model for public schools has created a severe divide in the quality of education received by students all over the country. It offers advantages, such as local control and a constant revenue source for the communities; however, the disadvantages are more significant. Schools in wealthier areas or those with fewer low-income students receive substantially more funding per student than those in high-poverty regions. This financial discrepancy leads to unequal access to resources and opportunities, perpetuating educational inequalities.

Another pressing issue that arises from the lack of funding is inadequate compensation for teachers, which means they are forced to work multiple jobs to make ends meet, hindering their ability to focus all their energy on teaching. This will mean that fewer of the most experienced teachers will choose to work in such circumstances and only choose the wealthier schools or get jobs in other fields. This means that schools with a more significant number of high-poverty students will struggle to maintain qualified teachers. Along with overcrowding of classrooms, outdated textbooks and inadequate supplies, these issues collectively pose a severe challenge to students’ educations in United States public schools. Bridging the funding gaps and addressing teacher shortages are imperative steps toward ensuring that every child has access to a quality education, regardless of their socioeconomic background.

In fact, researchers have debated the value of increasing educational funding. However, recent research has found that when funding is directed towards high-poverty schools, and this money is used for important purposes, such as experienced teachers, social workers, or programs to address students’ academic needs, it can greatly boost student successxx

Conclusion

It can be considered that gun violence and funding disparities in schools are interrelated issues in terms of hindering students’ education for several reasons. Firstly, when schools do not have the necessary budget to afford to hire the necessary staff, such as educators, it can also mean no security staff to control who is able to go in and out of the school. However, this may also include social workers, school psychologists and staff designed to support the students and aid their mental health protection after dangerous situations which may occur. Additionally, in the first section, it was discussed how one of the discussed methods to protect against gun violence in schools was considering arming teachers with weapons in case of emergency. This can be damaging for several reasons, as it may create an unsafe environment for children at school and, at the same time, may discourage teachers from working at schools in which they have to carry guns for protection.

This is also related to district division because community and socioeconomic factors may indirectly affect the safety of the schools. Schools in economically disadvantaged districts or neighbourhoods may face additional challenges, including higher crime rates and exposure to community violence.

It’s important to emphasise that educational funding and division of resources may play a role in addressing school safety and gun violence; however, it is only part of the solution to the problem. Some other strategies to prevent gun violence include the support of mental health by advisors or counsellors in schools, anti-bullying efforts and community engagement. Additionally, whether locally or regionally, district leaders and politicians must address the underlying factors which may lead individuals to resort to violence and adopt responsible gun control measures.

Education is one of the most important elements of a child’s development, and measures which hinder or impede an appropriate education for students in public schools must be addressed. Ensuring a safe and secure school environment is a complex challenge, and it requires serious commitment all over the country.

References

i World Bank Data (2023) GDP (current US$) – United States. The World Bank. https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GDP.MKTP.CD?locations=US

ii World Bank Data (2023) United States. The World Bank. https://data.worldbank.org/country/united-states

iii Mitchell, T. (June 2017). The demographics of gun ownership in the U.S. Pew Research Center. https://www.pewresearch.org/social-trends/2017/06/22/the-demographics-of-gun-ownership/

iv Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund. (July 2023). How can we prevent gun violence in American schools? Everytown Research & Policy. https://everytownresearch.org/report/how-can-we-prevent-gun-violence-in-schools/

v Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund. (May 2019). The impact of gun violence on children and teens. Everytown Research & Policy. https://everytownresearch.org/report/the-impact-of-gun-violence-on-children-and-teens/

vi ibid.

vii RAND. (2020, April). The effects of laws allowing armed staff in K–12 schools. RAND Corporation. https://www.rand.org/research/gun-policy/analysis/laws-allowing-armed-staff-in-K12-schools.html

viii OJJDP. (n.d.). Section VII: Education Initiatives and Alternative Prevention Strategies. (Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Report) https://ojjdp.ojp.gov/sites/g/files/xyckuh176/files/pubs/gun_violence/sect07.html

ix Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund. (2020, December). The danger of guns on campus. Everytown Research & Policy. https://everytownresearch.org/report/guns-on-campus/

x Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund. (May 2019). The impact of gun violence on children and teens. Everytown Research & Policy. https://everytownresearch.org/report/the-impact-of-gun-violence-on-children-and-teens/

xi Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund. (July 2023). How can we prevent gun violence in American schools? Everytown Research & Policy. https://everytownresearch.org/report/how-can-we-prevent-gun-violence-in-schools/

xii Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund. (May 2019). The impact of gun violence on children and teens. Everytown Research & Policy. https://everytownresearch.org/report/the-impact-of-gun-violence-on-children-and-teens/

xiii ibid.

xiv Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund. (2020, December). The danger of guns on campus. Everytown Research & Policy. https://everytownresearch.org/report/guns-on-campus/

xvFindLaw Team (June 2016) Education Funding: State and Local Sources. FindLaw. https://www/findlaw.com/education/curriculum-standards-school-funding.com

xvi Mathewson T.G (October 2020) New data: Even within the same district, some wealthy schools get millions more than poor ones (The Hechinger Report). https://hechingerreport.org/new-data-even-within-the-same-district-some-wealthy-schools-get-millions-more-than-poor-ones/

xvii Richman, T & Crain, T.P (October 2022) Uncertified teachers filling holes in schools across the South (The Hechinger Report). https://hechingerreport.org/uncertified-teachers-filling-holes-in-schools-across-the-south/

xviii Lurye, S & Griesbach, R (September 2022) Teacher shortages are real, but not for the reason you heard (The Hechinger Report). https://hechingerreport.org/teacher-shortages-are-real-but-not-for-the-reason-you-heard/

xix Wolf, Z.B (September 2022) Crises converge on American Education (CNN Politics). https://edition.cnn.com/2022/09/01/politics/us-education-schools-crisis-what-matters/index.html

xxMathewson T.G (October 2020) New data: Even within the same district, some wealthy schools get millions more than poor ones (The Hechinger Report). https://hechingerreport.org/new-data-even-within-the-same-district-some-wealthy-schools-get-millions-more-than-poor-ones/

Educational Challenges in Puerto Rico

Written By Samantha Orozco and John Whitlock

Historic background

Puerto Rico is located northeast of the Caribbean Sea and is considered one of the Greater Antilles. Its location boasts beautiful beaches and landscapes but is also prone to hurricanes and other natural hazards that have severely affected its residents. Puerto Rico’s official language is Spanish and it is home to a diverse and multicultural population, with most of its inhabitants of Puerto Rican descent and a significant community of African, European, and Latin American ancestry.

After the Spanish-American War, the United States (US) officially annexed the then Spanish colonies of Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines in December 1898, initially subjecting Puerto Rico to rule by the US military and a governor appointed by the President. In 1917, the US Congress voted to grant Puerto Ricans official citizenship status, while still denying them the representative rights that usually accompany full citizenship. The island’s inhabitants could not elect their own governor until 1947.

To this day, Puerto Ricans are not able to participate in US elections, have no voting representation within the US Congress, and do not hold the right to “equal treatment” in the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution. The island is now an “unincorporated territory” with “quasi-colonial” status, according to former Puerto Rican high school teacher and US Secretary of Education John King.  This causes serious consequences in the education system due to limited support from the US federal government and the unfortunate impact of natural hazards, the negative and systematic effects of which have not been adequately addressed.

Education System Overview

The Puerto Rican education system is roughly based on the American model. School attendance is mandatory from ages 6 to 18, and divided into six years of elementary education, three years of junior high school, and three years of high school. Academic calendars and grading scales are very similar to their US equivalents. After numerous failed attempts by the US to convert the Puerto Rican education system to English, Spanish has remained the language in which public schools operate. The high school diploma is known as the “Diploma de Escuela Superior” a literal translation from its mainland English counterpart. 

A key difference between challenges to the Puerto Rican school system and the mainland US system is the percentage of children experiencing poverty. According to the Census, 44% of Puerto Ricans live in poverty. Whereas 17% of children live below the poverty line in the US, this percentage is at 55% in Puerto Rico and even higher in rural areas. In 2017, a quarter of Puerto Rican children did not have access to the internet and half did not have access to a home computer.

Today, those who do have a home computer may have unreliable power due to damages to the electrical grid caused by disasters and mismanagement. High school drop-out rates are much higher on the island, especially from households with lower incomes: according to the U.S. Department of Education, the dropout rate among high school students is one-third, which is more than twice the current percentage in mainland US. In 2015, the secondary education net enrollment rate was 66.6% as opposed to 80.5% in mainland US.

This data was published in 2009-2010, which is the most recent information available due to the limited production of up-to-date statistics by the local government. Moreover, federal counts frequently omit Puerto Rico from their calculations. It is likely that the dropout rate in Puerto Rico has likely increased even further since, as hurricanes and the COVID-19 pandemic have exacerbated the situation. For those students who graduate high school, outcomes are not equal to those on the mainland US.

According to the Youth Development Institute of Puerto Rico, 51% of high school graduates pursue university education, whereas 67% of suburban Americans and 63% of rural and urban Americans attend college. Many Puerto Rican graduates who are able to attend college come from privileged backgrounds which enable them to attend private schools and hire college application consultants.

This is in line with the islands’ rank as the third-highest income-unequal in the world, following South Africa and Zambia. Additionally, it is particularly difficult for Puerto Rican students to pursue a college education in the mainland US. As US and Puerto Rican high school graduation tests are not harmonized, Puerto Rican high school students are required to take a Spanish language test that nearly no US mainland universities consider valid. Initially aimed to create a standardized college admissions test for the Spanish-speaking world and implemented for a trial run in Puerto Rico, this test was never expanded beyond.  Because of this, and underfunding, most public high school guidance counselors in Puerto Rico do not have knowledge of mainland admission requirements and cannot help students in that way.  

In the last year of reported data, “only 694 high school graduates from all of Puerto Rico went to college on the mainland or abroad in 2016. That’s about 2 percent. The island’s population is 3.2 million, according to the Census Bureau.” 

A positive aspect of the Puerto Rican education system is that the University of Puerto Rico is more accessible and affordable than comparable universities in the mainland US where the average tuition at a public institution is $25,707 per year (for students with family residence in the state) or $44,014 per year (for students without family residence in the state). In comparison, students at the University of Puerto Rico pay $4,366 in tuition in-state, and $8,712 out-of-state. However, according to advocacy group Excelencia in Education, less than half of students who enroll in Puerto Rican universities earn degrees after six years, compared to the US mainland where 58 percent of college students graduate. 

Natural hazards in Puerto Rico

Natural hazards have wreaked havoc in Puerto Rico for many years. Despite being aware of this situation, efforts to mitigate the damage have not been effectively implemented and disaster has been the result. Most of the resources allocated for education are used for repairing school infrastructure, but they remain insufficient.

A clear example of this is the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, which struck in 2017 and six years later still affects the territory. Maria severely impacted access to education in Puerto Rico and exposed deficiencies in both the state and institutional aspects of the system. There was an inability to respond to emergencies and a lack of efficiency in seeking solutions that would allow the population to continue their education.

At the time, according to a report made by Kavitha Cardoza (2023), the damage caused by Maria led to the closure of many schools due to infrastructure problems, leaving thousands of students with no opportunity to continue their studies and resulting in a high dropout rate. This created a vicious cycle, as student attrition reduced enrollment, which in turn led to the closure of schools that did not have enough students to operate.

