Lavinia Gasperini is a Senior Officer in the Extension, Education and Communication
Service of the Research, Extension and Training Division of FAO.
Let us summarize two different situations in edu cation for rural children. One exists currently in northern Mozambique on the shores of Lake Nyasa, the other existed in mid-Norway in the mid-twentieth century. In Mozambique, extreme deprivation reigns: the village is poor - its population lives mainly by subsistence agriculture and fishing - with just one shop, which stocks no soap, salt, sugar or even matches. Its primary school has only one teacher, who himself had completed just four grades of primary school. The teacher is trying to conduct a multigrade school without any books or other teaching materials. His pupils chant drills after him and practise their writing in the sand. As most of the adult community are unschooled, there seems to be no interaction between the daily life of the village and what goes on in the school.
In mid-Norway, the primary school was also in a fairly isolated agricultural and forestry community. It, too, was multigrade and met only every other day. But its teacher was well-qualified and its pupils were well-equipped with reading and writing materials. In addition, they undertook a range of practical activities - gardening, carpentry, sewing, knitting - that required them to put their reading, writing, counting and measuring skills to work. From time to time, the school was closed, not for holidays, but to release its pupils to work in the fields with and under the guidance of their parents and other adults. There was much learning-by-doing and much interaction between the daily life of the village and the routines of the school.
The two schools illustrate, respectively, what basic education for rural children all too often consists of and what it could be - if only the right policies, resources and community support were in place and properly applied. The fact is that in too many countries the right policies, resources and community support are not yet in place.
For decades, governments have recognized that rural people, despite comprising the majority of the population, are severely disadvantaged when it comes to educational oppor tunities and provisions. Despite this recognition, the broad picture remains as outlined below.
The above facts demonstrate how hundreds of millions of rural people are unable to access one of their fundamental human rights - the right to education. From the point of view of resource-poor governments, they also signal the frustration of investments. One of the main reasons why public money is spent on schools and educational programmes is in the expectation that investing in human capital will promote and accelerate the economic, social, cultural and political development of a country. People who have not been able to gain a proper schooling are unable to take advantage of the information and opportunities it provides for improving their standards of living. Education, then, is not only a human right; it is also a social necessity.
The gap between rural and urban illiteracy rates is widening, to the extent that in several countries illiteracy in rural populations is two to three times higher than in the urban centres
While it is clear from the above that much progress is still needed, this should not detract from the educational achieve ments of the past half-century. Since the declaration of the right to free, universal and compulsory education, the number of children who enter primary school every year has tripled, the number entering secondary school has increased tenfold, while the number who enter higher education has grown by an even greater factor. Rural populations have certainly benefited from the efforts that have made these achievements possible. Nevertheless, the tasks remaining are formidable. As the Education for All (EFA) fora at Jomtien (Thailand) in 1990 and Dakar (Senegal) in 2000 underlined all too clearly, these tasks demand renewed, stronger and persevering efforts if the goals of universal primary education and a 50 percent improvement in levels of adult literacy are to be attained.
The EFA Global Monitoring Report 2002 (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization [UNESCO], 2002) has highlighted the urgency of this situation by pointing out that as many as 28 countries are at serious risk of failing to achieve the required net enrolments and levels of adult literacy and gender parity by the dates set at Dakar. Further, as the efforts to serve rural people have so far fallen short of what is needed, a special focus or “flagship” programme must strive to ensure that rural boys, girls, adolescents, men and women secure their due place in development and education plans.
FAO has engaged in educating boys and girls through school gardens and men and women through cooperatives, farmer field schools and broader extension programmes
FAO is the United Nations agency most concerned with rural people - as is suggested by its name. Promoting better agriculture, better food security, better nutrition and better natural resources and environmental management is not limited to promoting the relevant sup porting institutions and infrastruc ture. It also means, perhaps more importantly, organizing appropriate education for all the people involved. FAO has engaged in educating boys and girls through school gardens and men and women through cooperatives, farmer field schools and broader extension programmes. It has long cooperated with UNESCO and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) in promoting functional literacy for agricultural and other rural groups.
FAO is a natural partner for UNESCO in leading a flagship programme to sustain the interests of rural people of all ages and concerned with all levels of education. Moreover, this kind of partnership between “education” and “agriculture” serves to promote holistic thinking and interdisciplinary exchange and to mitigate the all too frequent tendencies to compartmentalization. The Directors-General of FAO and UNESCO recognized this when they jointly launched the ninth flagship in the EFA initiative, “Education for Rural People”, during the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg in September 2002 (FAO, 2002).
