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Statement by the Special Rapporteur on the right to education at the 26th session of the Human Rights Council

16 June 2014

Mister President, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is an honour to address the Human Rights Council today as Special Rapporteur on the right to education. I take this opportunity to present my thematic report on the Assessment of Students’ Educational Attainment and the Implementation of the Right to Education, as well as the report on my mission to Seychelles.

Mister President,

The fulfilment of State obligations for the right to education is dependent upon how the education provided meets the essential objectives of the right to education, as shown by the educational attainments of students. This calls for national assessments of education to be driven by a human rights-based approach, where the full range of obligations arising from the right to education remains at centre stage. I would like to emphasize the need and importance of a holistic approach which is broader than the narrow approach of performance evaluation of mathematical literacy and language skills only, and which broadens the assessment of the educational attainments of students to include all obligations relating to the right to education under international human rights law.

Mister President,

States have an obligation to fulfil the right to basic education, based on minimum standards, provided by qualified teachers and effectively managed through a system of implementation and assessment. National assessment systems must be inclusive, and cover all students within a national population. By assessing the educational attainments of each student, necessary help and support required can be provided to ensure that everyone can succeed. This is particularly important for students from vulnerable groups and those who are under-performing, who are often overlooked in aggregated statistics.

My report is very concerned that in the rush to expand education for all, there have been insufficient efforts to maintain quality. In many countries, students are being promoted through their mandatory primary education without any assessments, as indicated by some instances I have cited. This may result in the degradation of quality standards and in magnifying poor quality learning attainments. All States must implement regular assessment mechanisms to ensure students’ attainments are assessed regularly throughout the cycle of basic education. My report cites positive example to that end.

Mister President,

My report would also offer a cautionary note to developing countries which are seeking to develop new national assessment mechanisms. In particular, care should be taken to not emulate systems which only assess mathematical literacy and language skills, sometimes described as learning outcomes, and thereby exclude all else which is learned. The privileging of learning outcomes in the discussion about education quality leads to a narrow conception of quality.

Another notable limitation of assessment systems is the scant attention paid to the role of education in promoting sustainable development, even when this area is receiving priority consideration by the international community. The notions and concepts embodied in the United Nations General Assembly Resolution: “Future We Want.” (A/Res 66/288, 27 July 2012) are significant. Similarly, certain key concepts, such as learning to live together and respect for the richness of cultural diversity as the common heritage of humankind, have received scant consideration, whereas they should be central to assessing the national educational attainments of students. National curricula should aim to prepare students for the defence of cultural diversity as an ethical imperative, inseparable from respect for human dignity.

Mister President,

Many countries have adopted assessment systems which are national and which broaden the scope of the educational assessment of students. They are useful in considering how assessment systems can be developed to evaluate educational attainments, going beyond a narrow approach limited to mathematical literacy and language skills. My report cites current developments and examples to show how national assessment mechanisms are being put in place and implemented. In all such national measures, greater focus on a human-rights based approach is important, keeping in view the right to education in its full expression.

Mister President,

In my report, I have dealt with technical and vocational education and training (TVET) as an integral part of the right to basic education at the secondary level to specifically underline the need for special assessment modalities in this field. This is important as skills development through TVET is emerging as a leading concern in responding to quality imperatives in education in an increasingly globalized economy.

However, TVET and skills development have not been adequately addressed in the most common international assessments. National assessment mechanisms for those programmes must better evaluate how well they empower students to acquire the necessary competencies for the development requirements of their country, while still meeting the broader human rights-based objectives. Existing normative frameworks for TVET provide the basis for developing national assessments to appraise the acquisition of those competencies and skills by students. I urge all countries to develop mechanisms which assess the skills of TVET graduates, and which identify competency-based skills needed by the economy.

Mister President,

National assessment mechanisms for TVET programmes require a new and unique assessment mechanism to reflect how they differ from traditional academic programmes. Governments, enterprises and TVET institutions must thus be collectively involved in defining the vocational trades and in developing assessment mechanisms of the attainments of students as part of a tripartite system.

In that perspective, my report identifies novel approaches to assess TVET programmes, with examples from some countries to show that new mechanisms are emerging. In developing national qualification frameworks and assessing competencies, it is crucial to ensure that they are not limited to technical competencies in TVET, but also include critical thinking, and which are not devoid of a human rights perspective. Finally, national assessment systems for TVET can be used as leverage in valorizing social perceptions of TVET and their status, since they do not enjoy the esteem commensurate with their importance for development. Instituting national awards in conjunction with the assessment of performance in TVET can be an important step in that direction.

