UNESCO’s 2017/8 Global Education Monitoring report
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Don’t only blame teachers when system is at fault: UNESCO

A new report has highlighted the responsibility of governments across the globe to provide universal quality education.

UNESCO’s 2017/8 Global Education Monitoring (GEM) Report, released today, warns that disproportionate blame on any one actor for systemic educational problems can have serious negative side effects, widening inequality and damaging learning.

“Education is a shared responsibility between us all– governments, schools, teachers, parents and private actors,” said UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova.

“Accountability for these responsibilities defines the way teachers teach, students learn, and governments act. It must be designed with care and with the principles of equity, inclusion and quality in mind.”

The report monitors progress towards the internationally agreed Sustainable Development Goal for Education, looking at the different ways people and institutions can be held accountable for reaching that goal, including regulations, testing, monitoring, audits, media scrutiny, and grass-roots movements.

It demonstrates that blaming teachers for poor test scores and absenteeism is often both unjust and unconstructive. It shows, for example, that nearly half of teacher absenteeism in Indonesia in 2013/14 was due to excused time for study for which replacements should have been provided. Similarly, in Senegal, only 12 of the 80 missed school days in 2014 were due to teachers avoiding their responsibilities.

“Using student test scores to sanction teachers and schools makes it more likely they will adjust their behaviour to protect themselves, which may mean leaving the weakest learners behind,” explains Manos Antoninis, Director of the GEM Report.

“Accountability must start with governments. If a government is too quick to apportion blame to others, it is deflecting attention away from its own responsibility for creating a strong, supportive education system.”

Whereas transparency would help identify problems, only one in six governments publish annual education monitoring reports. Strong independent bodies such as ombudsmen, parliaments and audit institutions are also needed to hold governments to account for education.

Where formal mechanisms fail, UNESCO argues citizens play a vital role in holding governments to account for meeting their right to education. In the United States, parents and media successfully lobbied for the removal of climate change denial from textbooks.

The report emphasises the importance of accountability in addressing gaps and inequalities. Globally, fewer than 20 per cent of countries legally guarantee 12 years of free and compulsory education. There are 264 million children and youth out of school and 100 million young people currently unable to read.

The report calls on governments across the globe to:

  • Design accountability mechanisms for schools and teachers that is supportive and avoid punitive mechanisms, especially those based on narrow performance measures.
  • Allow for democratic participation, respect media freedom to scrutinise education and set up independent institutions to handle complaints.
  • Develop credible and efficient regulations with associated sanctions for all education providers, public and private, that ensure non-discrimination and the quality of education.
  • Make the right to education justiciable, which is not the case in 45 per cent of countries.