In addition to hurricanes and floods, Puerto Rico has also experienced earthquakes. In 2020, a series of earthquakes contributed to the destruction of the already precarious school infrastructure. Just as the system was trying to recover from the ravages of Maria, it had to face the closure of schools for three months while engineers verified the safety of those still in operation. The most recent natural catastrophe in Puerto Rico was recorded in September 2022 when Hurricane Fiona struck the island, causing damage to infrastructure and the temporary closure of the few schools that were still functioning.

An aerial view of the damage left behind after Hurricane Maria is seen from a U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Air and Marine Operations, Black Hawk helicopter as AMO agents respond to the humanitarian needs of the people of Puerto Rico October 2, 2017. Photo by Mani Albrecht via Flickr

Bureaucracy and abandonment

Despite its status as an incorporated territory in the United States, discussions about Puerto Rico’s true status and the ongoing debate about its future, whether to be considered a state or attain independence, have not ceased. The only certainty thus far is that Puerto Rican residents are not considered equal to citizens of the U.S. mainland.

The Puerto Rican educational system faces challenges ranging from insufficient investment to talent migration and disparities in educational opportunities. In theory, Puerto Rico has autonomy in managing its resources. However, for many important decisions, authorities find themselves dependent on aid from the federal government.  Due to the implementation of PROMESA, an act passed by the Obama administration in 2016, an unelected Financial Management and Oversight Board makes all decisions about how funding is used in Puerto Rico.  “The FMOB has proposed an array of measures to “shock the system” into growth”.

These measures include but are not limited: to wage controls, reduction in government services, closing public schools, cuts to the University of Puerto Rico, over 100 percent increases in university tuition and other fees, laying off thousands of public employees, furloughing public employees of two days per month, and cuts of 10 percent from pensions of retired workers. Puerto Rico heavily relies on federal funds to maintain and improve the quality of education, and this insufficient investment has led to a lack of resources and deteriorated infrastructure in many schools. For the start of the 2023-2024 school year, it is estimated that 588 out of the 856 functioning schools opened with infrastructure damage, meaning that 69% of schools are still not in optimal conditions to receive students.

The migration of students and educational professionals to the U.S. mainland has been an additional challenge. The pursuit of better economic opportunities on the mainland has resulted in a decrease in school enrollment in Puerto Rico and a loss of talent in the classrooms. This trend negatively impacts schools and, ultimately, the quality of education provided on the island. This is compounded by poor working conditions for educational staff as well as a lack of investment in the professionalization and training of teachers.

The lack of equal educational opportunities is another critical issue. The fact that Puerto Ricans do not have access to the same resources and educational programs as other United States citizens has led to significant disparities in access to quality education, perpetuating inequality. This is evident in the exclusion of standardized test results in Puerto Rico from national compilation. The implementation of federally imposed educational standards and standardized assessments does not always consider the peculiarities of Puerto Rico’s educational system. This can lead to unfair assessments and the imposition of inappropriate measures that do not adapt to the island’s reality. Special education and support for students with disabilities have also faced challenges, such as the lack of resources and trained personnel to provide the necessary support.

Reparation of a fence at the Escuela República del Perú in Puerto Rico, on November 8, 2018. Photo by Ruben Diaz Jr. Via Flickr

The efforts to restore the Education System

The uncertainty surrounding the political status of Puerto Rico has influenced the stability and educational policies and created additional challenges in long-term planning and decision-making. However, in May of this year, the federal administration initiated a program to decentralize the Puerto Rican educational system, which should be viewed as the beginning of sustainable efforts to ensure a dignified education in Puerto Rico. This is in response to the imminent educational crisis affecting Puerto Rico, which must be addressed regardless of the territory’s political future.

The Biden-Harris Administration has played a significant role in supporting Puerto Rico’s education, providing substantial funding through the American Rescue Plan Act and other programs. As stated by the U.S. Department of Education, public school teachers received a 30% salary increase, school repairs were expedited, and technical assistance was provided to improve the management of federal programs and funds. This move towards decentralization is seen as a historic commitment by the government of Puerto Rico to create a 21st-century educational system that better prepares students for the future. So far, $4.9 billion has been allocated to Puerto Rico since taking office. This includes $3 billion from the American Rescue Plan Act and $1.2 billion from the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act -CRRSA- 2021.

The Future

As challenges in infrastructure, inequality, and quality persist, the future of this education system and its ability to create better opportunities and outcomes for its students is largely dependent on the future stance of the US towards Puerto Rico. The Biden administration has made promises of a better, more equitable relationship between Puerto Rico and the mainland U.S., but it remains to be seen whether those are implemented in practice. According to Chris de Soto, a Senior Advisor of the Office of the US Secretary of Education,

“Following two natural disasters and a global pandemic, it is critical that trust is rebuilt with students and families across the island. The public should be aware of how federal funds are contributing to the educational recovery of their schools and actually see the benefits in classrooms across the island.  While progress has been made, we know there is more work to do.” 

In recent years, US funding to the Puerto Rican education system has increased. In 2022, Puerto Rico’s education system received federal aid funds amounting to $2.62 billion which is five times higher than education funding allocated to Utah, a state with a similar population size, highlighting the US government’s understanding that the Puerto Rican education system is in a more dire situation than the mainland U.S. The key focus remains the prioritization of educational investment in mitigation and contingency plans to strengthen the resilience of the population against the imminent risk of being struck again by natural disasters. Indeed, Puerto Rico’s education system has endured challenges, the reason why the commitment of authorities to a brighter future for the next generations has to remain unwavering.


References

Arbitrariness on the education field in the Nicaraguan Regime: Cancellation and Expropriation of Universities

Written by: Samantha Orozco

Since 2018, Nicaragua has been experiencing an unprecedented political crisis that has led to a series of human rights violations against its population. The limitation on the exercise of fundamental rights, recognised in both the Nicaraguan Constitution and international treaties to which Nicaragua is a party, has not ceased since the onset of citizen protests against the regime. These restrictions have escalated since the controversial re-election of Daniel Ortega as president, who assumed office alongside his wife, Rosario Murillo, as vice president, following elections deemed arbitrary and fraudulent by the international community.

The field of education has not been exempt from this series of violations and arbitrary actions by the authorities of this Central American country. A concerning example is the closure of 27 universities in Nicaragua, which has affected over 37,000 higher education students and even forced university professors into exile. This situation gained more prominence after the closure of two of the country’s most recognised university centres: the Universidad Centroamericana (UCA) and the INCAE Business School. In addition to having their legal status revoked, these institutions were also confiscated.

Demonstration outside an University in Nicaragua. Photo by Jorge Mejía Peralta on Flickr.

Background on the Ortega-Murillo Regime

In 2018, Nicaragua experienced a profound political and social crisis. It began with municipal elections in November 2017, which were heavily criticised due to allegations of fraud and lack of transparency. These elections marked the beginning of a period of growing political polarisation in the country.

The situation worsened in April 2018 when the government of Daniel Ortega announced a reform to the social security system that triggered widespread protests across the country. These protests, led mostly by university students and civil society, resulted in a violent response from the government. The repression by the police and government-affiliated paramilitary groups led to a high number of casualties, as well as the detention of protesters and opposition leaders.

Since 2018, the situation in Nicaragua related to the violation of human rights has been on the rise, resulting in the closure and cancellation of media outlets and non-profit organisations, the expulsion of international missions, the cancellation of political parties, and the imprisonment of opposition leaders.i This ultimately led to the 2021 elections in which Ortega and his wife, Rosario Murillo, competed as the sole presidential ticket. These elections were rejected due to evident irregularities that silenced the opposition and sowed fear among voters.

During their new term, the government of Ortega and Murillo has followed a single mission: to silence criticism, attack the opposition, and control the country’s institutions. The education and university sector has not gone unnoticed, becoming another target of the regime to consolidate control over the population.

Measures against Universities: At least 26 universities have been cancelled.

As mentioned earlier, the Ortega government has made several decisions that have led to the closure and revocation of the legal status of media outlets, non-profit organisations, and, of course, private universities in the country. To understand this situation better, it is essential to recall that university students led the citizen protest movements against the Ortega regime. Therefore, this could be seen as a retaliation and an effort by the government to control students and their civic engagement. These arbitrary measures should be understood as a way for the government to ensure aligned thinking that does not encourage criticism or scrutiny, which also jeopardises academic freedom through intimidation and persecution of teachers considered traitors to the regime.

The measures taken against universities not only violate human rights but also run counter to the Nicaraguan Constitution, which protects the autonomy of universities and prohibits the confiscation of their assets. So far, 26 universities have had their legal status revoked, with reasons for revocation ranging from allegations of financial opacity or non-compliance with educational standards to more serious accusations such as money laundering, terrorism, and weapons proliferation. The cancellations began with the confiscation of Universidad Politécnica (Upoli), culminating in the shocking cancellation and expropriation of UCA and the INCAE headquarters, two of the most renowned universities in the Central American region.ii

UCA was cancelled through government decree, under the accusation of being a hub for terrorism. This action has been the pinnacle of Ortega’s religious persecution against the Catholic Church, which has been running through this university founded by Jesuits and belonging to the Latin American network of universities entrusted to the Society of Jesus (AUSJAL for its acronym in Spanish). In response to the closure of UCA, AUSJAL issued a press release condemning the actions of the Nicaraguan government, declaring, “The UCA has been slandered and harassed, just like the more than three thousand civil society organisations in Nicaragua.’´iii Additionally, hundreds of professionals expressed their outrage and called for the reinstatement of the legal status of this university. This illustrates the significant blow that Ortega has dealt not only to Nicaragua’s education sector but to the entire region. In an interview, Miquel Cortés Bofil, Rector of Universidad Rafael Landivar mentioned to Broken Chalk ‘’Certainly the University is not a centre of terrorism, nor has it ever been. It is a study house where critical thinking and responsible and democratic citizenship are encouraged. Accusations of “terrorism” are unfounded.’’ Now, the defunct UCA has been renamed the National University Casimiro Sotelo Montenegro in honour of a leader of the Sandinista movement.

The most recent action against the university system occurred with the closure and expropriation of the INCAE campus in Nicaragua. This stirred indignation among professionals throughout the Latin American region, as this was the first campus of one of the most prestigious business schools in the region.iv The justification for its revocation, according to the government resolution, was a lack of transparency in its financial statements. The most deplorable aspect of these measures is that university representatives have been denied their right to a defence, as the challenges to the resolutions have been dismissed by the relevant judicial bodies, leaving them without access to an objective and impartial justice that can protect against such arbitrary actions.v A situation proper of a dictatorship where all institutions and bodies are co-opted.

The CNU, the Accomplice of the Ortega-Murillo Regime

These attacks on education and the academy have had key institutions and actors. In this case, it is important to mention the National Council of Universities (CNU) of Nicaragua as the institution that has facilitated these actions. Without key allies, these arbitrary actions against the country’s universities would not be possible. The CNU of Nicaragua is an entity responsible for the coordination and supervision of public universities in the country. It plays a significant role in the regulation and planning of higher education in Nicaragua. This institution is composed of the rectors of public universities. It is responsible for establishing educational policies, accrediting academic programs, and supervising the quality of education in public higher education institutions.