It must be remembered that teachers play a key role in implementing assessment mechanisms, and must receive adequate training to ensure they are able to assess student’s attainments professionally. Special training is necessary for teachers to be able to identify causes for concern amongst their students when reviewing their assessments. The aptitude of students should be given serious consideration in assessing their attainments to enable them to realize their potential, leading to better attainments. Again, my report cites some examples to show how student aptitudes can be part of the process of student’s assessment.

Mister President,

In those States where basic education is also provided by private schools, the State should ensure that such schools fully respect the normative framework on objectives and content of education, and that this is an integral part of students’ assessments. This is necessary as there has been explosive growth in the number of private education providers. A comprehensive and sound regulatory framework for controlling private schools and ensuring their conformity with national and international education norms and standards is needed. To preserve the public interest in education, effective sanctions in cases of abusive practices by private providers are necessary. Each State must organize a system of prior authorization, successive monitoring, assessment and verification, in order to ensure that private schools respect the content and objectives of education, thus enabling the State, in turn, to respect its international commitments in that regard.

Mister President, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

In conclusions, my report offers some recommendations on how States can develop and implement national assessment mechanisms which follow a human rights-based approach and which are in compliance with a country’s international human rights obligations.

First, States should move towards a more holistic approach in assessing student attainments which goes beyond reading, writing and arithmetic, and which incorporates essential human rights objectives. The four pillars of the Delors Report - learning to know, learning to do, learning to be and learning to live together - should become an integral part of any assessment of students’ educational attainments. States should also ensure that national assessments of students’ educational attainments are founded on a human-rights based approach, where the right to education remains at the centre stage.

Second, Governments must periodically review their national curricula to ensure that its contents are in conformity with the values and objectives of education laid down in international human rights conventions and as expounded by the United Nations treaty bodies and relevant agencies.

Third, national assessments should appraise students’ educational attainments of the entire student population in a country, assessing all students uniformly throughout the country. An equity-based approach should be an essential prerequisite so that all those students who are found underperforming are given the necessary support needed for them to meet the educational requirements. Student assessments must address with great concern the situation of underperforming students, particularly those who are disadvantaged on account of marginalization.

Fourth, States must comply fully with their core obligation of providing free, compulsory primary education of good quality to every child – boys and girls alike. Completion of good quality primary education should be a predominant concern in national assessment of basic education, with no automatic progression from primary to secondary education. This can only be verified through assessments prior to their progression to secondary education, with ‘recognized qualification’ at the end of primary education cycle. Public authorities should ensure the maintenance of quality standards throughout the cycle of basic education in a sustained manner.

Fifth, recognizing the importance of national assessment mechanisms for TVET programs, Governments should develop new and unique assessment mechanisms within a framework of institutionalized collaboration with industry for assessing competencies and skills in terms of technical qualifications, relevant to a country’s development priorities. TVET programs, particularly in early secondary levels, must be made complementary to the standard education curriculum, and should not remain as a separate stream. Students’ aptitude should be central to these assessment systems, offering them the possibility of pathways to higher education.

Sixth, public authorities should ensure that basic education which is provided is of good quality, as proven by an appropriate national assessment mechanism, conducted annually or on a semester system. While school examination and tests constitute necessary mechanisms of students’ educational attainments, Governments should devise innovative modalities appropriate to the capacities of the State, to assess students to evaluate their knowledge and understanding of all subjects taught, including human rights values. Students’ performance tests should demonstrate the extent to which students incorporate these values in their understanding, commitments and day-to-day behaviour patterns.

Seventh, recognizing that teachers play a key role in the implementation of the national curricula and in conducting assessments of students’ educational attainments, Government should ensure that teachers are provided with the additional training and support to better understand and implement human-rights-based curriculum in an accessible fashion for their students. Novel modalities of teacher training in tandem with reforms in education should be devised to foster quality education and learning.

Eighth, within the scope of their respective mandates, when considering the right to education in their dialogue with States, the United Nations human rights treaty bodies should consider according greater importance to ensuring that students’ educational attainments are assessed from a broader, human-rights-based approach.

