How many children are learning?

The plain answer is -we don’t know!

However, there is progress on trying to find answers to this question.

Advances have been made since 1990’s on getting more children into school but the real goal of getting more children into school and learning is a bigger challenge.

And once they are in school what is the quality of their learning -does it prepare them for an unknown future, for good health and how to look after themselves socially,psychologically and economically? The jury is still out!


Market in Freetown Source: Agnes Pessima

According to new data from the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS), 67 million children were out of school globally in 2009.This figure has been falling, especially since 2000, when the international community reinforced commitments to achieve universal primary education (UPE). Since then, the share of out-of-school children of primary school age has fallen from 16% to 10%. In addition, efforts to improve educational access for girls have yielded positive results. In 2009, girls accounted for 53% of children out of school compared to 57% in 2000.

Yet despite this progress, the pace of change appears to be slowing. The new data underscore a central message of the 2011 edition of the Education for All Global Monitoring Report: “the world is not on track to achieve UPE by 2015”. Moreover, it will be increasingly difficult to reach those children who remain excluded from education due to the complex nature of inequities associated with gender, ethnicity, wealth and location.

The Education for All (EFA) goals initiated in 1990 in Jomtien, Thailand demonstrated a commitment to meeting basic learning needs. This commitment was restated in 2000 in the Dakar Framework for Action, in which Goal 6 states; “Improving every aspect of the quality of education, and ensuring their excellence so that recognized and measurable learning outcomes are achieved by all, especially in literacy, numeracy and essential life skills”.

Yet today there is growing evidence suggesting that millions of children and youth do not have the basic skills and knowledge necessary to succeed in school and life. Since 2000, there have been extraordinary gains in access to education.

However, many of those who do complete the education cycle do not finish with the skills needed to fully participate in society and the economy. The true cost to society is impossible to measure within current assessment systems. While international assessments are used to compare learning across countries, they do not include the majority of the world’s children living in low- and low-middle-income countries, particularly the most vulnerable children and youth. Other multi-country assessments are conducted following approaches that prevent their results from being pooled into a unique set of equivalent evidence.

To attempt to get a better understanding about the progress in learning outcomes there is a new Learning Metrics Task Force.UNESCO’s Institute for Statistics and the Center for Universal Education form the secretariat of the task force, which brings together a diverse group of political stakeholders and technical experts from all regions to explore common goals for global education. The task force will make recommendations for the post-2015 global policy agenda in order to improve learning outcomes for children worldwide.
As the task force’s key findings will be shared along the way there is a consultative process,and the Brookings Institute (who are part of the secretariat for the task force)   suggests ways to engage in this process, for example

  • Circulate and provide comments on discussion documents.The first discussion document, “Multi-Country Assessments of Learning” is available for comment now. Two subsequent papers— “Issues in Global Learning Assessment” and “National Assessments of Learning”— will be available for comment in August.


One of the conclusions of the report:

Much progress has been made in increasing access to school and measuring learning globally. However, several gaps exist that make it impossible to obtain an accurate estimation of learning worldwide.
The majority of initiatives to measure learning at the primary level are conducted in schools, thereby leaving out children who are of school age but not enrolled in school.

A Global Compact on Learning: Taking Action on Education in Developing Countries -new publication

In the latest INEE  newsletter comes news of a new publication:

A Global Compact on Learning: Taking Action on Education in Developing Countries from the Brookings Institute.


The Center for Universal Education at the Brookings Institution has released a new report, “A Global Compact on Learning: Taking Action on Education in Developing Countries,” that identifies ways to improve learning and the quality of education for children and youth in developing countries, especially those most marginalized and hardest to reach. The study calls for the formation of a Global Compact on Learning, to increase collaboration between the public and private sectors and provide concrete actions to address a global learning crisis affecting more than 140 million children who remain out of school and those who are in school but not learning the skills they need. The study identifies three key policy priorities that can help to ensure that children are acquiring the basic skills and knowledge needed to lead healthy, safe and productive lives: supporting quality early childhood development, ensuring children learn basic literacy and numeracy skills, and increasing transition to, and relevancy of, post-primary education opportunities.”