Currently, the CNU is presided over by Ramona Rodríguez, the rector of UNAN-Managua, who has been a key figure in the attack on the autonomy of Nicaraguan universities and is responsible for jeopardising higher education in the country. Rodríguez has been a loyal supporter of the Ortega regime and has been the public face justifying the closure of universities in the country.

An example of this is what was highlighted by the former authorities of UCA, who emphasised that since 2018, when the protests began, the CNU had begun to strangle the university by not extending certifications for its operation, excluding it as a member of the CNU, which meant it could not receive the corresponding budget allocation as established in the constitution.vi Furthermore, Rodríguez has publicly justified the closure of several universities on the grounds of financial transparency or not meeting minimum quality and infrastructure standards. In response to this, Adrián Meza, an exiled professor from the University Paulo Freire, stated to the media that “many of the universities that have been closed under these pretexts were in the middle of verification processes and were not granted the right to defend themselves”.vii

In addition, the CNU has implemented new policies following reforms approved by the legislative assembly to the General Education Law and the Law on Autonomy of Higher Education Institutions, centralising functions within the CNU and undermining university autonomy. Among the new powers granted to the CNU is the exclusive authority to open or close universities in the country, among others, turning it into a dangerous weapon against higher education.

Manifestation of students and alumni of public and private schools in Managua, Nicaragua. Photo by Jorge Mejía Peralta on Flickr.

Challenges for Students and Academics

University students and educators have viewed these actions with dismay, considering that the availability of higher education programs has diminished. Many students who were pursuing degrees at universities that have been closed have encountered difficulties in resuming their studies or obtaining their respective degrees due to a series of rigorous administrative requirements imposed by the CNU. Additionally, educators have faced limitations in job opportunities and academic freedom as their curricula are increasingly controlled. Furthermore, a significant number of university educators are now in exile following government persecution by being labelled as conspirators or traitors to the nation. The Interamerican Commission of Human Rights heavily condemned this situation in a press communication in which the actions were qualified as an “arbitrary interference towards academic freedom”.viii

In response to this series of abuses, some universities in the Central American region have taken action to provide support to students and faculty members in exile. The efforts of Jesuit universities such as the Rafael Landívar University in Guatemala and the José Simeón Cañas Central American University in El Salvador exemplify this. These institutions have led initiatives to enable students from the UCA to continue their studies. According to Landivar’s Rector Cortés ‘’Around 2,300 students have requested information from the UCA in El Salvador and the Rafael Landívar in Guatemala to continue their studies virtually. The two Central American universities have formed an inter-institutional commission, and we are responding to the students…’’

Nicaragua: A New Role Model for the Central American Region?

Nicaragua has become an example of antidemocratic standards in the Central American region due to the policies implemented against those considered opposition. Therefore, in light of the democratic crisis prevailing in the region, there is a significant fear that if the situation worsens in neighbouring countries, such actions that undermine higher education could become a popular measure. This is a reminder of the historical role of universities in Central America and the student movements that originate from their classrooms.

In this context, it is essential to remember the university martyrs who fought for freedom and democracy in Central America, often facing persecution and violence for their convictions in the darkest times of the region. Examples such as the assassination of Ignacio Ellacuría by the military in El Salvador or the persecution and murder of student leaders in Guatemala, such as Oliverio Castañeda, serve as stark reminders of the risks faced in universities when one is critical during a dictatorship.

Conclusion

Nicaragua has experienced a profound political and social crisis since 2018, marked by controversial elections, protests, and government repression under Daniel Ortega’s leadership. The situation has worsened with human rights violations, the closure of media outlets, and the persecution of opposition leaders. Furthermore, the role of the National Council of Universities (CNU), led by Ramona Rodríguez, has been instrumental in implementing policies that threaten university autonomy and restrict higher education. These actions have affected both students and educators, with numerous universities closed and a growing diaspora of academics. This situation not only poses a challenge for students and professors but also sets a dangerous precedent in the Central American region, where higher education and academic freedom are at risk. The situation in Nicaragua serves as a reminder of the importance of always defending higher education and human rights, especially during times of democratic crisis.


i Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (ICHR) (2023). Comunicado de prensa sobre la situación en Nicaragua. https://www.oas.org/es/CIDH/jsForm/?File=/es/cidh/prensa/comunicados/2023/201.asp

ii La Prensa. (2022). Régimen de Nicaragua ha cerrado 17 universidades privadas en los últimos 16 meses. https://www.laprensani.com/2023/05/02/nacionales/3140523-regimen-de-nicaragua-ha-cerrado-17-universidades-privadas-en-los-ultimos-16-meses

iii AUSJAL. (2023). Comunicado “Todos somos la UCA Nicaragua”. https://www.ausjal.org/comunicado-todos-somos-la-uca-nicaragua/

iv INCAE Business School. (2023). Sobre la cancelación de la personería jurídica de INCAE Business School en Nicaragua. https://www.incae.edu/es/blog/2023/09/26/sobre-la-cancelacion-de-la-personeria-juridica-de-incae-business-school-en-nicaragua

v Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (ICHR). (2021). Principios para la Libertad Académica. https://www.oas.org/es/cidh/informes/pdfs/principios_libertad_academica.pdf

vi Swissinfo. (2023). El gobierno de Nicaragua cierra 2 universidades privadas más y ordena decomisar sus bienes. https://www.swissinfo.ch/spa/nicaragua-crisis_el-gobierno-de-nicaragua-cierra-2-universidades-privadas-m%C3%A1s-y-ordena-decomisar-sus-bienes/48697976

vii La Prensa. (2022). Régimen de Nicaragua ha cerrado 17 universidades privadas en los últimos 16 meses. https://www.laprensani.com/2023/05/02/nacionales/3140523-regimen-de-nicaragua-ha-cerrado-17-universidades-privadas-en-los-ultimos-16-meses

viii Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (ICHR) (2023). Comunicado de prensa sobre la situación en Nicaragua. https://www.oas.org/es/CIDH/jsForm/?File=/es/cidh/prensa/comunicados/2023/201.asp

References

Education at a Crossroads: Navigating Thailand’s Educational Challenges

Written by Niyang Bai

Image Source: free stock photos from https://unsplash.com/ by Robert Collins.

Introduction

In the heart of Southeast Asia, Thailand is a land of rich history and boundless potential. Its picturesque surface hides the challenges facing its education system, a cornerstone of its development.

Education is the key to progress, dreams, and prosperity in Thailand. However, this journey is riddled with obstacles, from insufficient funding to educational inequality, casting shadows on a brighter future. These challenges aren’t abstract; they affect students, parents, and policymakers daily. We will explore Thai schools, educators, and students, highlighting their resilience and determination.

Thailand is at a crossroads in its education system, with choices that will impact future generations. We delve into Thailand’s education system’s complexities, hopes, and aspirations, recognizing that in adversity, a nation’s greatest asset is its pursuit of knowledge.

Insufficient Funding

In Thailand, where the promise of education should be a beacon for the future, insufficient funding looms as a dark cloud over the nation’s schools. A simple search through recent articles reveals a complex web of challenges from this issue.

According to a report by the World Bank, the education system in Thailand is beset by poor management, inequality, and high teacher shortages[1]. The World Bank has stated that investments in key financial, human, and digital learning resources were especially low in disadvantaged schools (ranked at the bottom 25 percent of the PISA Economic, Social, and Cultural Status (ESCS) Index), private schools that receive more than half of their funding from government, and rural schools[2].

World Bank highlights the small school challenge in Thailand and options for quality education. It reveals that compared to international peers, Thai secondary schools are severely hindered by inadequate learning materials and physical infrastructure, which limits their capacity to provide quality instruction. More importantly, the Thai secondary school system is dramatically lacking in qualified teachers: secondary schools in rural areas are much more understaffed and under-resourced than their urban counterparts[3].

A more in-depth report by the National Education Commission for the fiscal year 2022-2023 reveals the extent of the problem. It states that Thailand’s education budget falls significantly short of international standards. Thailand allocates only 15% of its annual budget to education, while UNESCO recommends a minimum of 20%[4]. This shortfall in funding directly affects the quality of education and students’ overall well-being.

To gain a deeper insight into the challenges of rural education in Thailand, the story of Ms. Nongnuch, a passionate teacher in a bamboo school in Buriram province. Like many others, her school strives to provide quality education despite limited resources.

Ms. Nongnuch explained that the bamboo school has an innovative learning method focusing on sustainability and environmental conservation. The students do not have to pay tuition but must plant 800 trees and participate in 800 hours of community service per year. They also learn leadership, empathy and compassion through hands-on activities.

She also highlighted the need for more support from the government and society. “Our school is more than just a school that we all used to know. A school is a lifelong learning centre and a hub for social and economic advancement in the communities,” Ms. Nongnuch quoted the school founder, Mechai Viravaidya[5]. However, she said the school still faces difficulties securing funds, materials and facilities.

Moreover, the lack of recognition and appreciation is a constant struggle. “Others often look down upon our students because they come from poor families or remote areas,” Ms. Nongnuch revealed. This stigma not only affects their self-esteem but also their motivation to pursue higher education.

Perhaps most inspiring is the impact on students’ aspirations. Ms. Nongnuch shared stories of talented students who had overcome their hardships and achieved their goals with the help of the bamboo school. “It fills me with joy to see potential realized,” she said. “We are nurturing future leaders who will make a difference in their communities and beyond.”

As Ms. Nongnuch eloquently put it, insufficient funding is “a barrier that blocks the opportunities for our children.”  It becomes increasingly clear that supporting rural schools like hers is not just a matter of charity; it’s about empowering the untapped potential of a nation’s youth.

Quality of Education

According to a report by the Asian Development Bank, Thailand’s basic education system faces several challenges, including the need to expand the supply of human capital to avoid the middle-income trap and the ageing society. The report highlights that despite the significant amount of resources spent on education, students’ learning outcomes are low and have not improved significantly in either national or international assessments. The performance of junior secondary school students in national examinations has declined, especially in mathematics and science. While the performance of senior secondary school students has improved slightly over the same period, the mean results for core subjects (mathematics, science, and English) were less than 50. This worrying figure is worsened by inequality in education quality across regions since the performance of secondary school students is lower in poorer, remote regions. The report argues that such poor learning outcomes are presumably due to two main reasons: the role of small schools and inefficient resource allocation for education in public spending[6].

As per the World Bank, various factors are influencing the quality of education in Thailand[7]. The report highlights the following key findings:

  • A lack of teacher training and professional development opportunities directly impacts the quality of instruction in classrooms.
  • Disparities in educational quality persist between urban and rural areas, where students in rural regions face limited access to qualified teachers and educational resources.
  • The curriculum was found to be outdated, with a need for reforms that align with 21st-century skills.
  • Student engagement and critical thinking skills remain underdeveloped due to traditional teaching methods.

The report recommends comprehensive teacher training programs, curriculum updates, and implementing student-centred teaching strategies to address these challenges.

The following views expressed by both a student and a parent tell us more about the quality of education in Thailand.

Nicha, a 16-year-old high school student, expressed dissatisfaction with the rigid curriculum. “I feel like I’m just following instructions from teachers,” she said. “I want to explore, not just obey.” Nicha also mentioned that the lack of creative learning opportunities made studying less interesting.

On the other hand, Mr. Somchai, a parent, shared his worries about the quality of education. “I wonder if my child is getting the skills they need for the future,” he said. “The education system seems old-fashioned, and it doesn’t prepare them for the changes of today’s society.”[8]

These voices resonate with a growing sentiment in Thailand: a need for a shift in the education paradigm. The emphasis on holistic development, critical thinking, and practical skills has become increasingly urgent. Thailand’s educational landscape stands at a crossroads, with the quality of education being a critical factor in determining the nation’s success in the global arena.

