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BRICS bridges gap with solid foundation in education

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Picture: David Ritchie/African News Agency/ANA/Taken July 10, 2018 – Ministers from the education ministries in BRICS countries seated left to right are Zhu Zhiwen, the People’s Republic of China; Naledi Pandor, South Africa; Pavel Zenkovich, the Russian Federation; Satyapal Singh, India; and Leandro Cardoso, Brazil. South Africa hosted the sixth BRICS Education Minister’s Meeting in Cape Town. The theme for that meeting was, ‘Deepening BRICS Education Partnerships and Exchanges’, to reflect on successes and challenges for earlier education commitments made by the BRICS countries.

By Edwin Naidu

While all eyes are on the developments concerning Russian President Vladimir Putin, little is known about the impact on the home front concerning education from Brazil, the Russian Federation, India, China and South Africa – BRICS.

That’s because politicians know how to take the gloss off a good shine. Yet much is happening on this front with these five major emerging national economies.

BRICS is developing several initiatives to support African countries. The BRICS alliance is currently providing education to more than 40 percent of the world’s population.

They have been instrumental in African countries in various ways to improve the quality of education and foster human development. These initiatives aim to bridge the gaps in education in African countries and ensure that every child has access to quality education. They have been offering scholarships, building schools, providing learning materials, and providing specialised training for teachers.

While they need lessons on communicating their collective efforts, it is fair to say that BRICS nations have transformed the global education map, despite the architects behind the coalition not blowing their trumpet concerning what has happened to date.

Through their intervention, millions of children and youth have been brought into the schooling system via the creation of centres of world-class learning, driving innovation and sharing expertise and knowledge.

The origins date to around November 2013, when BRICS ministers of education met at Unesco headquarters in Paris to discuss opportunities for co-operation in education. After this meeting, they agreed unanimously that the BRICS and the wider international community would benefit from collaboration among the big five nations.

At the sixth BRICS Summit in Fortaleza, Brazil, in July 2014, this commitment stepped up a gear as BRICS leaders endorsed the strategic importance of education to sustainable development and inclusive economic growth and pledged to strengthen co-operation.

BRICS: Building Education for the Future was the next step to creating a new partnership for progress in education. Developed by Unesco in consultation with experts from the five countries, they called for more vital collaboration between the five emerging economies in building better quality education systems, which can accelerate progress in education.

BRICS: Building Education for the Future is the first in-depth analysis tracking the successes and challenges facing education in the countries. One of the key conclusions from a Unesco report is that BRICS have made effective use of innovative policies to improve the quality of education and for the expansion of technical and vocational training and higher education.

For example, Brazil has built one of the most comprehensive assessment systems in the world – where a combination of data, such as school enrolment and completion rates – is used to help set targets for improvements and drive reform.

The roll-out of India’s new law requiring companies to spend 2 percent of their profits on corporate social responsibility activities will be of interest to all governments looking at ways to fund higher levels of education and skills development.

The report highlights the rapid expansion of higher education, such as that seen in China, where the number of students increased more than five-fold between 1999 and 2012.

In Russia, efforts to increase exchange and co-operation among students and universities, such as the BRICS Network University spearheaded by the Russian Federation, enrich learning. In South Africa, overcoming the inequalities of apartheid has become a central theme of education reform, providing valuable lessons for all countries committed to tackling inequity.

India and China are home to the most extensive education systems in the world. With all five nations committed to scaling up efforts, BRICS have the potential to become leaders in good quality education.

In turn, millions of students will benefit from improved learning systems – giving them better skills and knowledge to help transform societies and economies.

“BRICS have already transformed the world map of education, bringing millions into school, establishing centres of world-class learning, driving innovation, and sharing expertise and knowledge. With stronger co-operation in education, supported by Unesco, BRICS could have the power to go further in improving education levels and achieve long-term sustainability faster,” said Irina Bokova, director-general of Unesco.

But despite the marked progress, challenges remain. In some countries, economic reforms, decentralisation and privatisation of education have resulted in more profound disparities, with the poorest children suffering the most from low-quality schooling. Despite the massive expansion in recent years, only one in five young people in India and about one in four in China attends higher education.

Poverty and gender inequality in BRICS continue to be mirrored in the learning cycle and can inhibit children’s learning abilities. Communities struggling to feed their families are faced with the prospect of lifelong harm caused to a child’s learning abilities through the effects of malnutrition.

At the Sixth BRICS Summit in Brazil on July 15, 2014, BRICS leaders stated that education was crucial for long-term success and recognised that further investment was vital in education to address inequalities and continue feeding economic growth.

“To advance towards a knowledge economy, it will be necessary to strengthen co-operation in the field of education to perform a horizontal linkage between BRICS countries,” Dilma Rousseff, President of Brazil, said during that BRICS Summit.

BRICS are already engaged in global partnerships for education. The nations have played a vital role in the Education for All (EFA) movement co-ordinated by Unesco. Brazil, China and India belong to the group of E9 high-population countries, which since 1993 has facilitated better co-operation in pursuit of EFA.

Unesco has been working closely with BRICS since 2013 to support efforts to strengthen co-operation in education to help boost learning opportunities for millions of young people in the five dynamic, growing economies.

Last week in Cape Town, Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga said South Africa and China would continue to work together on the educational front, adding that the BRICS summit in August will offer a good opportunity for the influential economies to collaborate further.

Of course, the world’s eyes will be focused on the noise over whether or not Putin will be arrested if he comes in August. Far more important, solid building blocks in education have been laid.

Edwin Naidu is the editor of the quarterly publication “Inside Education”.