Many nations are coming to understand that the mass education of the world's citizens is crucial for countries to be able to participate in a globalized economy. Since educational systems, focuses, and barriers vary widely around the world, nations have specific education policies to address unique concerns and goals: These goals may include everything from lowering maternal mortality to improving standardized test scores. Many nations have formulated recent educational policy changes in order to address specific concerns, and some nations cooperate with large-scale organizations such as UNESCO to create an effective national educational policy. However, these plans are sometimes formulated without the creators having a true understanding of the specific education challenges a country faces; therefore the plans may not produce the intended results. Good-intentioned educational plans sometimes have undesirable, unplanned effects and create their own difficulties for the education system of a country.
Keywords Democracy; Gender Parity; Globalization; National Education Plan; No Child Left Behind Act of 2001; Primary Education; Secondary Education; UNESCO
International Perspectives: National Education Plans
Law (2004) stated that there are three important trends that have appeared across the globe in the last two decades:
• The spread and popularity of democracy,
• The explosion of globalization,
• The increase in education reforms (p. 499).
Although Law argued that there has been little research done which judges the interactions of these three trends, it is clear that each of the trends is made possible by the influence of the other two. In particular, globalization and the spread of democracy have cleared the way for education reform and have influenced national education plans for many countries.
Not only have globalization and democracy encouraged nations to focus more on their education plans and policies, increased understanding of the importance of education has also created more interest in improving education. Mungazi (2001) stated that, "Countries all over the world, including those whose leaders do not observe democratic principles, have come to the recognition that governments stand to benefit more than anyone else from their educated citizens. Governments, therefore, have a major interest in educating their people as individuals" (p. 105). He also lists three reasons why educating the individual helps the state:
• The educated individual can seek employment and not be dependent upon the state,
• The individual can vote and further democracy, and
• The individual can participate in community activities which strengthens his culture and nation (p. 105).
Because of this, a vast percentage of nations around the globe are turning their attention to their education plans and seeking new policies and improvements to their education system.
For nations who are working to formulate and improve their education plans, there is a wealth of information at their disposal. Technology and globalization has created a growing cross-cultural unity of educational ideas and an enthusiastic sharing of these ideas is occurring across the globe. Educators and researchers are able to disseminate knowledge about education and carry out research to judge education results. International standard tests such as the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) and Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) measure students around the world. These tests help countries judge how well their educational systems perform and track problems in specific areas.
Collaborative efforts and group knowledge also help nations create specific educational programs and policies. For example, the United Nations has its Education for All goal which aims to see all people in the world have access to a primary education by the year 2015. The achievement of this goal, carried out by UNESCO (The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization) has allowed nations to collaborate with different organizations and other countries in order to pinpoint specific barriers to education and create national education plans to achieve Education for All.
It is clear that many countries across the globe are sincerely interested in improving their national education plan and learning new ways to best serve the educational needs of their citizens and their government. However, doing so is a challenging undertaking because many diverse issues directly and indirectly affect the state of education in a specific country.
Educational practices and standards are quite diverse across the globe because they are rooted in economic, social, environmental, religious, and cultural issues. For example, education ministers in war-torn countries such as Bosnia, rife with strife and poverty, have different challenges than education planners in relatively stable countries such as the U.S. The history of education in a country is also a factor: more advanced countries such as England, where education has long been mandatory and widely accessible, are more concerned with improving and strengthening existing educational structures while countries such as Malaysia are faced with providing basic education in a culture where there is little formal educational structures. Many underdeveloped nations have to create national education plans that include addressing issues such as extreme poverty and lack of sanitation, for these issues are serious barriers to education.
Cultural values and views of education play a significant role in a country's national education plan. Kai-ming (1997) gave an interesting example of this by discussing China's Miao communities. In these communities, a very small number of girls received an education in comparison to boys. This was because this particular culture placed great emphasis upon the elaborate embroidery that decorated their clothing; girls were expected to become highly skilled in this art and take great pride in it. For this culture, mandatory schooling meant that the girls had less time to devote to embroidery and thus the communities viewed the education process as a detriment, not a benefit to their culture (p. 77-78). Many nations must grapple with cultural barriers such as gender discrimination and tension between different ethnic groups as they work to form national education plans.
Other cultural issues affect national education plans. For example, the U.S. is well known for valuing creativity, personal growth, and individualism. It is no surprise that our school systems and goals allow instructors great freedom in designing lessons, emphasize developing both the intellect and the personality of the student, and place enormous emphasis on the creation of new ideas. By contrast, countries such as those in Asia that value a much more structured environment have more tightly regulated education plans which emphasize standards and keeping to a set plan. Because of this, different nations may value different outcomes of education and have different views as to what constitutes good education.
Finally, national education plans are often created or revised in response to how well a country is doing in comparison to another country. The U.S.'s No Child Left Behind Policy was one such plan, created to combat the failing international test scores of U.S. students in comparison to their peers in other industrialized countries. Better communication between countries and the increase of globalization has allowed educators around the globe to effectively "compare notes" and measure themselves against each other. This comparison and free exchange of ideas allows for new innovations and creative approaches to problems in education.
Challenges in the Third World
For discussion, we may roughly divide countries into two separate categories. First are the "third world" nations where historically, education has been limited to a select few. The majority of these nations, in recent decades, have come to the belief that mass, compulsory, free education (particularly primary) is an important goal. However, to achieve this goal, most of these countries must combat serious problems such as poverty, hunger, gender discrimination, lack of technological access and teaching resources, famine, environmental concerns, and martial conflict.
For many nations like these, the United Nations Education, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has banded together to help form action plans in order to improve education and achieve the goal of Education for All by 2015. UNESCO's seminal April 2000 World Education Forum helped many underdeveloped countries formulate specific education action plans. For example, sub-Sahara Africa, with UNESCO's assistance, identified several key goals to improving education such as needing to achieve gender parity in the classroom and teach students in their...
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