Image Source: Free stock photos from https://unsplash.com/t/3d-renders by Mario Heller

Educational Inequality

Educational inequality in Thailand is a pressing issue highlighted in recent news articles. According to a report by the World Bank, disparities in allocation and inefficiencies of investments across schools in Thailand have led to a decline in student performance in reading and a stagnation of scores in math and science[9]. The report further finds that investments in key financial, human, and digital learning resources were especially low in disadvantaged schools, private schools that receive more than half of their funding from the government, and rural schools.

Inequality between urban and rural areas is also a significant concern. Rural areas often lack basic infrastructure, qualified teachers, and educational resources, creating a significant gap in educational quality[10]. Ethnic minority communities face additional challenges, such as language barriers, discrimination, and limited access to quality education[11].

The Thai government must address these issues and create inclusive learning environments in schools to help improve Thailand’s education performance. A report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) that assesses Thailand’s education system and skills imbalances[12]. The report highlights several issues that contribute to educational inequality in Thailand:

  • Education quality, not quantity, is the main contributing factor to long-term economic growth.
  • Disadvantaged schools have low investments in key financial, human, and digital learning resources.
  • There is a skills mismatch between the demand in the Thai labour market and the supply of skilled workers.
  • There are disparities in resources allocated for teachers and other educational resources between schools with higher and lower socioeconomic status students.

The report recommends several policy interventions to address these issues, including improving teacher quality, increasing investment in disadvantaged schools, and enhancing the relevance of education to labour market needs. The report also emphasizes the importance of developing relevant skills from pre-primary to higher education levels.

However, not all students have equal access to quality education and opportunities to develop their skills. Nong, a stateless student from a hill tribe in northern Thailand, shared her challenges and aspirations for education[13].

She explained that she had to overcome many obstacles, such as poverty, discrimination, and language barriers. “I had to work hard to support my family and pay school fees,” she said. “I also faced stigma and prejudice because of my ethnicity and status. I had to learn Thai as a second language, which was difficult.”

Nong also expressed her gratitude for the support she received from teachers and mentors. “They encouraged me to pursue my dreams and helped me with scholarships and citizenship applications,” she said. “They also taught me about my rights and responsibilities as a citizen.”

Regarding her future plans, Nong said she wanted to become a teacher and help other disadvantaged children. “I want to give back to my community and society,” she said. “I believe education is the key to empowerment and opportunity.”

Nong’s story illustrates the resilience and potential of many ethnic minority and stateless students in Thailand. While they face many hardships, they also have educational hopes and ambitions. There is a need for more inclusive and supportive policies and practices that enable them to access quality education and realize their full potential.

Teacher Shortage

Thailand is facing a serious challenge in providing quality education to its students, especially in rural areas lacking qualified teachers. A Thai PBS World report highlights the teacher shortage in Thailand, particularly in rural areas. The report states that the shortage is most severe in the northeastern region of Thailand, where schools struggle to attract and retain qualified teachers[14]. This has resulted in uneven access to quality education, with students in rural areas being disadvantaged.

In addition, a report from The Bangkok Post indicates a severe shortage of science and mathematics teachers nationwide. The report states that students in these subjects face a challenging situation due to the dearth of specialized educators[15].

According to a World Bank study, around 64% of Thai primary schools are critically short of teachers, defined as having less than one teacher per classroom on average. The study estimates that as many as 110,725 out of 353,198 classrooms in Thai primary and secondary schools are critically short of teachers[16]. The study also reveals that eliminating teacher shortages in terms of quality and quantity would significantly improve student learning, and the impact would be most significant for lower-performing schools. Therefore, improving the quality of teachers and addressing the severe teacher shortages – especially for the vast number of small rural schools – should be at the centre of Thailand’s reform initiatives if the country is serious about tackling the widespread low education quality and high disparity in educational performance between socioeconomic groups.

To gain insight into the challenges of teaching in under-resourced schools, the case of Chaisit Chaiboonsomjit, a learner at Xavier Learning Community (XLC) in Chiang Rai, who served as a volunteer teacher at Zi Brae School in Chiang Mai[17]. His experience was eye-opening.

Chaisit shared his enthusiasm for teaching but also revealed the harsh conditions he faced. “The school is located on top of a mountain, and it takes eight hours to get there by car or motorcycle,” he said. “When it rains, the roads become impossible to pass, and teachers are often stranded.”

He explained how the lack of teachers affects students. “Most of our students are from the Karen hill tribe and study seven subjects provided by the Thai Education Ministry. But we only have 15 teachers for more than 200 students. They need more guidance and support to learn effectively.”

Chaisit also expressed frustration about teacher retention. “Many teachers leave after a short time because they can’t cope with the isolation and hardship,” he said. “This creates instability and inconsistency in the school system.”

In his heartfelt appeal, Chaisit emphasized the value of equal opportunity for education. “Every child, no matter where they are born, deserves a good teacher and a chance to pursue their dreams. We need more incentives to attract teachers to rural areas and more resources for teacher training.”

Chaisit’s story is a powerful illustration of the real-world impact of the teacher shortage crisis. It’s a challenge that affects educators and limits the educational potential of countless Thai students, especially those in remote areas.

Conclusion

Thailand’s education system, often celebrated for its potential, is ensnared in a web of challenges that demand urgent attention. This report has delved into five critical issues that cast shadows over the nation’s educational landscape:

  1. Insufficient Funding: A chronic shortage of financial resources hampers the quality of education, hindering the nurturing of young minds.
  2. Quality of Education: Rote memorization and standardized testing take precedence over critical thinking and creativity, leaving students ill-prepared for the complexities of the modern world.
  3. Educational Inequality: Disparities in access to education and educational outcomes persist, affecting marginalized communities and perpetuating social divisions.
  4. Teacher Shortage: A severe lack of qualified educators, particularly in rural areas and critical subjects, disrupts the learning process and hinders student development.

These challenges collectively pose a profound threat to Thailand’s education system and, by extension, its future. A nation’s strength lies in equipping its youth with the knowledge and skills to navigate an ever-evolving global landscape. However, the current state of Thailand’s education system impedes this aspiration.

Insufficient funding and the resultant resource shortages compromise the quality of education, leaving students ill-prepared for a future that demands adaptability, creativity, and critical thinking. Educational inequality perpetuates social divisions, limiting the nation’s capacity to harness the full potential of its diverse populace.

In conclusion, the challenges outlined in this report are not isolated issues; they are interconnected strands in a complex web. The future of Thailand depends on addressing these challenges with determination and foresight. A well-funded, inclusive, and quality education system is not just an investment in the present but a beacon guiding the nation toward a brighter, more equitable, and prosperous tomorrow. To ensure Thailand’s place on the global stage, these challenges must be met head-on, placing education at the forefront of the nation’s priorities.


References:

[1]    https://theisaanrecord.co/2022/03/30/thai-education-beset-by-poor-management/

[2]    https://www.worldbank.org/en/news/press-release/2020/12/09/world-bank-more-inclusive-and-better-investments-in-education-to-improve-learning-outcomes-in-thailand

[3]    https://blogs.worldbank.org/eastasiapacific/thailand-s-small-school-challenge-and-options-quality-education

[4]    https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000384381

[5]    https://www.undertoldstories.org/2019/02/07/thailands-bamboo-school/

[6]    https://www.adb.org/publications/recent-developments-in-basic-education-in-thailand-issues-and-challenges

[7]    https://www.worldbank.org/en/country/thailand/publication/wanted—a-quality-education-for-all-in-thailand

[8]    https://www.oecd.org/countries/thailand/education-in-thailand-9789264259119-en.htm

[9]    https://www.worldbank.org/en/news/press-release/2020/12/09/world-bank-more-inclusive-and-better-investments-in-education-to-improve-learning-outcomes-in-thailand

[10]   https://rksi.adb.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/rural-urban-poverty-and-inequality-thailand.pdf

[11]   https://maxwellsnotes.com/2015/03/17/educational-inequality-in-thailand/

[12]   https://one.oecd.org/document/ECO/WKP%282020%2949/en/pdf

[13]   https://www.worldbank.org/en/news/press-release/2020/12/09/world-bank-more-inclusive-and-better-investments-in-education-to-improve-learning-outcomes-in-thailand

[14]   https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-981-10-0847-4_11

[15]   https://one.oecd.org/document/ECO/WKP%282020%2949/en/pdf

[16]   https://blogs.worldbank.org/eastasiapacific/thailand-s-small-school-challenge-and-options-quality-education

[17]   https://jcapsj.org/blog/2023/08/31/teaching-and-learning-in-rural-thailand/

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Educational challenges in El Salvador: ensuring the right to education amid capricious times

Written by Joan Vilalta Flo

Since the end of the Salvadorian Civil War in 1992, the country has enjoyed many improvements to education, mainly from the implementation of legislation and educational policies to protect the rights of children and to promote quality, and inclusive education. Evidence of these improvements can be found in a 2018 National Council on Education (CONED) evaluation report of the 2016 “El Salvador Educado Plan” (PESE), which indicated developments such as the provision of student and teacher education on the prevention of violence, greater teacher training options and the creation of a Teacher Training National Institute, a significant increase in preschool coverage (from 1.4% in 2014 to 5.1% in 2018), improved literacy rates, the provision of adaptive educational programs to cater for student’s needs, and a 27.8 million dollar investment to improve school infrastructure.[1]

Despite this, teacher unions, media outlets, non-governmental organizations and academics continue to complain about deficiencies, political failures, and broken promises regarding the protection of the right to education. Salvadorans have recently lived through times of significant change in society, namely the long-term consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic, and the policies brought about by Nayib Bukele’s presidency. Bukele’s most notable change was a crackdown on gang violence, El Salvador’s long-lasting scourge, through a controversial mass detention campaign against the powerful maras. Historically, gang presence has had a negative impact on educational development.[2] Thus, it is appropriate to take a close look at what are the main educational difficulties that the country has faced in the last decade, how have they evolved to this day, and which are the remaining educational challenges through a more nuanced examination of recent literature, data, and events.

Gang Violence and the Right to Education

El Salvador invests a large portion of its budget in security measures to respond to gang violence. Photo by Presidencia El Salvador.

During the last two decades El Salvador has grappled with the crippling effects of gang violence, mostly carried out by the gangs M-13 and Barrio-18, which had their origins in Los Angeles, USA, but extended their reach to Central America through the mass deportation of gang members to El Salvador over the years[3]. An example of the devastating effects of gang violence is the fact that in 2016, the capital of San Salvador had a homicide rate of around 100 per 100,000 inhabitants.[4] The intersection between gang criminality and education goes both ways: while low quality education and lack of access to schooling make individuals prone to join gangs and conduct crimes, the presence of gangs and their activities also hamper educational development, creating a vicious cycle.

A striking fact about gang members that are currently imprisoned is that around 90% of them never finished secondary education and more than 97% have not had access to tertiary education. Most of the gang members range between 12 and 24 years old.[5] These figures reflect the potential consequence of dropping out, lacking access to education, or receiving low-quality education. While there are many causes explaining why youths join gangs, education is an important protective factor. Gangs provide what the state cannot when there is a lack of welfare. Education can mitigate the risk of people slipping through the cracks.[6] Thus, the deficiencies of the educational system that will be explored below can help account for the systemic gang violence that has plagued the country over the last decades.

