Ecolieres en RDC à Kenge
Ecolieres en RDC à Kenge

Pascal Plisson’s documentary (Ed: the trailer is available below) sheds a welcome light on the difficulties that continue to prevail in terms of access to school in Southern countries. It also shows the dream that school still embodies today. These images strike a particular chord at a time when the international community gathered in New York makes the painful observation that Millennium Development Goal (MDG) N° 2, education for all, will not be achieved by 2015 and is already discussing the new priorities to be defined for post-2015. Closer to home, they also echo the heated debate within French society on the reform of the rhythm of schooling and the school that we want for our children.

It is true that access to school remains a major global issue. Indeed, while remarkable progress has been made (90% of children now go to school in the world), the most vulnerable, poorest and rural populations, especially girls, continue to be marginalized. Consequently, the international community must continue to fight for access to primary education for all. However, it must move beyond this objective defined in 2000 and not wait for the 2015 deadline before taking new action. There has been a marked change in needs. Access to school is not enough. As UNESCO points out, there is a pressing need for action. We could add “2015 is now!”. We need to define new objectives for education as of now.

To achieve this, it is necessary to build primary school and secondary school classrooms. But it is also essential for them to be equipped, for there to be fewer pupils, for them to have adequate numbers of books and teachers, for teachers to be trained and achievements evaluated…

To do so, we need to leave behind a sterile debate that would pit education as a right against education from a more “utilitarian” approach as a crucial engine of growth and social cohesion. These two visions are complementary and useful for supporting (producing?) free and autonomous citizens, but also skilled workers, able to carve out a place in society and on the labor market.

On the one hand, it is essential to fight for quality, community-based, free and compulsory education up until the age of 16. The aim is not only for children to go to school, but also, and especially, for them to stay in school and attain the basic standards of knowledge that will allow them to continue on their way towards adulthood. To achieve this, it is necessary to build primary school and secondary school classrooms. But it is also essential for them to be equipped, for there to be fewer pupils, for them to have adequate numbers of books and teachers, for teachers to be trained and achievements evaluated…

It is now equally crucial to invest beyond the secondary level, without being afraid to broach the issue of the pressing need to meet the requirements of the labor market. Indeed, the rise in unemployment and underemployment among young people shows that their exclusion is a real time bomb, whereas youth is above all an immense source of wealth. This tremendous potential needs to be developed in countries where the under-25s account for up to 60% of the population. Therefore, it is up to us to support a training provision driven by economic demand, where the objective is not the qualification, but the development of talent and skills. It is up to us to give young people the baggage they need to find a satisfactory and well-paid job. This will also allow them to be more independent, raise a family, get involved as active citizens…

We need to go beyond the MDGs as of now, yet without disavowing them, and promote quality lifelong education and training for all and decent jobs. This is the vision upheld by Agence française de Développement. AFD believes in the potential of youth. It is for this reason that it has decided to support governments that invest in education and training for young people and undertake to help them find work.

Finally, the real issue – and it is good that this documentary points out this obvious fact – involves giving everyone, whether young or old, the chance to choose their lives and thus contribute to the tremendous collective project of building a stronger, fairer, more inclusive and more sustainable society. The road is still long and winding, but it is full of promise.

© photo : J Moura. These schoolgirls live in Kenge, in the Bandundu province, Democratic Republic of CongoTheir school has been refurbished as part of the Primary Education Support Project (PESP) financed by AFD.

Check out the trailer of Pascal Plisson’s documentary: “On the road to school”

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