Millions of students across the U.S. will start heading back to school in upcoming weeks, excited about a new school year and looking forward to seeing last year's friends again after three months of summer vacation. Discussions will focus on the weight of their backpacks, the amount of technology they should have at their fingertips and how much homework a new teacher will assign.
Yet, 61 million young people around the world of elementary school-age will not be going back to school because they face obstacles that prevent them from even getting into a school. Many others, including many who are able to gain access to schools, are not learning effectively. For example, in India it is estimated that 46.3 percent of fifth graders cannot read at 2nd grade level and 64 percent of fifth graders cannot do basic division math.
A quality education is a basic human right. It is the key to development and a solution to critical global issues that affect us all. Through education, particularly of girls and women, families are healthier, smaller, more entrepreneurial and financially better off. Without investing in education, development aid and other interventions will only provide important short-term relief, but not systemic improvement to break the cycle of poverty.
Important initiatives are being launched globally to both draw attention to the critical importance of education internationally and to frame the policy guidelines surrounding goals for the post-2015 MDG for education. For example, Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, is set to announce his "Education First" initiative on September 26. And the Brookings Institution is working to help frame the discussion by focusing on the principle that a basic education is a human right. But, these and other policy efforts need to be backed up with funds for program implementation. According to UNESCO, education accounts for just 2 percent of humanitarian aid -- even though we know that education is the key to success in the other development areas of health, population growth, entrepreneurship, and environmental sustainability.
Other non-governmental organizations, like the Campaign for Global Education-US, are coming together to support its coalition members' initiatives, like that of 10x10, which is developing a feature film on ten obstacles facing 10 girls in 10 countries as a way of illustrating the role education plays in development. GCE-US is working with 10x10 to advance a set of policy "asks" as part of an advocacy campaign to heighten awareness of education issues at home and abroad. Support is coalescing around efforts to enact Education for All legislation and also to funnel USAID funding through such multilateral funding institutions such as the Global Partnership for Education.
On a parallel track within the education community in the U.S., the NEA and AFT, representing the vast majority of educators in the U.S. are helping to revise a Lesson for All curriculum that will soon be mapped to the Common Core State Standards for U.S. teachers nationwide to use to when teaching about global issues, that uses the international state of education as a curriculum focus.
Similarly, youth-oriented organizations like School Girls Unite, Model 26, Results Educational Fund and New Global Citizen are mobilizing teachers and young people around the U.S. to call for the U.S. to be a leader in addressing education needs for all young people, regardless of where they are born.
At the core of all these initiatives is the need for trained teachers to introduce both basic principles of literacy and numeracy, but also critical thinking and local/global citizenship skills. We need World-Class Teachers for world-class learning. Building schools and equipping them with materials and technology need to go hand-in-hand with hiring teachers in sufficient numbers and giving them the skills (technology, individualized and project-based learning, etc.) necessary to teach effectively so that students can learn the skills for success in our 21st century globalized world. This is not an easy or inexpensive challenge. We have seen in the U.S., for example, for every dollar spent on computer hardware, schools need to allocate considerably more for professional development for teachers to gain the skills needed to use them effectively in the classroom. Teachers, like all professionals, need on-going professional development to upgrade skills and methodologies. However, unlike other professionals (doctors, dentists, pharmacists, etc.) there is no easy way in many countries to recoup that training through fees paid by the users of the professions' services.
In looking at post-2015 global education goals and benchmarks, governments must be ready to allocate the funds needed for sufficient numbers of teachers to be hired to ensure a manageable class size. Class sizes internationally in low-income countries can often exceed 75, or even 100 students, particularly after countries eliminate school fees and open their doors to all young people. For a fascinating look at Kenya as a case study, see the feature length film: "The First Grader." A prominent newspaper in Kampala, Uganda reported in July 2012 that some classrooms in that country have up to 180 students. While class size is not the sole factor in students receiving a quality education, attention to individualized learning needs is simply not possible in such situations. World Class Teachers need a professional setting in which they and their students can succeed.
As countries look at how they are to assess student learning in a quality education, teachers will also need professional development on how to go beyond simple examinations to measure ability to read sentences (as important as literacy is). They will also need to learn from others how to measure what may well be new areas of learning, such as critical thinking, empathy, collaboration, civic engagement, and others. This too will require teachers who have new skills and measurement techniques and rubrics in all parts of the globe -- and therefore, additional professional development -- to enable them to be World Class Teachers.