In 2016, when gang violence in El Salvador peaked, it was reported that children were abandoning school due to the dramatic rise of gang threats, and teacher unions estimated that around 100.000 students dropped out during the previous year due to such violence.[7]Teachers were affected as well by the threats and extortions, which also hindered their capacity to perform, and, by extension, the quality of education decreased. It was estimated that 60% of Salvadoran schools were affected by gang violence.[8] Students were not only deprived of education due to the violent climate created by the gangs, but also because they were (and still are) the main recruitment target of these groups, which evidently curtail the professional possibilities of their members.

Despite improvements to education, the challenges that gangs pose to educational development are the same. More recent studies, including the first empirical investigations into how gang presence affects education. Gang violence has also been found to lead to lower household incentives to invest in education, as well as lower academic performance due to victimization risks (accounting for the mental and physical wellbeing), the impact of crime on household budgets, and the impact on future expectations of families and students. [9]

Finally, it must be noted that Bukele’s presidency has been a turning point regarding gang violence in El Salvador. Adding to the steady decline of homicides since 2015, the latest government’s crackdown against gangs was possible due to the enactment of a state of emergency declared in March 2022, and has resulted in the arrest and imprisonment of more than 60.000 suspected gang members, with El Salvador reaching the highest incarceration rate in the world.[10] In dense urban areas where extortion was rampant, business seem to be finally flourishing, and homicides have plummeted (from 1.147 in 2021 to 495 in 2022).[11] Therefore it is legitimate to also expect a positive impact on education. However, it is too soon to have data on the impact that this might have had in education, but it should be noted that some experts see these repressive measures as a short-term solution, and that the best long-term strategy is, precisely, to invest in community-oriented strategies to improve educational quality and coverage. This does not only include the education of future generations but also that of imprisoned gang members.[12] The expectation is that educational rehabilitation will be provided by the program “Segundas Oportunidades”, but this is one of the most important educational challenges that El Salvador is yet to face.

Low-Quality Infrastructure

Recent news reports in El Salvador have made visible widespread teacher protests regarding the deficient state of most educational institutions’ infrastructure. According to Manuel Molina, the representative of a teacher union called Movimiento Magisterial Salvadoreño, around 85% of school infrastructure are in a bad condition. Together with large groups of education workers, Molina criticizes the inefficiency of the 2021 educational policy plan, “Mi Nueva Escuela,” claiming that only 70 centers in the metropolitan area of San Salvador have been provided with infrastructural improvements, while the remaining 600 sustain significant structural damages that hamper the quality of education and endanger students’ safety.[13]

El Salvador is in an area of high seismic activity, which costs an average of 0.7% of the country’s annual GDP. Other natural disasters, such as floods and landslides are also common in the country.[14] These have caused accumulated damages to educational centers, which are the most affected type of infrastructure according to a study conducted between 2015 and 2016.[15] Most centers do not have the proper infrastructure to withstand such disasters and that there has not been enough focus on the reparation of many schools. It has been widely documented in recent research about El Salvador’s educational system that poor infrastructure directly affects the learning quality of student and curtails the performance of teachers, thus making it a priority in order to fully ensure the right to education.

Bukele’s plan of “Mi Nueva Escuela” precisely acknowledges the importance of this issue and includes the promise of dedicating, in 2023 and with the aid of transnational banks, more than 289 million dollars to repair and build around 5.000 education centers.[16] However, it should be noted that this plan was initially launched in 2021 and its implementation has been slow or inactive, and no consistent follow-ups or data on it have been provided.[17] Media outlets and teacher unions have protested, as noted above, against the sluggish governmental action to solve the problem.

Insufficient Educational Budget

While it needs to be acknowledged that state budget in education has increased significantly over the last eight years (from 3.8% of the country’s GDP in 2014 to 4.6% in 2021), El Salvador is still far from the ideal benchmark of 7%, set and acknowledged by the governmental estimates of the 2016 PESE plan. In 2019, it was reported that the education budget for that year lacked around 1.2 million dollars to obtain the desired benchmark.[18] It is essential that education receives the budget it deserves, not only to provide adequate infrastructure and material, but also to provide better teacher trainings, technological tools to families and schools alike, scholarships for disadvantaged children, and to expand the curriculum and extra-curricular activities.

The Effects of COVID-19

Children in El Salvador use masks and face shields to protect them as they continue learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo by USAID/EL Salvador.

El Salvador was one of the countries with stricter measures during the Covid-19 pandemic; educational centers remained closed from March 2020 to April 2021.[19] There is not yet a lot of information on the specific effects that the pandemic had on El Salvador, but some estimates expect a learning loss of 1.2 years.[20] It has also been reported that educational coverage has stagnated with the pandemic, and that inequalities were maintained throughout that period, even exacerbated (for instance, the poorest quintile’s rate of school assistance decreased from 65% in 2019 to 64.3% in 2021). The quality of education has suffered damage from the pandemic as well: in all learning areas, student performance decreased significantly in the last years of secondary education, attaining less than a 50% rate of successful achievement in languages and math.[21] These results suggest that remote education did not motivate students and that, even for those with the necessary resources, learning development proved to be difficult. On top of that, the percentage of high school students with notable symptoms of depression or anxiety rose from 13.5% in 2020 to 19.6% in 2021.[22]

Further studies on the educational challenges posed by Covid-19 in El Salvador align with the issues outlined above and point to a deeper problem that has become noticeable during the pandemic: the technological breach and the lack of digital literacy.

Students receive computers and lessons in San Bartolomé Perulapía. Photo by Presidencia El Salvador.

The technological breach refers to the significant portion of students who do not possess the adequate technological equipment nor appropriate connectivity to receive quality remote education. A recent survey suggests that around 13% of the students do not have technological equipment (e.g., a laptop or tablet), and that a 28.7% must share it with other family members, and only 3 out of 10 students report to have a good connectivity in their house. Moreover, around 45% of the students report to not have the adequate space at home to do remote education.[23] State-collected statistics confirm that the rate of student access to internet is lower than 50% for all levels of primary school and around 70% for secondary school, that such access rate is at least 10% higher in private schools for all levels of education, and around 20% higher in urban areas.[24] All in all, the evidence suggests that there is inequality in terms of access to technology between the rich and the poor, as well as between urban and rural populations.

The lack of digital literacy is especially important as regards teachers: only 3 out of 10 students consider that teachers are appropriately capacitated to teach online.[25] A recent study that measures the quality of education in El Salvador reports that the staff of most educational centers, especially those located outside major urban areas, have not received any training on digital skills and literacy. Those staff are unable to provide quality remote education and to make the best use of Text Box:   Retrieved from: https://historico.elsalvador.com/historico/113867/centros-educativos-limitados-de-recursos-e-infraestructura.html technologies in class, since the presence of material is impractical if the educator does not have the skill to use it. Furthermore, most educational centers in less populated regions do not possess the adequate technology to provide quality, up-to-date education, and often have poor access to internet.[26] The most recent state-recorded statistics on the matter align with the described problem: in 2018, the average number of students per computer at school was 19, and the percentage of teachers able to access internet at school on the same year was only 60.4%.[27]

Problems in Public Superior Education

Higher education is often essential to develop professionally in a globalized world. Due to a lack of monetary resources and weak political will, public higher education in El Salvador faces a range of problems that hamper the universal provision of quality, university-level training:

First, it has been reported that public university infrastructure is insufficient to host the vast quantity of students that wish to attend it. In fact, in public universities it is not rare to have more than a hundred students per one teacher, which obviously diminishes the quality of education for all. In comparison, private institutions might take in more students overall, but they have the appropriate infrastructure to avoid overcrowding.[28]

Secondly, the capacity constraint of public universities leads them to impose a highly strict admission filter: in 2019, 51.5% of first year university aspirants were ruled out by the admission tests at the Universidad de El Salvador (UES). While, by law, the right to higher education is to be ensured by the state, in practice, the opportunity is formally given to all but only obtained by a few. Equality of opportunity should not be confused with equality of possibility; and it seems that the possibility to access higher education is greater for those who can afford private education or the conditions to prepare access to public education, than for those who live in poverty (29.2% of the population in 2018).[29] Even in a society that values merit (a contestable term), the numbers seem excessive, and the term public seems to be drained of meaning.

Stagnated Educational Coverage and Low-Quality Education

In El Salvador, Adventist Church graduates thousands from its decade-long literacy program. Photo by Adventist News.

El Salvador finds itself in quite a decent position with a 90% rate in 2021 (the latest recorded).[30] However, when considering the average of its Latin American neighbors, El Salvador finds itself 4 percentual points below the average, a 94%.[31] Furthermore, it should be noted that since 2014, El Salvador’s literacy rate has remained almost unchanged, albeit slowly increasing (in 2014 the rate was of 89.1%).[32] This signals that around 10% of the population consistently remains illiterate, that efforts in that area could have been more fruitful, and that full educational coverage is still quite ahead of the current situation. In addition, the illiteracy rates show that women are significantly more affected than men (in 2021 the rate was of 8.1% for the women and 11.7% for the men), and that rural communities have a higher portion of illiterate population than urban areas (in 2021, the rate was of 15.5% for the former and of 6.8% for the latter).[33]

Beyond the issue of illiteracy, the 2022 rate of out-of-school population also leaves much to be desired: with an average rate of 40.38%, it is striking to note that the rate is greater than 46% for all ages under 5 years-old, decreasing throughout primary school levels, and then increasing notably from the age of 16 onwards, reaching almost 60% at the age of 18. When differentiating by gender, it seems that there is a greater proportion of men out of school.[34] Similarly, the dropout rates reach a concerning historic high of 14.7% in 2021 (the latest recorded) in secondary education. Again, the statistics indicate that men are significantly more likely to drop out than women, especially during the last years of primary education.[35] It seems that the challenge that lays ahead is not only to widen basic educational coverage but also to specifically do it in rural areas, with a focus on secondary education and with a gender lens.

Quality in education has been a longstanding concern in El Salvador. The most recent state-collected statistics display an astounding difference between the gross and the net rate of enrollment per level in 2022, that is, the difference between calculating the proportion of students enrolled in each level without regard for their age, and calculating the proportion of students with the corresponding theoretical age enrolled in each level. While the former shows rates of around 80% for the levels of primary and secondary school, each figure drops to a 10% less (approximately) in the latter.[36] That signals that there is an important educational lag at every level of education, something that is confirmed by the high rates of overage students at each level of education.[37] Another fact that signals that educational quality requires improvement in El Salvador is that the most common reason to abandon school in the country is low student performance, accounting for 22.4% of school dropouts.[38] Moreover, in previous sections it has already been shown how educational attainment, especially in the post-Covid context, is low.[39]

All things considered, El Salvador needs to boost student performance. Therefore, it seems important to shed light on what might be the causes of such figures, and according to recent reports and literature, some of these elements have already been discovered. Leaving the inescapable and damaging effect of the Covid-19 pandemic on educational development aside, studies suggest that to improve student motivation, possibilities and curricula, educational centers need to increase their contact with local communities and families. Working together with the immediate context of the students would propitiate the ideal learning conditions, in terms of support mechanisms and motivation through the applicability of knowledge.[40] Besides that, it is also important to consider that the low educational budget, reported lack of material and educational infrastructure hinders the learning possibilities and performance of students; something that seems to be especially present in most areas outside the capital.[41] On top of that, it is extremely important to increase teacher training programs and to address the critical teacher shortage in the country. In 2018, the statistics indicated that there were 27 students per teacher in El Salvador, while the regional average is at 21 students per teacher.[42] It should be noted that the teacher shortage was significantly higher in public schools and in rural areas.[43]

Multilevel Discrimination

Students participate in an environmental fair. Photo by Codelco.