Within their respective institutional missions, UNESCO and UNICEF should consider according foremost importance to a human-rights-based approach to students’ national assessments for preparing children for the ‘responsibilities of freedom’. They should accordingly consider encourage and support Governments in their endeavours to that effect, providing necessary technical assistance and advisory services. Similarly, ILO and UNIDO have special roles and responsibilities in the area of skills development, and should consider reinforcing their activities for technical assistance for assessment of students' knowledge and competencies, while improving linkages between informal apprenticeship and formal vocational education and training. Recognition of the qualifications of TVET students should encompass graduated apprentices, in rural economies and informal sector.

The United Nations agencies should consider taking a coordinated interest in assisting in the development of education assessment systems that meet international human rights standards, and which are also conducive to skills development as part of quality imperatives.

Nineth, given their leadership role, parliamentarians should take up the cause of education, leading the processes aimed at giving effect to the right to education and strengthening national assessment mechanisms to that effect. They can thus contribute to promoting students’ educational attainments.

Tenth, Governments should encourage the NGOs and civil society organizations in their valuable role in raising public debate on key issues and in defending a holistic approach to students’ assessments. As such, public authorities should maintain a constructive dialogue with NGOs and civil society organizations.

Eleventh, research and studies on national assessments are scant as compared to those on international or regional assessment systems. Reflections and studies on national assessment of students’ educational attainments in education faculties and among professional bodies should be promoted so as to make existing national assessment mechanisms and country level experience better known. This would also benefit policy making authorities in improving assessment mechanisms.

Finally, I would like to suggest that States continue to champion the cause of quality education in the formulation of the Post-2015 Development Agenda. Quality education remains an abiding concern not only in the context education-related MDGs, but also in the future development agenda. This calls for reinforced commitment by the international community in appreciation of the pivotal role of the right to education for human development.

Mister President, Distinguished Delegates,

I am also here today to present my report on the visit I undertook to Seychelles in October of last year. This was the first visit by a Special Rapporteur. I must begin by thanking the Government of Seychelles not only for the full support provided during my visit, but also for the spirit of openness and cooperation demonstrated throughout.

The education system in Seychelles has followed an exemplary path for a small island developing state. The Constitution and education laws incorporate the country’s international obligations under the right to education. Policy measures and reforms have made it possible for Seychelles to meet the education-related MDGs well before 2015. The emphasis on equality in education has significantly addressed differences in achievements based on gender and race, creating a system which provides equal opportunity for all based on ability. Public spending on education, at over 4% of GDP is commendable, and the establishment of the University of Seychelles in 2009 is a milestone achievement.

I hope that Seychelles will continue to build on such achievements, placing education high on the national development agenda, as both the President as well as the Vice-President of the Republic of Seychelles have previously been Ministers of Education, and their political commitment is an asset for raising the profile of the right to education.

I am encouraged by the commitment the Government of Seychelles has shown towards implementing the right to education. The Government continues to engage actively with international organizations, as well as bilaterally with partner nations and educational institutions, to improve its education system. Seychelles has achieved universal access to basic education, and must now continue to take measures to improve the quality of the education system, with the focus on key challenges such as improving professional status and social esteem of teaching profession; improving technical and vocational education and training; meeting social challenges and promoting social and personal education in face of social and behavioural problems among students; and intensifying normative action for responding to quality imperatives including investment in infrastructure and equipment. All of these issues need to be addressed in an endeavour to improve the education system.

I was very encouraged in my dialogue with President Michel who has launched the Social Renaissance Programme. This programme is highly significant in embodying the concept of “humane development” which is enshrined in the Constitution of Seychelles.

I would like to commend Seychelles for a major initiative - elaboration of the concept of the Blue Economy. This is an area of great potential. This concept seeks to create a framework aimed at improving human well-being and social equity in an environmentally sustainable way. The Government should accord high priority to ensure that skills development remains central in national, regional and international initiatives which are giving shape to the concept of the Blue Economy.

Mister President,

Based on my findings, my report offers some recommendations with a view towards contributing to the improvement of the education system in Seychelles.

