Last week U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon announced a personal initiative, "Education First", to draw attention to the need to improve education standards worldwide. A full description of Education First is here.
Andres Oppenheimer, writing in the Miami Herald, summarized the initiative in this article, "U.N. picks wrong education partners". The iniative follows several prominent UN themes:
- Education fosters gender equality
- Education fosters economic development
- Education fosters better health practices
- Educations fosters improved environmental sustainability
Oppenheimer critiques the initiative as follows:
"My opinion: The problem with Education First is that it believes that governments will make it their priority to improve education standards.
They won’t, for the simple reason that political leaders think in electoral time frames — three or four years — whereas investments in teacher training and other key tasks to raise education standards pay off in fifteen or twenty years."
The examples where one government has started an initiative in education and the next administration has discontinued it are many. The way to avoid such problems is to establish non-ministerial, independent organizations that are funded over 10-20 year time frames to improve education. This is a similar approach to what Uruguay's Plan Ceibal has done and what Paraguay is considering. This approach also gives the initiating President a real legacy for their administration, an objective that sometimes even overcomes the importance of electoral politics.