As it might have been picked up from some of the data provided in the previous sections, there are clear discriminatory divides in the educational system of El Salvador. It has been shown how schools in rural areas receive less resources and attention than those in urban areas, how low student performance and low educational quality seems to primarily affect rural areas and the public sector, indicating that wealth might play a role in such difference, and how the gender lens allows for the identification of higher illiteracy among women and higher dropout rates among men. This final section will explore more deeply the main educational inequalities that need to be overcome in El Salvador.

Although it has shown great improvement over the last decade[44], El Salvador still shows significant levels of economic inequality, while low levels of economic power have been directly associated with having less educational opportunities, especially in the later years of educational development, due to the impossible costs of higher education and necessity to leave education in order to work for the family, or even due to joining a gang in contexts where state control and support is more absent.[45] Some accounts state that the issue of poverty (and, by extension, lack of access to education) is a matter of government prioritization of rich over the poor, actively contributing to (educational) inequality and a cycle of crime and poverty.

Gender parity in education has shown good results in 2022, often indicating a disparity in favor of women. However, El Salvador has been reported to be a country where patriarchal systems prevail and discrimination and violence against women is rampant, including at school.[46] In 2017, 67% of women aged 25 and older reported being victims of gender-based violence, and the pervasiveness of school-based gender-based violence has also been reported.[47] It has been argued and investigated, that while access to education has been fairly ensured for women, the sexist environment that they encounter at school can be an obstacle to their development.[48] The issue is, then, that girls receive a poorer quality education than boys, especially indigenous girls, who face more prejudice due to an intersection of discriminations. The complaint has often been directed towards the fact that gender and violence against girls has not been specifically named as a target area in the recent and current national education plans and inclusive policies. It would be through such focus that teachers would be able to obtain the training and tools to ensure an environment of true equality and to eliminate gender-based prejudice from its root.

More broadly, it has been pointed out that while normative frameworks have been set up to activate inclusive programs in education, no monitoring and evaluation mechanisms have been established yet. The previous national educational plans, such as the “Política de Educación Inclusiva” or the PESE, have not addressed the same issues over the years although such issues were ever-present, making for a scattered landscape of mechanisms to address inclusivity. Moreover, it is argued that these plans only offer temporary (but necessary) solutions such as food programs or support mechanisms for families but overlook the possibility of implementing structural changes. In order to obtain long-lasting improvements, it would be necessary to address poverty in rural areas and to provide them with appropriate infrastructure. Just like it has been argued with the issue of gender, there is also a broad need to be specific when defining the objects of inclusion too (e.g., race, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity), so that their difference and value can be acknowledged in the process of providing quality education.[49]

Lastly, it is important to highlight the clear inequalities existing between the rural and urban areas in El Salvador. Resource allocation, better student performance, lower dropout rates, and higher school attendance all concentrate in urban areas. The lack of access to digital tools and connectivity (less than 20% of rural families had internet access during Covid-19, and in 2019 only 19.6% of rural families had computer access) is also a salient issue for rural schools and families, and a much greater one compared to the situation in urban centers. Aside from material deprivation, it has also been reported that children in rural areas often do not find appropriate parental support on school tasks due to the labor conditions of the parents and their (relatively low) educational level. It is also often the case that the profile of families in rural areas is of low economic level, possibly adding the issues mentioned above as regards poverty and education. It should be noted that, in 2018, around 74.88% of the educational centers found themselves in rural areas. Educational issues associated to rural areas such as school dropout due to pursuing jobs (and child labor, for that matter), lack of material and technological conditions, poor transportation options in areas where schools are too far for some students, and the low training levels that some teachers present need to be addressed through integral solutions to avoid perpetuating inequality.


[1] UNDP. (2018, July 27). Presentan avances y desafíos del Plan El Salvador Educado. Retrieved from:  https://www.undp.org/es/el-salvador/news/presentan-avances-y-desaf%C3%ADos-del-plan-el-salvador-educado

[2] Cruz, J. M., & Speck, M. (2022, October 13). Ending El Salvador’s Cycle of Gang Violence. United States Institute of Peace. Retrieved from: https://www.usip.org/publications/2022/10/ending-el-salvadors-cycle-gang-violence

[3] Kalsi, P. (2018). The impact of US deportation of criminals on gang development and education in El Salvador. Journal of Development Economics, 135, 433-448.

[4] Dahbura, J. N. M. (2018). The short-term impact of crime on school enrollment and school choice: evidence from El Salvador. Economía, 18(2), 121-145.

[5] Speck, M. (2023, May 10). Mientras represión de las bandas en El Salvador continúa, los ciudadanos se preguntan qué vendrá después. United States Institute of Peace. Retrieved from: https://www.usip.org/publications/2023/05/mientras-represion-de-las-bandas-en-el-salvador-continua-los-ciudadanos-se ; Dahbura, J. N. M. (2018). The short-term impact of crime on school enrollment and school choice: evidence from El Salvador. Economía, 18(2), 121-145.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Tjaden, S., & Lasusa, M. (2016, July 22). El Salvador Gangs Cause Tens of Thousands to Leave School. Insight Crime. Retrieved from: https://insightcrime.org/news/brief/el-salvador-gangs-cause-tens-thousands-to-leave-school/

[8] Ibid.

[9] Dahbura, J. N. M. (2018). The short-term impact of crime on school enrollment and school choice: evidence from El Salvador. Economía, 18(2), 121-145.

[10] Speck, M. (2023, May 10). Mientras represión de las bandas en El Salvador continúa, los ciudadanos se preguntan qué vendrá después. United States Institute of Peace. Retrieved from: https://www.usip.org/publications/2023/05/mientras-represion-de-las-bandas-en-el-salvador-continua-los-ciudadanos-se ; Cruz, J. M., & Speck, M. (2022, October 13). Ending El Salvador’s Cycle of Gang Violence. United States Institute of Peace. Retrieved from: https://www.usip.org/publications/2022/10/ending-el-salvadors-cycle-gang-violence

[11] Appleby, P., Dalby, C., Doherty, S., Mistler-Ferguson, S., & Shuldiner, H. (2023, February 8). Insight Crime 2022 Homicide Round-Up. Insight Crime. Retrieved from: https://insightcrime.org/news/insight-crime-2022-homicide-round-up/#El-Salvador ; Speck, M. (2023, May 10). Mientras represión de las bandas en El Salvador continúa, los ciudadanos se preguntan qué vendrá después. United States Institute of Peace. Retrieved from: https://www.usip.org/publications/2023/05/mientras-represion-de-las-bandas-en-el-salvador-continua-los-ciudadanos-se

[12] Speck, M. (2023, May 10). Mientras represión de las bandas en El Salvador continúa, los ciudadanos se preguntan qué vendrá después. United States Institute of Peace. Retrieved from: https://www.usip.org/publications/2023/05/mientras-represion-de-las-bandas-en-el-salvador-continua-los-ciudadanos-se 

[13] Prensa Latina. (2023, February 24). Latente crisis en sector educacional en El Salvador. Retrieved from: https://www.prensa-latina.cu/2023/02/24/latente-crisis-en-sector-educacional-en-el-salvador

[14] World Bank. (2022, May 19). Mainstreaming Disaster Risk Management into El Salvador’s Education Sector. Retrieved from https://www.worldbank.org/en/news/feature/2022/05/19/mainstreaming-disaster-risk-management-into-el-salvador-s-education-sector-drmhubtokyo

[15] ESSA. (2016). Natural Hazard Risks for Infrastructure in El Salvador [PDF document]. Retrieved from: https://essa.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/ElSalvador_Infographic_v4_MARN_EN.pdf

[16] Gobierno de El Salvador. Ministerio de Educación. (n.d.). Mi Nueva Escuela. El Salvador [PDF file]. Retrieved from: https://ceccsica.info/sites/default/files/inline-files/8.Gesti%C3%B3n%20de%20la%20inversi%C3%B3n%20en%20GIRD.pdf

[17] La Prensa Gráfica. (2022, September 8). Por tercera vez, Gobierno promete remodelar escuelas. Retrieved from: https://www.laprensagrafica.com/elsalvador/Por-tercera-vez-Gobierno-promete-remodelar-escuelas-20220908-0098.html

[18] El Faro. (2019, January). Los presidenciables reprueban en educación. Retrieved from: https://elfaro.net/es/201901/el_salvador/22766/Los-presidenciables-reprueban-en-educaci%C3%B3n.htm

[19] Fusades. (2022, December). Como está y hacia dónde va la educación en El Salvador. Nota de Política Pública, NPP No. 27 [PDF file]. Retrieved from: https://fusades.org/publicaciones/NPP%2027EDUCACION%20.pdf

[20] Ibid.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Picardo Joao, O., Ábrego, A. M., & Cuchillac, V. (2020). Educación y la COVID-19: estudio de factores asociados con el rendimiento académico online en tiempos de pandemia (caso El Salvador).

[24] Ministerio de Educación de El Salvador. (2020, November 19). Estadísticas e indicadores. Retrieved from: https://www.mined.gob.sv/2020/11/19/estadisticas-e-indicadores/

[25] ibid

[26] Iraheta Argueta, W. A. (2020). Índice de Calidad Educativa en El Salvador: Una propuesta desde la Academia.

[27] Ministerio de Educación de El Salvador. (2020, November 19). Estadísticas e indicadores. Retrieved from: https://www.mined.gob.sv/2020/11/19/estadisticas-e-indicadores/

[28] Santiago, M. (2020). El acceso a la educación superior pública en El Salvador. Una aproximación al problema. AKADEMOS, 83-96.

[29] Ibid.

[30] World Bank. (n.d.). Literacy rate, adult total (% of people ages 15 and above). Retrieved 10/06/2023, from: https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SE.ADT.LITR.ZS?end=2021&most_recent_value_desc=true&start=2000  ; Ministerio de Educación de El Salvador. (2020, November 19). Estadísticas e indicadores. Retrieved from: https://www.mined.gob.sv/2020/11/19/estadisticas-e-indicadores/

[31] Ibid.

[32] Ministerio de Educación de El Salvador. (2020, November 19). Estadísticas e indicadores. Retrieved from: https://www.mined.gob.sv/2020/11/19/estadisticas-e-indicadores/

[33] Ibid.

[34] Ibid.

[35] Ibid.

[36] Ibid.

[37] Ibid.

[38] Ibid.

[39] Iraheta Argueta, W. A. (2020). Índice de Calidad Educativa en El Salvador: Una propuesta desde la Academia.

[40] Ibid.

[41] Ibid.

