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Getting the reform strategies right (Jacques Delors)

While neither underestimating the need to manage short-term
constraints nor disregarding the need to adapt existing systems, the Commission wishes to emphasize the necessity of a more long-term
approach if the reforms required are to succeed. By the same token, it
stresses the fact that too many reforms one after another can be the
death of reform, since they do not allow the system the time needed
either to absorb change or to get all the parties concerned involved in
the process. Furthermore, past failures show that many reformers adopt
an approach that is either too radical or too theoretical, ignoring what
can be usefully learned from experience or rejecting past achievements.
As a result, teachers, parents and pupils are disoriented and less than
willing to accept and implement reform.
The main parties contributing to the success of educational reforms
are, first of all, the local community, including parents, school heads and
teachers; secondly, the public authorities; and thirdly, the international
community. Many past failures have been due to insufficient involvement
of one or more of these partners. Attempts to impose educational reforms
from the top down, or from outside, have obviously failed. The countries
where the process has been relatively successful are those that obtained a
determined commitment from local communities, parents and teachers,
backed up by continuing dialogue and various forms of outside financial,
technical or professional assistance. It is obvious that the local community
plays a paramount role in any successful reform strategy.
Local community participation in assessing needs by means of a
dialogue with the public authorities and groups concerned in society is a
first, essential stage in broadening access to education and improving its
quality. Continuing the dialogue by way of the media, community
discussions, parent education and on-the-job teacher training usually
helps to create awareness, sharpen judgement and develop local
capacities. When communities assume greater responsibility for their
own development, they learn to appreciate the role of education both as
a way of achieving societal objectives and as a desirable improvement
of the quality of life.
In this respect, the Commission stresses the value of a cautious
m e a s u re of decentralization in helping to increase educational
establishments’ responsibilities and their scope for innovation.
In any event, no reform can succeed without the co-operation and
active participation of teachers. This is one reason why the Commission
recommends that the social, cultural and material status of educators
should be considered as a matter of priority.
We are asking a great deal, too much even, of teachers, when we
expect them to make good the failings of other institutions which also
have a responsibility for the education and training of young people. The
demands made on teachers are considerable, at the very time when the
outside world is increasingly encroaching upon the school, particularly
through the new communication and information media. Thus, the young
people with whom the teacher has to deal, though receiving less parental
or religious guidance, are also better informed. Teachers have to take this
new situation into account if they are to be heeded and understood by
young people, give them a taste for learning, and show them that
information and knowledge are two different things and that knowledge
requires effort, concentration, discipline and determination.
Rightly or wrongly, teachers feel isolated, not just because teaching is
an individual activity, but also because of the expectations aroused by
education and the criticisms which are, often unjustly, directed at them.
Above all, teachers want their dignity to be respected. Most teachers are
members of unions – in some cases, powerful unions – which are,
undeniably, committed to the protection of their corporate interests. Even
so, there is a need for the dialogue between society and teachers, and
between the public authorities and teachers’ unions, to be both
strengthened and seen in a new light.
Admittedly, the renewal of this kind of dialogue is no easy task, but it
is one that must needs be carried out in order to put an end to the
teachers’ feelings of isolation and frustration, to make change acceptable
and to ensure that everyone contributes to the success of the necessary
It is appropriate in this context to add some recommendations
concerning the content of teacher training, access by teachers to
continuing education, the improvement of the status of teachers
responsible for basic education, and greater involvement of teachers
in disadvantaged and marginalized groups, where they can help to
improve the integration of children and adolescents in society.
This is also a plea for the education system to be provided not only
with well-trained teachers but also with the wherewithal for delivering
education of a high standard, including books, modern communication
media, a suitable cultural and economic environment and so forth.
Conscious of the situation in schools today, the Commission lays great
emphasis on the quantity and quality of traditional teaching materials
such as books, and on new media such as information technologies, which
should be used with discernment and with active pupil participation. For
their part, teachers should work in teams, particularly in secondary schools,
thereby helping to achieve the necessary flexibility in the courses of study
on offer, thus obviating many failures, bringing out some of the pupils’
natural talents, and providing better academic and career guidance with a
view to learning continued throughout life.
The improvement of education, seen in this light, requires policy-makers
to face up squarely to their responsibilities. They cannot leave
it to market forces or to some kind of self-regulation to put things right
when they go wrong.
It is on the strength of its belief in the importance of policy-makers that
the Commission has stressed the permanence of values, the challenges of
future demands, and the duties of teachers and society; they alone, taking
all the factors into consideration, can generate the public-interests debates
that education – since it concerns everyone, since it is our future that is at
stake and since education can help to improve the lot of one and all – so
badly needs.
This naturally leads us to focus on the role of the public authorities.
They must propose clear options and, after broad consultation with all
those involved, choose policies that, regardless of whether the education
system is public, private or mixed, show the way, establish the system’s
foundations and its main thrusts, and regulate the system through the
necessary adjustments.
Naturally, all public policy decisions have financial repercussions.
The Commission does not underestimate this difficulty. Without
entering into the complexities of various systems, it holds the view
that education is a public good that should be available to all. Once
this principle is accepted, public and private funding may be combined,
according to different formulae that take into account each country’s
traditions, stage of development, ways of life and income distribution.
All the choices to be made should, in any event, be predicated upon
the fundamental principle of equality of opportunity.
During the discussions, I made a more radical proposal. As learning
throughout life gradually becomes a reality, all young persons could be
allocated a study-time entitlement at the start of their education, entitling
them to a certain number of years of education. Their entitlement would
be credited to an account at an institution that would manage a ‘capital’
of time available for each individual, together with the appropriate funds.
Everyone could use their capital, on the basis of their previous educational
experience, as they saw fit. Some of the capital could be set aside to enable
people to receive continuing education during their adult lives. Each person
could increase his or her capital through deposits at the ‘bank’ under a kind
of educational savings scheme. After thorough discussion, the Commission
supported this idea, though it was aware of the potential risks, even to
equality of opportunity. As things stand today, a study-time entitlement
could be granted at the end of compulsory schooling, so as to enable
adolescents to choose a path without signing away their future.
In general, however, if after the essential step forward taken by the
Jomtien Conference on basic education one had to point to an emergency
situation, it would be to secondary education that we would turn our
attention, given that the fate of millions of boys and girls is decided
between the time they leave primary school and the time they either start
work or go on to higher education. This is where the crunch comes in our
education systems, either because those systems are too élitist or because
they fail to come to terms with massive enrolments because of inertia
and total inability to adapt. At a time when these young people are
struggling with the problems of adolescence, when they feel, in a sense,
mature but are in fact still immature, when instead of being carefree
they are worried about their future, the important thing is to provide
them with places where they can learn and discover, to give them the
wherewithal to think about their future and prepare for it, and to offer
them a choice of pathways suited to their abilities. It is also important
to ensure that the avenues ahead of them are not blocked and that
remedial action and in-course correction of their educational careers are
at all times possible.


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