[How can we overcome the barriers to education faced by rural people?]
It is a blatant shame that today’s world of affluence has 850 million undernourished people and 1.2 billion people living on less than one dollar a day. Around 75 percent of the world’s poor and the majority of the world’s illiterate people live in rural areas. Rural areas, in addition, are home to the vast majority of the 121 million children who do not attend school. Failure to educate rural people perpetuates poverty and hunger. Completing primary education is a necessary measure to brake the cycle of poverty and hunger for children and their families.
What are the causes and how can we overcome the barriers to education faced by rural people?
a) Readdress rural–urban disparities and inequalities as an urgent task
The glaring inequalities between urban and rural people present major obstacles to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and Education for All (EFA). Inequality and marginalization of rural people deprive individuals of their potential and reduce the contribution to overall development of a substantial segment of society. As a consequence, poverty and inequalities give rise to malnutrition and undernourishment, gender inequities, high rates of infant mortality and vulnerability, diseases and greater exposure to HIV/AIDS, retarded physical and intellectual development and low labor productivity.
Illiteracy is a strongly correlated to poverty and hunger, and is mainly a rural phenomenon which hinders rural development and food security. It threatens productivity and health and limits opportunities to improve livelihoods and to promote active citizenship and gender equity, in particular since illiteracy is higher among rural girls and women.
In many developing countries, the level of awareness among decision–makers of the correlation between access to quality education by rural people, rural development and poverty reduction is low. Moreover, basic education and training infrastructures and institutions in rural areas are weak as countries lack the knowledge, people and experience as well as financial resources to plan and deliver effective basic education services to rural people. They also lack coordination among ministries and other public institutions dealing with education and agriculture, and with civil society. All these aspects are, however, crucial to address the magnitude of the endeavor.
Empowerment of poor people, policy and institutional reforms in the rural sector leading to full participation of stakeholders needs to be the starting point.
Obviously, to remove the barriers is both an urgent and daunting task – not only for the governments, but also for civil society at large. It requires courage from governments to recognize the inequalities from which rural people suffer, and the actions needed to translate political will and commitments into prioritized strategies and supporting plans and programmes.
b) Strengthening national capacities to expand access to quality education for rural people
Education is a basic human right. In addition, it is by and large a public good which needs long–term investment by the public sector. For education strategies and programmes addressing rural people to achieve success, the following dimensions need to be looked at:
- placing education and skills development of rural people at the core of national plans of Education for All and strengthening the institutional capacity to do so. Efforts aimed at reducing poverty and hunger should be accompanied by policies addressing education of rural people. This can be achieved if the educational and skills development needs of rural communities are given due consideration at every level of governance, including planning and finance. Relevant policies recently initiated by the government of China – such as integrating rural education into rural development planning – are fine examples in this respect.
- expanding access and improving the relevance of education and training to rural livelihoods and their interests. While a focus on early childhood and primary education is crucial, there is also a need to foster relevant literacy and basic skills development to communities of farmers, fisherfolk, livestock producers as well as groups of people living in the forest and the deserts. The educational needs of rural people – children, youth and adults alike – should be addressed holistically since today’s children are the citizens of tomorrow. Information Technology (IT) applications and distance learning programmes in Thailand, as well as the “Call Center“ service to farmers launched by the Department of Agriculture in India, serve as successful stories in this respect.
- forging partnerships. Although education is a public good, the government’s role is not necessarily confined to providing financing resources. Governments also have an essential role in providing incentives and creating conducive environments to forge partnerships in l for the development of education for rural people. National authorities should develop partnerships with the private sector, charities and religious groups and non-governmental organizations as well as with international partners that are committed to change, and begin the process of improving access to quality education – in all forms and at all levels including formal and non–formal, vocational and technical education, as well as specific welfare education for improving the livelihood of large numbers of rural men, women and children.
- enhancing cooperation and coordination among stakeholders. The challenge of educating rural people can only be addressed by close coordination among concerned national authorities, such as ministries of education, agriculture, fisheries, forestry, rural development, religion, finance, etc. The partnership established in Addis-Ababa by eleven Sub-Saharan African countries in September committed itself to review policy options and priorities and draw lessons from past experiences. The main message from this partnership is that rural people often lack a strong political voice and leadership, and that priorities for the allocation of public expenditures are heavily skewed towards the urban sector. Therefore, addressing MDGs and EFA goals requires a stronger and focused investment and government transfers in favor of rural people (such as free schooling, free school meals and learning materials to the poor) through close coordination among stakeholders.
What is the role of the Education for Rural People (ERP) flagship partnership programme in enhancing the educational opportunities for rural people?