The state of the teaching profession in Seychelles is a matter of deep concern. There is a growing shortage of Seychellois teachers. Making the teaching profession more coveted and valorising teachers’ professional standing is a big challenge for Seychelles. Teachers, particularly the newly recruited, should be provided with additional training on child-friendly pedagogic approaches. The teachers Scheme of Service, which provides the terms and conditions of employment for teachers, including salaries, should be further reviewed to identify cost-effective means of improving the conditions of service.

The recruitment of teachers internationally should be used sparingly, and the Government should mobilize additional resources for increasing enrolment of teachers in post-secondary education institutions as well as their in-service training. Where hired, care should be taken to find teachers who speak or learn creole, and they be provided with pedagogic support and training to assist them in better relating to their students. The Government should minimize the use of temporary contracts for teacher recruitment, as it negatively affects their motivation and commitment to the profession.

Within the framework of the Education Sector Medium Term Strategy 2013-2017, the Government should further develop and implement necessary quality norms and standards. In keeping with the National Assessment Framework developed in 2013, Seychelles should embrace a ‘comprehensive system of quality education and learning’ based on a holistic concept, which goes beyond the instrumental role of education and places a premium on the humanistic mission of education.

The quality imperatives should be a determinant factor in investing in education as against recurring expenditure so as to provide the necessary financial resource base to meet quality standards. Enhancing national investment for fostering quality as a public policy concern deserves much more consideration. The Government should take necessary measures to achieve the goals set out in the National Curriculum Framework adopted in 2013, which creates the “entitlement to high standards of education,” placing emphasis on learning for every student in all schools that will enable them to succeed. This calls for new pedagogical approaches which are child-friendly, inspiring and motivating and develop in children a love for learning. Quality education also necessitates that teachers should be capable of developing critical thinking in children and adults, and nurture in them moral values.

The Government should review the secondary school curriculum with a view towards creating a viable, attractive TVET programmes which will provide qualified, capable graduates into professional post-secondary institutes. This review should seek to address the barriers which are preventing women from entering technical fields and the workforce. Teachers must also be trained to enable them better to guide students towards non-academic career options in a positive light.

The Government should review its post-secondary educational investment priorities. Funding for technical and vocational education and training programmes and institutions should be increased to better compare it to investments made for university education, and to ensure that all students receive a high-quality education. National investment in TVET including post-secondary institutions and higher technical education should be enhanced to ensure that this sector of strategic importance receives necessary support as a development priority. This requires far-reaching reforms of the TVET sector to develop much closer collaboration between industry and professional centres. TVET should be made an attractive professional career path, with a campaign to make it socially better esteemed.

Seychelles should intensify its national endeavour to respond to social challenges facing its youth, with the Social Renaissance Programme and related Action Plan as a springboard. The implementation of the Social Renaissance Programme should be linked to the National Curriculum Framework adopted in 2013 which recognizes the need for ethical standards. The Personal, Social and Citizenship Education curriculum should be strengthened to address the social issues affecting schools, and efforts to engage with parents and the community through the Social Renaissance Program, as well as at the local level through parent teacher councils, should be strengthened. Efforts in that direction should be carefully coordinated and adequately supported to promote effective social transformation.

While the creation of the University of Seychelles represents a great accomplishment for the country, greater care must be taken to ensure that it is nurtured in a fashion which does not impair the development of future generations of teachers, and that areas of excellence are developed which may draw students from throughout the region.

I would like to particularly emphasize the importance of the emerging concept of the Blue Economy, emanating from the vision of sustainable development to which the Government of the Seychelles attaches great importance. Operationalizing a policy framework for developing the Blue Economy should be premised upon its various educational dimensions, with the focus on skills development in key areas. It is important to ensure that international cooperation in an enduring manner underpins all of its aspects, including research as a key component, all the more so as the Seychelles Development Strategy 2011-2020 recognizes the importance of education for sustainability. The Government should accord high priority to ensure that skills development remains central in giving shape to the concept of the Blue Economy.

Mister President, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I consider that interacting with governmental and non-governmental organizations directly implementing and evaluating education policies is essential for the fulfilment of my mandate as Special Rapporteur. Since my appointment, I have made efforts to establish regular dialogues not only with States, but also a broad range of stakeholders within the UN system, including UNICEF and UNESCO, as well as the academic community and civil society.

I look forward to the dialogue with the members of the Council today, not only to discuss the content of my reports and the follow up to the recommendations contained therein, but also to further elaborate on additional concerns I hope to address in future activities.

Thank you for your kind attention.