The full report is available here.

TEACH UNICEF – new site , new resources for teaching and learning

Check out  the newly redesigned TeachUNICEF

The new site provides free topical units, lesson plans, stories, podcasts, and videos. Each topic has a portfolio of resources which allow an educator to choose a resource which best meets the needs of their classroom. Some of the other unique site features are:

  • Downloadable videos and podcasts;
  • Take Action section  – activities to engage youth in addressing global issues;
  • Links to a variety of UNICEF resources; and
  • An advanced search.

Explorations in Learning and Instruction: The Theory Into Practice Database

It is getting more important for educators to continue learning as the ‘business’ of education becomes ever , more complex. We now know more or at least have more opportunities to explore a range of perspectives on what we know, which may challenge our traditional beliefs about education. Students also have more opportunities to learn in different environments, certainly not just in the more rigid confines of a school or college.

Through this new knowledge their confidence may increase in as much as they can now challenge, with evidence, their teachers. So teachers need to know more about theory (particularly new knowledge about the brain and learning, for example) and by a process of action research should attempt to integrate theory from outside with their own theories based on their own practice so as to continually learn and apply what they have learned.

Teachers can also learn in partnership with their students who can also participate in action research and metacognition:

Theory into practice (TIP) may help in this process ….

TIP is a tool intended to make learning and instructional theory more accessible to educators. The database contains brief summaries of 50 major theories of learning and instruction. These theories can also be accessed by learning domains and concepts.

For more information about many of the theories and theorists included here, see the “People & History” section of

Learning about Haiti -free resources from UNICEF

On January 12, 2010, Haiti was rocked by an earthquake that registered over 7.0 on the Richter scale. It was the most powerful quake to strike Haiti in nearly 200 years and it resulted in destruction on an unimaginable scale. The epicenter of the quake was just ten miles from the densely populated city of Port-au-Prince.

With the dire circumstances in Haiti and the coverage by media outlets it is expected that  students or children will want to discuss Haiti, natural disasters, and ways they can take action.

UNICEF is a good source for such information and learning resources:

Classroom Resources

Haiti Country Information

Haiti LeMoyne

Updates, Stories, and Videos – To find regular updates, stories and videos on Haiti, please visit:

Information on UNICEF Supplies headed to Haiti

Discussing Natural Disasters

  • NASP (National Association of School Psychologists) – Resources

Of course donations will be the main way that people of Haiti will be supported, but students also need to learn about the bigger picture and understand some of the issues that are discussed in the media -otherwise they will be caught up in the sensational reporting of looters etc and will soon forget the people of Haiti.

The day the Berlin Wall came down – children’s mediation of the news

On November 9th 1989, an email message arrived at the Tynings primary school in Bristol,UK. It was from a 9 year old  girl living in East Germany who had to travel, daily, through the checkpoints to get to school in West Berlin. She was complaining to her ‘friends’ in Bristol  (by email, which was quite innovatory in 1989 for schools) that it took so long to reach school because of the crowds trying to get through the checkpoints.

checkpoint Berlin checkpoint

This is how the Bristol children, and their parents, learned about the reality behind the news that would later unfold before their eyes.


Before and after the fall of the wall

During the next few days, the ‘spark’ of the email message from their friend in East Berlin set off another ‘chain reaction’ of interest in the news by the children in Bristol. Their teacher , Keith Johnson, did not have to find ways of interesting the children in learning about what is going on in the world,they were ravenous to find out why the news did not provide ‘a child’s view’ of the world. They had some knowledge of European  cities, from curriculum topics, and something about history and Germany (of course an anglo-centric view based on stories of WWII), but these topics never excited them or developed the enthusiasm that was apparent now, and Keith was a great teacher.

What was to unfold during the next few days was even more momentous, to Europe and the World, but it was happening in the classroom in Bristol.


Keith wondered why anyone would want to send the school a piece of drainpipe!

