What is the real obstacle for student achievement in developing countries?
Education leaders have argued that in deprived areas, families and members of the community are the biggest obstacle to children fulfilling their potential; at the same time, parents argue that unsuitable or limited school provision is to blame. So what is really stopping students in developing countries from being able to achieve?
Family provides the environment in which a person learns, from birth, what is possible and what is not, and family members will be the first source of information and authority for children who are still forming their own ideas and opinions about the world. While there is no doubt that school is important for student progression, we cannot detract from the significance of parental influence. The two are not opposed to each other, in fact they go hand-in-hand and impact each other.
However, in many situations parents cannot be blamed for children not being able to achieve. If we look at countries that have been torn apart by war or natural disaster, life is often focussed on survival, and children may take on extra financial or emotional responsibilities or may even become household heads from a young age – so taking them away from their homes, families and communities, to spend time on education, even for a short while, just isn’t an option.
Similarly, in countries like India, access to the resources required to provide quality education, such as physical space, materials and teachers, just aren’t available on the scale needed. The youth population is expanding at a rapid rate, and the government has introduced to the constitution a ‘Fundamental Right’, which guarantees all children a ‘free and compulsory’ education until the age of 14. But without having adequate resources the government cannot fulfil its commitment, and 60 million children remain out of school.
The education provision in both circumstances is failing these communities because it hasn’t been adapted to focus on the learner, or the community’s situation.
If you put a surgeon from the 19th century into an operating theatre today, they wouldn’t know what to do, however if we put a 19th century teacher into a classroom today, they would still be able to teach. So why has education been so slow in changing the model and using the technology that is readily available to create opportunities for widening the access for all children to learn?
Technology can widen access for children in different locations and varying circumstances, whether it is a war torn environment where schools have been destroyed, or a country that is over-populated. By using the infrastructure that is already on the ground, educators can bring quality teaching resources, teachers and peers to the learner, rather than the learner having to leave their community. This is essential – families and communities do not have to choose between educating their children and keeping them in their community, where they are cherished and needed.
The access agenda must also consider how technology can create opportunities for communities to focus on the localised skills that are needed so desperately in their particular circumstances, for regeneration and the long term growth that is required. By creating opportunities, widening access and inspiring young people to learn from their own community, everyone benefits from the learner’s education, which in turn encourages communities to invest more in education.
We live in a global society and digital age where we can learn anywhere in the world, and have opportunities to collaborate with people from all over the world. So neither parents’ fears of children abandoning the community, educators’ fears about losing control (to a new model that is empowered by technology and changes the learners position from passive to active), nor lack of resources should be cause for children not having the opportunities to achieve their potential.