Education is an essential prerequisite for reducing poverty, improving livelihoods and the productive assets of rural people and building a food-secure world. The Education for Rural People (ERP) flagship programme – jointly launched by UNESCO and FAO during the World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002 in Johannesburg – promotes intersectoral and interdisciplinary partnerships aimed at collaborative action to address rural–urban disparities by targeting the educational needs of rural people.
ERP serves as a mechanism to alert governments, donors and other stakeholders of the need for systematic actions and investments in basic education for rural people, including early childhood, primary education, literacy, skill development and training for the achievement of the MDGs, especially for MDG number one aiming at eradicating extreme poverty and hunger. The overall vision of ERP is to empower the rural poor to become fully integrated actors of and contributors to the development process. It thus adopted a strategy to address at the same time knowledge generation, advocacy work, policy and capacity building, technical assistance work and field projects in order to ensure optimal interaction between normative work and field projects.
FAO’s responsibility and accumulated expertise in assisting rural development in all regions of the world provided the rationale for its leadership role in the ERP flagship partnership initiative. As part of its mission, the Organization supports individuals, institutions and communities to develop the skills and knowledge they need to actively contribute to improve nutrition, food security, agricultural and rural development. Article 1 of the FAO Constitution mandates FAO to “promote, and where appropriate to recommend, national and international action with respect to the improvement of education and administration relating to nutrition, food and agriculture, and the spread of public knowledge on nutritional and agricultural science and practice”.
ERP evolved in three stages:
The preparatory stage concentrated on examining public policies towards education and skills development for rural people. The outcome of the study was a joint FAO/UNESCO/IIEP publication – Education for Rural Development, toward new policy responses – which sets the policy framework for the ERP initiative. FAO also made available a series of teaching and learning tools such as an “ERP tool kit” which complements policy and research work in collaboration with UNESCO, especially with the UNESCO Institute for Educational Planning.
The second step was to start a policy dialogue on ERP with member countries and promote new partnerships among ministries of education and ministries of agriculture, donors and civil society. This second phase looked at how the Education for All National Action Plans as well as Rural Development Plans – with reference to the decentralization processes – are giving due attention to rural people’s educational and training needs and to build up a network that will consolidate the ERP partnership. Regional capacity building ERP workshops were organized targeting decision-makers from ministries of agriculture and education in collaboration with UNESCO/IIEP, UNESCO regional offices, the Directorate General for Development Cooperation of Italy (DGCS), the Association for the Development of Education (ADEA) in Africa, and the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation in Agriculture (IICA) with the support of the Global Development Learning Network (GDLN) of the World Bank. A new series of books on Education for Rural People was launched in 2004 to serve as training material for ERP capacity building activities. Several other titles address training for rural development. Collaboration with civil society led to several capacity building workshops and to a joint project funded by the European Commission.
The third step focuses on building capacity to promote projects at the country and regional levels and on producing related training material. An example of this is the medium–term Strategy for Education for Rural People of Kosovo prepared and published by the Ministries of Education and Agriculture with FAO’s technical support. During this third phase the contribution of higher agricultural education to enhancing rural people lives was assessed.
During its first three years, ERP catalyzed collaboration among sectors that traditionally work separately, such as agriculture, rural development and education. Moreover, ERP is bridging collaboration among an ample variety of stakeholders. More than 220 members from the agriculture, rural development and education sectors have joined the ERP partnership. A web site http://www.fao.org/sd/erp/ was launched in four languages (English, French, Spanish and Arabic) and – on the occasion of the present high–level group meeting in Beijing – a Chinese version of the ERP Web site has been prepared and is now available online. Finally, as an outcome of the ERP’s partnership policy and capacity building work, the present meeting is addressing ERP as one of its core policy issues and discussing how to follow up.
Considering the magnitude of the endeavor, which cannot be addressed by one single organization or institution, the success of the ERP flagship initiative is largely due to the strong partnership developed between FAO and UNESCO as well as the strengthened collaboration among ministries of agriculture and education, and between them and civil society and research institutions from the education and rural development sector. By matching the comparative advantage of the partners, the ERP initiative generates a multiplier effect and produces results that no single partner could ever achieve alone.
Moreover, the holistic approach linking normative and field work and the strategic choice to focus the programme on upstream policy and capacity building work ensures cost-effectiveness and a multiplier effect to the activities undertaken as well as permanent monitoring of the validity of our commitment in favor of enhanced rural livelihoods. FAO stands ready to help foster these and other opportunities.
It is now my pleasure to invite you all to join FAO, UNESCO and other partners in the ERP flagship and to propose you to focus the next monitoring report on Education for Rural People, in order to contribute to identifying strategies, action programmes and resources to ensure that the education needs of rural people are adequately addressed.