Page 2 of 6In April 2000, some 180 government representatives, donor agencies, and international experts met at the World Education Forum in Dakar, Senegal to assess the progress made by the Education for All initiative that began in 1990. They realized that after 10 years, the world was nowhere near achieving the targets set in Jomtien. Thus, in Dakar, there was a reaffirmation of the global commitment to provide every child with primary basic education of good quality by the year 2015 and during this period to also bring about the equal participation of girls in primary and secondary education, expand early childhood care and education, promote learning and life skills for young people and adults, and improve the quality and relevance of the curriculum and the learning environment. These new targets for the education sector complement those set in other global agendas for development.
Besides target setting, the Dakar Framework for Action also recognized the need to help many nations develop their own action plans to achieve the targets and mobilize resources from all available sources within and outside of national jurisdictions. A further call reiterated the role of civil society in education and the importance of having providers of education commit to defining, designing, maintaining, and sustaining quality in its delivery. All these are tall orders, considering that when the World Conference on Education for All in Jomtien was convened:
The region"s share in this challenge is considerable. There have been significant achievements in the education sectors in many of the countries in the Asia Pacific. In the close to two decades since Jomtien, participation in primary education has increased; there are more girl children in school; and retention rates are improving, as well as gender equality in the teaching profession and access to post-primary, post-secondary, and professional education. But these achievements still fall short of global ambitions. While the task of getting a larger proportion of our children and young people into schools, colleges, and universities is by itself a daunting one, what is even more challenging is providing learning opportunities for the many millions of adults in the region. Eradicating illiteracy, improving skills, enhancing knowledge bases, creating windows for learning, and ensuring continuous learning are all fundamental to fulfilling the MDGs. And these must be made possible not only for the fortunate few who live in urban communities and who have access to the communications infrastructure and classrooms. The following must also be given education opportunities to enable them to participate in the creation of the knowledge society:
Governments are also beginning to recognize that planning for "competitive advantage" will require a labour force that has literacy and numeracy skills beyond three to six years of primary schooling (which is the current situation in most industrialized and newly industrializing countries, and worse in developing countries). Globally, some two billion people in today"s workforce will continue to be there well into the first quarter of the next century. They will need retooling and continuous skills upgrading.
The huge demand for initial, continuing and lifelong education has placed education systems "at a crisis point" (Daniel 1996). The need to expand access, ensure quality, and respond to a diversity of learning needs at a time of diminishing resources presents difficult choices for governments. In confronting these choices, nations, and institutions in the Asia Pacific need to reexamine traditions of schooling, teaching, and learning. And they need to carefully consider the potential of information and communication technologies (ICTs) to meet the demands for universal quality education at all levels.
Even before the arrival of the new ICTs, education institutions such as the Correspondence School of New Zealand, National Open School of India, Open Universities of Sri Lanka and Hong Kong, Alama Iqbal Open University of Pakistan, and Indira Gandhi National Open University of India were providing mass, flexible, and affordable education to remote learners using the older analogue technologies of print, audio and video, and the broadcast vehicles of radio and television. The experiences and successes of these institutions are a testimony to the effectiveness of technologies in taking learning to individuals and large communities simultaneously.