[42] Ministerio de Educación de El Salvador. (2020, November 19). Estadísticas e indicadores. Retrieved from: https://www.mined.gob.sv/2020/11/19/estadisticas-e-indicadores/World Bank. (n.d.). Gross enrollment ratio, primary, both sexes (% of relevant age group) in ZJ. Retrieved from: https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SE.PRM.ENRL.TC.ZS?locations=ZJ&most_recent_value_desc=false

[43] Ministerio de Educación de El Salvador. (2020, November 19). Estadísticas e indicadores. Retrieved from: https://www.mined.gob.sv/2020/11/19/estadisticas-e-indicadores/

[44] World Bank. (n.d.). El Salvador. Retrieved from: https://www.worldbank.org/en/country/elsalvador/overview

[45] Bissonnette, I. (2019). El Salvador’s drivers of poverty: Low levels of education, lack of access to water and sanitation, and violence and crime. Global Majority E-Journal4.

[46] Vandzura, A. (2021). Inclusive Education in El Salvador: Ensuring Quality Education and Gender Equality at the Primary Level. University of Ottawa.

[47] Ibid.

[48] Ibid.

[49] Muñoz Morán, C. A. (2019). Educación inclusiva en El Salvador. Una reflexión desde las políticas educativas. Revista latinoamericana de educación inclusiva13(1), 21-36.

Arbitrary Arrests in Afghanistan: Justice for Education Activist Matiullah Wesa

Written by Müge Çınar

The Arbitrary Arrest of Education Activist Matiullah Wesa

On 27 March 2023, human rights defender Matiullah Wesa was arbitrarily arrested after praying at a local mosque. When Matiullah Wesa stepped out from the mosque, he encountered gunmen with two vehicles who wanted to arrest him. Although Wesa asked for the IDs of the men, they showed their weapons and took Wesa away. Now, Wesa’s family is of great concern for his health and safety. Matiullah Wesa, aged 30, had been threatened before by the Taliban. Despite the threats to his safety, He didn’t leave Afghanistan and stayed to advocate boys’ and girls’ education rights.[1]

On the 27th of March, the UN Special Rapporteur stated that the human rights defender’s safety is the most important and his legal rights have to be respected. On the 28th of March, the UN Mission of Afghanistan (UNAMA) requested the reason behind the arrest of Matiullah Wesa and his location must be announced immediately.[2] Also, the demand for legal representation and contact with the family of Wesa has been expressed by UNAMA. The UN, Amnesty International and other human rights organizations call for urgent action for justice.

On March 29, a Taliban spokesman confirmed his arrest, citing “illegal activities” as the reason for Wesa’s arrest. Wesa’s family has been prohibited from seeing him, and there is no way to challenge the truth of the accusations made against him.  After the arrest, the Taliban entered his house; and took phones, documents, and computers. The brothers of Matiullah were briefly held and then freed after receiving a warning.[3]

Matiullah Wesa campaigning for education in Afghanistan. Photo from Matiullah Wesa.

Matiullah Wesa’s Mission on Promoting Education Rights via PenPath

Matiullah Wesa is known as the most prominent education activist in Afghanistan with his campaigns via the organization PenPath. He established the education organization PenPath with his brothers in 2009.[4] His aim has been to improve and promote education access in all areas of Afghanistan. During his 14-year-old journey of education activism, he traveled to remote and rural parts of the country that were damaged by war and collaborated with the tribal leaders to open schools and libraries to educate children in need. He has been also bringing PanPath’s mobile schools and libraries and most importantly campaigning for women’s education. More than 100 schools have been reopened by Pen Path; and 110,000 kids, 66,000 of whom are girls, have been able to access educational facilities and resources.[5] Is Matiullah being punished for this?

He developed the PenPath network, which now has more than 3,000 volunteers around the nation.[6] They support local classroom setup, teacher recruitment, and supply distribution. He has continued to support girls’ education in his campaigns despite the ban on girls enrolling in secondary schools. He also launched a door to door campaign against the ban on girls’ education.

Wesa has long been an advocate for women’s education in Afghanistan, particularly in rural regions, and his Twitter feed is full of tweets urging for the reopening of schools to women and girls. His last tweet was  “Men, women, elderly, young, everyone from every corner of the country is asking for the Islamic rights to education for their daughters,” before his arrest.[7] He was also planning to make a speech at a meeting about girls’ education prior to the situation. The Taliban have made unclear statements claiming Wesa’s activities as “suspicious” concerning his arrest. Although Wesa was not politically engaged, the Taliban’s exploitation of his public image is for their political gain.[8]

Matiullah Wesa’s detention demonstrates the de facto government’s effort to repress human rights advocates and those who speak up for female education rights. Hours before his detention, the human rights advocate was active on Twitter, highlighting the unavoidable and lasting effects of the closure of schools and the prohibition on girls’ education. It is a great reminder to us that consistent action and solidarity of the International community are needed to prevent women from losing their rights in Afghanistan.

Many people have expressed their outrage on social media over Matiullah Wesa’s arrest and called for his release. Wesa has been exercising his right to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression. According to international human rights law, particularly the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Afghanistan is a state party, this arrest clearly violates the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.

The Exploitation of the Right to Education of Women, Minorities and Conflict-Victims in Afghanistan

Following the US-led invasion that overthrew the previous government in 2001, the Taliban came into power in 2021. With the withdrawal of the US’s remaining troops as decided in a 2020 peace agreement with the Taliban, the rule of law in Afghanistan has been changed drastically. The Taliban rule has brought barriers to the human rights of women and minorities, imposing a harsh interpretation of Islamic law.[9]

Since the Taliban came into power in August 2021, the women’s and girls’ right to education, work and free movement has been violated. This situation paved the way for the girls to be subject to discrimination, domestic violence and child marriages. The Taliban announced on March 21, 2022, that all schools would reopen on March 23, but on that day they once more closed secondary schools for girls. The situation has not changed after 1 year in 2023, more than 3 million girls have been denied secondary education.[10]

His active campaigns across Afghanistan with his organization Pen Path turned him into a target for the Taliban. Photo by Matiullah Wesa.

In November 2022, three women rights activists – Zarifa Yaqoobi, Farhat Popalzai and Humaira Yusuf –  were arbitrarily arrested by the Taliban.[11] In December 2022, the Taliban prohibited women from attending universities “until further notice” and instructed all national and international NGOs to terminate the employment of all women on staff “until further notice”.

The Ministry of Higher Education pointed out that the problem derives from Immorality including the presence of female students in dorms, traveling from the provinces without a mahram, failure to observe the hijab wearing and the presence of mixed classes. Banning women from higher education, they were instructed to enroll in public universities near their homes while they are prohibited to study law, commerce, journalism, engineering, agriculture and veterinary medicine.[12] According to the Taliban, closures are temporary, yet authorities blame logistics rather than ideological barriers.

Not only women are deprived of their main right to have an education but religious and ethnic minorities have been suffering from a lack of education and several attacks on educational facilities. According to the UN report on Afghanistan by Richard Bennett, Hazara Community was targeted by 16 attacks, including three against educational institutions. And, Attack on the Kaaj Educational Center on September 30, 2022, left 114 people injured and 54 people dead.[13]

Conflict-related education rights abuses are another important issue to be addressed in Afghanistan. The UN Special Reporter also examined reports that show a huge increase in the recruitment and use of children as soldiers during the past years. Additionally, the rapid rise in attacks against schools, students and educational personnel, nearly eight times per year, has been reported between January and September 2022.[14] The children do not feel safe about their future by not getting proper education and their life by being in the ongoing conflict.

Other Targeted Activists by the Taliban

The Wesa brothers are the most recent arbitrary arrest targeted at society activists and protesters who have spoken out against the closure of education rights for girls and women. The report released in February by UNAMA shows 28 civil society actors and human rights defenders got arbitrarily arrested and 10 journalists and media workers were also arrested to be seen as a threat in the past three months.[15]

No society is able to reach its potential to be developed without activists and human rights defenders to bring consciousness to the people. The historical, geopolitical and religious aspects always play a role in the faith of a nation but civil society could also make it possible for authorities to see their mistake to elevate their people. In the case of this situation in Afghanistan, there must be a double effort by the international community to regain women’s essential human rights in the country.


[1] https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2023/mar/28/founder-afghan-girls-school-project-matiullah-wesa-pen-path-arrested-in-kabul

[2] https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/case/human-rights-defender-matiullah-wesa-arrested-taliban-kabul

[3] https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-65095663

[4] https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/case/human-rights-defender-matiullah-wesa-arrested-taliban-kabul

[5] https://www.civicus.org/index.php/media-resources/news/interviews/5730-afghanistan-education-is-our-basic-right-it-s-an-islamic-right-it-s-a-human-right

[6] https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-65095663

[7] https://edition.cnn.com/2023/03/29/asia/afghanistan-education-activist-arrest-taliban-intl-hnk/index.html

[8] https://thediplomat.com/2023/04/a-beacon-of-education-has-vanished-in-taliban-controlled-afghanistan/

[9] https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/taliban-afghanistan

[10] https://www.savethechildren.net/news/afghanistan-eighteen-months-after-ban-classroom-doors-must-open-secondary-school-girls#:~:text=More%20than%203%20million%20girls,schools%20return%20on%20March%2021.

[11] https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2022/11/afghanistan-women-human-rights-defenders-arrested-by-the-taliban-must-be-immediately-released/

[12] https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-63219895

[13] UN, Report of the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of human rights in Afghanistan, Richard Bennett, 9 February 2023 https://www.ohchr.org/en/documents/country-reports/ahrc5284-situation-human-rights-afghanistan-report-special-rapporteur

[14] UN, Report of the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of human rights in Afghanistan, Richard Bennett, 9 February 2023

https://www.ohchr.org/en/documents/country-reports/ahrc5284-situation-human-rights-afghanistan-report-special-rapporteur

[15] UN General Assembly Security Council, The situation in Afghanistan and its implications for international peace and security, 27 February 2023

https://unama.unmissions.org/sites/default/files/a77772-s2023151sg_report_on_afghanistan.pdf

References

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2022/11/afghanistan-women-human-rights-defenders-arrested-by-the-taliban-must-be-immediately-released/

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-65095663

https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/taliban-afghanistan

https://www.civicus.org/index.php/media-resources/news/interviews/5730-afghanistan-education-is-our-basic-right-it-s-an-islamic-right-it-s-a-human-right

https://edition.cnn.com/2023/03/29/asia/afghanistan-education-activist-arrest-taliban-intl-hnk/index.html

https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/case/human-rights-defender-matiullah-wesa-arrested-taliban-kabul

https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2023/mar/28/founder-afghan-girls-school-project-matiullah-wesa-pen-path-arrested-in-kabul

https://thediplomat.com/2023/04/a-beacon-of-education-has-vanished-in-taliban-controlled-afghanistan/

https://www.savethechildren.net/news/afghanistan-eighteen-months-after-ban-classroom-doors-must-open-secondary-school-girls#:~:text=More%20than%203%20million%20girls,schools%20return%20on%20March%2021.

UN, Report of the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of human rights in Afghanistan, Richard Bennett, 9 February 2023 https://www.ohchr.org/en/documents/country-reports/ahrc5284-situation-human-rights-afghanistan-report-special-rapporteur

UN General Assembly Security Council, The situation in Afghanistan and its implications for international peace and security, 27 February 2023 https://unama.unmissions.org/sites/default/files/a77772-s2023151sg_report_on_afghanistan.pdf

Silencing Minds: The Violation of Basic Human Rights Through School Censorship

Written by Leticia Cox

Efforts by US states to ban school curricula offering historically accurate accounts of racism in the United States is an attack on fundamental human rights and the First Amendment of the US Constitution.

