The Commonwealth is full of potential, with over one billion young people ready and willing to build a better world for all global citizens. The girl capable of curing cancer, the boy fighting climate change, the group building peace across borders – these people could be, and likely are, children already born into the Commonwealth. The network and its leaders must deliver on this potential. And the only way to do this is through education.
Building quality education systems that empower young people to achieve their full potential should be a priority for every Commonwealth country. The economic arguments aside (one extra year of education increases earnings by up to 10%, for example), free education is a right of all people, set out in Article 26 of the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights. While each nation has its own set of complex issues to address in order to build the best quality education system for their citizens, there are a number of common factors within the network, and indeed across the globe, that should be addressed by all leaders.
To begin, quality education systems must deliver, rather tautologically, a holistic quality education. This means an education that is of high quality both in terms of preparing young people for the world of work, but also in building stronger communities. UNESCO’s Delors Commission defined this most eloquently: ‘Education is at the heart of both personal and community development; its mission is to enable each of us, without exception, to develop all our talents to the full and to realize our creative potential, including responsibility for our own lives and achievement of our personal aims.’ A holistic quality education delivers on all of these points, as well as ensuring that young people are able to build their futures in the workplace.
A quality education must also be accessible – a limited education system will limit individuals, communities, and nations as a whole. Accessibility is not only important in terms of physical structures, but also social, emotional, psychological, economic, cultural and needs-based spheres. Globally, about 264 million children and youth remain out-of-school, with Nigeria, Pakistan and India alone home to 17.2 million children and youth out-of-school between them. Clearly, the Commonwealth, and the world, have not achieved complete accessibility in education.
Accessible education is not the same as inclusive education, but the two are equally important. Inclusive education systems are not only open to all learners, but responsive to their individual needs. Inclusivity requires engaging each student in the learning process, with education that enables every child to reach their full potential. Tailored learning, additional support where needed; ability, gendered and culturally sensitive approaches; these are all needed to ensure true inclusivity. With 60% of children and adolescents across the globe leaving school without a basic level of reading and maths, it seems the world has not yet figured out how to include everyone in the learning process.
Finally, education systems must be transparent and accountable. Those responsible for education systems should have nothing to hide – they have the rights of children and young people in their hands. Students, teachers, parents, ministers, and school management must all have an equal seat at the table to ensure that every young person is benefitting fully from their education system. With all cards on the table, no tricks can be turned.
The Commonwealth must work together, capitalising on its networks, partnership, expertise and youth to deliver education systems that work for all. Ensuring these are delivering quality, accessible, and inclusive learning, in a transparent and accountable system, should be the focus of all nations across the network. Only in this way will the true potential of the Commonwealth youth be realised.
Education is an investment in the future that the Commonwealth cannot afford to ignore.
The views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Royal Commonwealth Society.