Within less than one year of the launch, more than 50 organizations - governmental, non-governmental and international - had pledged themselves to work with FAO and UNESCO in pushing forward the flagship programme. Two workshops were held as initiatives of the flagship. The first was a regional workshop on Education for Rural Development in Asia for policy-makers in agriculture and education from nine Asian governments (Bangkok, 5-7 November 2002). The second was a donors' workshop on Education for Rural People (Rome, 12-13 December 2002). In 2003, the outcome of a set of collaborative studies was published under the title, Education for rural development: towards new policy responses (FAO/UNESCO, 2003). All these initiatives were the results of joint efforts among FAO, UNESCO and the latter's International Institute for Educational Planning (IIEP).
The Director-General of FAO has emphasized four priorities for the new flagship.
To implement these priorities, the partners in the flagship will operate at two levels: national and international. At the national level, they will offer governments and other bodies technical support in reaching out to rural people to ascertain their educational needs and aspirations. They will also offer help in drawing up appropriate plans of action as part of the overall national plans for achieving EFA. Work is already under way in several countries: Bosnia, Croatia, Egypt, Kosovo, Serbia and Montenegro.
At the international level, the flagship will advocate Education for Rural
People (ERP) by convening workshops, seminars, conferences and Internet fora to analyse and clarify the issues and to keep members abreast of progress and obstacles. It will also promote and facilitate the exchange of good practices through all the available media. Further, the flagship will identify the existing and potential capacity for different compo nents of ERP within partner institutions, and will work to make this available to the countries that need it.
FAO. 2002. Speech of the Director-General of FAO, Jacques Diouf, at the launch of the FAO/UNESCO flagship programme “Education for Rural People”, September 2002 (available at http://www.fao.org/sd/2002/kn0904_en.htm).
FAO/UNESCO-IIEP. 2003. Education for rural development: towards new policy responses, edited by D. Atchoarena & L. Gasperini. Rome and Paris.
UNESCO. 2002. Education for All Global Monitoring Report 2002: Is the World on Track?. Paris (also available at http://www.unesco.org/education/efa/monitoring/monitoring_2002.shtml; accessed September 2003).
For decades, governments have recognized that rural people are severely disadvantaged when it comes to education. Yet, in too many countries the necessary policies, resources and community support to improve the situation are not yet in place. Over half of the world's population is rural and most of these people earn small incomes from agriculture; many need their children's assistance in sustaining their households. Nearly a billion people - two-thirds of them women - are unschooled, illiterate and unable to access the information that could transform their lives. Around 130 million school-age children do not attend school; most of these children are in rural families. Thus, hundreds of millions of rural people are unable to access one of their fundamental human rights - the right to education.
Depuis des décennies, les gouvernements savent que les ruraux sont nettement désavantagés en matière d'éducation. Et pourtant, un nombre trop élevé de pays n'ont pas encore mis en place les politiques, les ressources et l'appui aux collectivités nécessaires pour améliorer la situation. Plus de la moitié de la population mondiale vit dans des zones rurales et le plus souvent tire de maigres revenus de l'agriculture; dans de nombreux cas, les enfants doivent aider leurs parents à faire vivre la famille. Près d'un milliard de personnes, dont deux tiers de femmes, ne sont pas scolarisées, sont illettrées et n'ont pas accès à l'information qui pourrait changer leur vie. Quelque 130 millions d'enfants d'âge scolaire ne sont pas scolarisés; la plupart d'entre eux vivent dans des zones rurales. Ainsi, dans ces zones, des centaines de millions de personnes sont privées d'un des droits fondamentaux de l'homme: le droit à l'éducation.
Desde hace decenios los gobiernos reconocen que la población rural se halla muy desfavorecida en la esfera de la educación. Sin embargo, en muchos países aún no se han establecido las políticas, los recursos y el apoyo a las comunidades que se necesitan para mejorar esta situación. Más de la mitad de la población mundial vive en zonas rurales, y la mayor parte de estas personas obtienen escasos ingresos de la agricultura; muchos necesitan la ayuda de los niños para sostener sus hogares. Casi 1 000 millones de personas, dos tercios de las cuales son mujeres, no han pasado por la escuela, son analfabetos e incapaces de acceder a la información que podría transformar su vida. En torno a 130 millones de niños en edad escolar no van a la escuela; la mayor parte de estos niños provienen de familias rurales. Por consiguiente, cientos de millones de personas que viven en zonas rurales no pueden disfrutar de uno de los derechos humanos fundamentales: el derecho a la educación.