On opening the ‘parcel’, pieces of concrete dropped out of the pipe and with it, a large poster. Of course the concrete was painted and was in fact  a part of the broken Berlin Wall. The poster was a carefully drawn picture of the Brandenburg Gate with comments, ‘graffiti’ , by the children in the school in Berlin.


As the Bristol children saw the pictures on television of people breaking down the wall they could actually handle pieces of the wall and read the comments made by the children in Berlin. A wonderful way to learn about the world, the news , differing perspectives, media bias and history in the making!



25 years on and those children in Keith Johnson’s class must be watching the 25th anniversary celebrations of the wall coming down with some interest, thinking ‘we were there’ in spirit at least.

berlin wall


More news breaking – Finland and Bristol 1986

On the same theme, children’s understanding and mediation of the news, 3 years earlier in April 1986, I, (as a Bristol primary school teacher!) also received an email message, addressed to the children of my class. It was from a school in Finland with which we had been corresponding, finding out about reindeer and life in the Arctic. This time the message was a bit more serious, but curious. The children were saying that birds had been dropping out of the sky on to their school. They did not know why.


Later we found out about the  tremendous explosion at a huge nuclear power plant, followed by a gradual meltdown of the reactor No. 4. in Chernobyl, in the Ukraine. Of course we were ahead of the news because the explosion was kept a secret for some time.

As was stated in the Times (May3rd 1986) “In matters nuclear, one thing is certain: there is no protection in an iron curtain”.

aerial Chernobyl

Aerial view of Reactor no4 ,Chernobyl nuclear power pant,1986

The nuclear fallout which was to cover much of Europe and even effect sheep farming in North Wales, had hit the birds in Finland and this was one of the first signs of the large scale effects of the explosion.

As a teacher,like Keith, I did not have to develop a lesson plan on environmental issues or understanding the media, or geography, or politics or health education…the children were diving in to the atlas, reading ,listening and watching the news  and asking all sorts of questions of their friends in Finland.

kindergarten in abandoned visllageCHERn
remains of Kindergarten in abandoned village,near Chernobyl

My students wanted to design a newspaper of their own so that they could express what they have been finding out and to report on something that was really ‘breaking ‘ news. As a teacher, you can only marvel at the depth of understanding, cooperation and motivation to learn, from children as they find their area of interest.

By the end of the week we had our newspaper, every child had participated, some had been journalists, some designers, some graphic artists, some sub editors and editors (suddenly there was a real reason to look up a dictionary,check spelling and punctuation, and measure distances on a map!). Their enthusiasm was infectious  – the whole school was now interested to follow the news, know about Finland and the Ukraine, about nuclear contamination, about children and cancer and much more. Of course their parents were also ‘educated’ about new aspects of the news.

monument in ChernobylMonument in Chernobyl to those killed during the ‘close down’ of nuclear reactor No 4 Chernobyl.

after treatment 1997,Ukraine after treatment ,Ukraine 1997

I am sure those students from my class, 23 years on , with children of their own, still watch the news of children in the Ukraine suffering from Leukemia and other cancers , and think to themselves that they know the real story behind these devastating stories.

011smKseniaand her doll 2005 Kesmia and her doll 2005

and now, as they watch further devastating news about Ukraine, those same children from my class, as parents themselves, will be taking an extra special look at the news and how it is reported. As an aging Gorbachev speaks at the Brandenberg Gate, those adults will understand a little more when he mentions ‘a new Cold War’.


build up of troops in Donetsk , Eastern Ukraine 2014

Refugees in the news, then and now.

Schools in Bristol and the Sudan were linked together via the good auspices of Dr Teame Mebrahtu, at the University of Bristol, who organised the links when Eritrean families fled to Sudan.Children exchanged news and questions and supported the schools in Sudan, which had accommodated children in their schools, with school materials collected from around Avon. Perhaps today those children who are now adults may reflect on the news about refugees in a more positive way.

School Links International was a Bristol based project, started in 1985, linking primary schools in the Avon area and the rest of the world, to counter prejudice, increase international understanding, and to develop environmental awareness and action.

Article 13 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child states:

1. The child shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of the child’s choice.