Image by Leticia Cox.

Education is critical in shaping individuals’ understanding of the world and fostering a just and equitable society. Denying students access to accurate and comprehensive information about racism undermines their ability to grasp the full extent of historical injustices and perpetuates systemic discrimination.

“The May 3 Day of Action in support of the freedom to learn underscores that children and adults have fundamental rights to education and to access accurate information,” said Alison Parker, deputy US director at Human Rights Watch. “Attacks on education are attacks on US democracy because they ban access to the information that motivates voting and political participation.”

Historically accurate accounts of racism provide students with a broader perspective on the development of American society, shedding light on the experiences of marginalised communities and the struggles they have faced. These curricula examine topics such as slavery, segregation, and the civil rights movement, and they are essential for a complete understanding of US history. By learning about the historical roots of racism, students can better comprehend the current social and racial inequalities.

‘One of the ten amendments of the Bill of Rights, the First Amendment, gives everyone residing in the United States the right to hear all sides of every issue and to make their own judgments about those issues without government interference or limitations. The First Amendment allows individuals to speak, publish, read and view what they wish, worship (or not worship) as they wish, associate with whomever they choose, and gather to ask the government to make changes in the law or correct the wrongs in society.’ 

Banning the teaching of these subjects not only distorts history but also eternalises a cycle of ignorance and prejudice. Students shielded from confronting the truth about racism are deprived of the opportunity to develop empathy and critical thinking skills necessary for active participation in a diverse and inclusive society. By denying students access to accurate information, these bans undermine the principles of academic freedom and hinder the development of a well-informed citizenry.

A crowd protesting then U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy Devos in 2017. Photo by Ted Eytan.

Furthermore, such bans on teaching accurate accounts of racism affect marginalised communities and perpetuate systemic inequalities. People of colour, who have historically been the victims of racism, have a right to see their experiences and contributions acknowledged in the curriculum. By erasing or downplaying the history of racism, these bans silence marginalised voices and contribute to a culture of exclusion and inequality.

The right to education is a fundamental human right recognised internationally. It encompasses not only the access to education but also the content and quality of education. States should provide an inclusive and comprehensive education that enables students to understand and respect the diversity of human experiences. Banning historically accurate accounts of racism contradicts this obligation and undermines the principles of equality and non-discrimination.

Efforts to ban curricula offering historically accurate accounts of racism must be challenged and resisted. Educators, activists, and advocates must defend the right to education, promote inclusive curricula, and ensure that students have a genuine and nuanced understanding of history. By doing so, we can strive to create a society that confronts its past, acknowledges its flaws, and actively works towards a more just and equitable future for all.

https://www.ala.org/advocacy/intfreedom/censorship

https://www.hrw.org/news/2023/05/03/us-school-censorship-violates-basic-human-rights

https://libguides.pima.edu/bannedbooks/history

The United Nations and the right to education

Written by Camille Boblet-Ledoyen

The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, is the cornerstone of the United Nations and our international order: ” Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all based on merit.”[1] Since then, education has undergone spectacular development in the history of humanity: but today, dictated by economic rather than humanistic choices, the right to education seems to be falling all around the globe.

Children write their own Declaration of Human Rights at the UN in Vienna. Photo by UNIS Vienna.

The survey conducted by U-Report, a project coordinated by UNICEF, on the theme of basic education among a panel focusing on young people (only 5% of respondents were aged over 31), clearly shows the colossal challenges facing the right to education. 32,847 individuals were surveyed, with a response rate of 91%; 65% of respondents were male (10,891) and 35% were female (5,738). Sub-Saharan African countries, in particular Nigeria, had the most respondents, with 1,836, followed by Congo-Kinshasa with 1,839. By contrast, Europe was the region with the least participation: the United Kingdom was the region with the most respondents, with 160 people polled. When asked “How often do you feel you learn at school”, 42% of respondents said “Always”. However, this response differed according to gender: while 45% of men answered “always”, only 36% of women gave this answer. Women were more likely to answer ‘often’ at 32% (compared with 28% of men) and ‘sometimes’ at 25% (compared with 20% of men). The question “Did you receive enough help at school to acquire basic skills (such as reading and maths) to continue learning and find a job after graduating? 77% of the French answered “yes”, followed by 70% of the Congolese and 58% of the British. The next question reflects respondents’ concerns about the erosion of the right to education: 74% of those questioned believe that the learning crisis will have a negative impact on the future of their country. The Germans, Malaysians, and Dutch are all convinced of this, with 100% positive responses, followed by the Greeks at 83%, the Indians at 82%, and Nigeria at 80%. Respondents aged 25 and over were the most pessimistic, at over 80%. On the subject of the political response to the challenges undermining basic education, those aged 25 and over were the most skeptical, with over 38% giving a negative response. Among Belgians, 68% responded ‘more or less’, while among Canadians 59% were ‘satisfied’ and ‘more or less satisfied’ with the policies being pursued, while among Chileans 78% disapproved. The Germans gave a negative response of 55%, and none of them gave a positive response. French and Indian respondents were more divided: 26% and 25% respectively felt that their governments were providing effective responses to the education crisis, 36% and 34% respectively considered this response to be ‘more or less’ relevant, and 33% disapproved. Finally, when asked “What do you think is the most urgent action that governments should take to tackle the crisis in education and training? 34% of those polled voted in favor of the issue of education funding, 39% of men and 35% of women. Moreover, 28% of women gave priority to helping children who have dropped out of school, compared with 22% of male respondents.

What interpretation can be given to all these responses? First of all, there is no schism between the so-called “North” and “South” countries, as might have been expected. The crisis in education is therefore global, and economic choices have a lot to do with it. Whereas education was the only issue common to both blocs of the Cold War – in Maoist China as much as in the United States of America, in Nasserite Egypt as much as in Kubitschek’s Brazil, and Europe – the Washington Consensus of 1989 put an end to this fundamental notion of “right”. It is important to remember the neo-liberal shift that has been imposed on education: the “reorientation of public spending priorities” introduces the principle of profitability into the public service and will be particularly devastating in Third World countries. The case of Latin America is particularly interesting: as a kind of laboratory for neoliberalism, the right to education has been severely undermined, as in Argentina, Brazil, and, more recently, Chile, where educational structures are gradually being privatized. The public authorities in South Korea have largely delegated education to the private sector (shadow education): 74.5% of South Koreans under the age of twelve were in private education in 2019, according to data from the Korean Statistical Information Office. The introduction of competitiveness at and between higher education institutions is a problem highlighted by the UNICEF survey. Tuition fees have been introduced to address the lack of academic infrastructure, but this response is neither relevant nor effective. The story of a Chilean student in France gathered in 2018 by the newspaper Libération as part of an investigation into the increase in tuition fees is just one example of the iniquitous nature of this method:

“These new tuition fees are too high, especially as I’m already 10,000 euros in debt from my degree in Chile, where the fees are also enormous. I chose France for several reasons: for the language, for the excellent training in social and political sciences. And, of course, the tuition fees, were quite affordable, unlike in Chile where the education system is privatized and only accessible to a minority. In my country, education is very expensive. For those who aren’t lucky enough to get a grant based on social or academic criteria, the only option is to go into debt for several years after graduation.”[2]

Political choices are undermining the very principle of the right to education. The crucial need for investment in education has been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, and this is true across the board: in developed and developing countries alike, the privatization of education has shown the extent of the devastation: according to the World Bank, “COVID-19 has caused the worst crisis in education and learning for a century”.[3] Above all, the pandemic has highlighted the damage caused by the disengagement of public authorities. The right to education depends on quality infrastructure and, therefore, investment to match. All respondents, whatever their country of origin, are in favor of massive refinancing of education.

Children’s conference on human rights at the UN in Vienna. Photo by UNIS Vienna/Lilia Jiménez-Ertl.

It is worrying to note that the conservative trajectory extends across all the world’s continents, from the rewriting of common history in countries such as India, where Muslim memory is obliterated; to Russia, where revisionism is the narrative employed at the highest levels of the State; but also more traditional democracies such as Japan, where the work of remembrance relating to the Second World War remains problematic, and South Korea, where the Korean War is largely revisited by the new history textbooks.[4] The fact that India, the world’s largest democracy, has embarked on a panoptic shift is dramatic in terms of individual freedoms, particularly academic freedom, which is a pillar of social development, and in geopolitical terms, with the risk of alignment with the Russian Federation and China. Narendra Modi is today a Prime Minister courted by the Great Powers, who have no hesitation in casting a modest veil over his most aggressive policies in the hope – more akin to wishful thinking than anything else – of bringing Delhi closer to the Western bloc.[5] The revision of Indian school textbooks completely obliterates the legacy of some three hundred years of the Muslim Mughal Empire, the assassination of Gandhi by the Hindu nationalist Nathuram Godse in 1948, and the bloody repression of the Gujarat riots in 2002, for which Prime Minister Modi is held responsible.[6]

The frequency of learning differs significantly between the two sexes, and this issue deserves to be highlighted. Admittedly, the survey has its limitations, since it is not a question of the resources put in place but of the personal feelings of each respondent: by its very nature, the response is therefore biased. Nevertheless, the 9-point gap between men and women should not be underestimated. This factor can be explained in several ways: education systems designed for men and favoring activities that favor them; lower self-esteem among women than among men; external conditions that undermine women’s education and learning. Bullying at school, low enrolment rates for girls, and sexism are undeniably among the causes. It would have been interesting if the survey had asked respondents about this.

According to the results of the survey, the educational crisis is particularly acute in Germany, Malaysia, and the Netherlands. In Germany, an investigation carried out by journalists from Spiegel and published on 17 March this year, entitled “The education fiasco” (Der Schule-Fiasko), caused quite a stir: “Postponing investment in the younger generation means saving for fools”, says Aladin El-Mafaalani[7] . No one will be left behind in this major transformation”, declared Social Democrat Chancellor Olaf Scholz to the Bundestag (the German Federal Parliament) two years earlier. Unfortunately, this promise has come to nothing. In Germany, according to a 2018 OECD study, it takes 180 years on average for a student from a social class background to “approach the average income”.

To conclude in a few words, the UNICEF survey highlights not only young people’s pessimism and concern about the decline in the right to education but also and above all their unshakeable attachment to the principle of education as an inalienable human right. The pandemic has not only revealed but also aggravated these inequalities in education. The young people interviewed are well aware of the devastation caused by decades of privatization and unbridled competition in education.


[1] Article XXVI of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

[2] Delmas, Aurélie, Hadni, Dounia and Thomas, Marlène, “Tuition fees: international students testify“, Libération, 17 December 2018.

[3] World Bank, “Faced with the consequences of COVID-19 on education, we must act quickly and effectively“, World Bank, 22 January 2021.

[4] Im Eun-Byel, “New textbook guidelines spark controversy“, The Korea Herald, 1er  September 2022.

[5] This is borne out by the somewhat insistent invitation extended by French President Emmanuel Macron to Prime Minister Modi to take part in the French bank holidays celebrations on 14 July.

[6] Mansoor, Sanya, “India’s School Textbooks Are the Latest Battleground for Hindu Nationalism“, Time, 6 April 2023.

[7] Olbrisch, Miriam, “Soziologe zum Zustand der Jugend: Es ist erstaunlich, dass viele so ruhig bleiben“, Der Spiegel, 17 March 2023.