UNESCO Headquarters, 3 and 4 October 2003
1. At the close of the Round Table on Quality Education held in Paris on 3 and 4 October 2003 we, the participating ministers, arrived at the following joint positions on the basis of our exchanges.
a) While we are all committed to quality education, we acknowledge that we live in an unequal world—a world where enormous disparities make the possibility of equal opportunity to participate in a quality education a dream that is currently unattainable for many. To reduce, and eventually eliminate, these disparities is essential if we are to reach the goal of a quality education for all. The context in which we are striving for quality in education is one that is difficult to comprehend. The world of the 21st Century is one of fast change and innovation. It is a world where access to technology, modern education, and resources play a major role in the ability to contribute to or adapt to change. Thus, the very means of gaining equity are particularly hard to obtain for those who are most disadvantaged.
b) We also believe that a quality education is a tool to overcome these disadvantages because in addition to being a right, it is a means to fulfil other rights. It is, therefore, necessary to attain everywhere the basic standards that enable learners to thrive in the present and adapt to the range of futures they will inevitably face.
c) In this changing world context the meanings, perceptions, and expectations regarding the quality of education are evolving. Quality has become a dynamic concept that has constantly to adapt to a world whose societies are undergoing profound social and economic transformation. Encouragement for future-oriented thinking and anticipation is gaining importance. Old notions of quality are no longer enough. Despite the different contexts, there are many common elements in the pursuit of a quality education, which should equip all people, women and men, to be fully participating members of their own communities and also citizens of the world. Understood like this, quality education requires us to redefine the parameters of education in such a way as to cover certain basic knowledge, values, competencies and behaviours that are specifically attuned to globalisation but reflect the beauty and richness of our diversity expressed in different forms of belief, spirituality, culture, and language. The challenge is to develop educational systems that balance local, national and global aspirations in the context of our common humanity.
2. We understand that the concept of a quality education is necessarily dynamic but, through our discussions, we agree that the following perspectives need to be taken into account:
a) Education is no longer a top-down process. It requires the participation of all stakeholders in a transparent system and genuine consultation about the aims, processes, contents and outcomes of education for all to ensure sustainability. Only in this way can education fully achieve its potential to emancipate the human spirit. While inputs, processes, outputs, and outcomes remain critical, the balance among them needs to be rethought.
b) There is a need to stress democratic citizenship, values, and solidarity as important outcomes of a holistic education. Education for human rights and for sustainable development is essential.
c) Education must support both individual and group accomplishment.
d) We find indispensable the role of teachers as purveyors of knowledge and values and as community leaders responsible for the future of our young. We should do everything in our power to support them and to learn from them. In many countries of the world teachers are actively engaged in redefining curricula and learning materials with a focus on universal values and on learning to live together. Similarly, leadership in educational systems, parental organizations, and the wider community is essential to attaining quality in education.
e) While recognizing the power and importance of the new technologies and of the media in general we believe that radio and television have an important educational role, which frequently has been appropriated by commercial interests that can threaten the national, cultural and sexual identities of our young people. We will support the production of media programmes in favour of quality education. Quality education is a public service and a social good that shapes the identities of individuals and raises the aspirations of societies.
f) We find that languages have a crucial role to play: as asserters of identity; as means of communication; and as windows to understanding other ways of knowing.
3. We are very aware that although many of our nations already invest heavily in education, this investment does not always produce the desired learning outcomes.
a) Economic constraints require us to prove the value of expenditure on education. We fully recognize the utility of international standards but we believe the time has come to revisit them. Basic standards of quality are essential and international comparison mechanisms have their place, although they sometimes reflect their educational and cultural origins.
b) We call for some serious reflection on the nature of indicators of quality that are used in national and international comparisons, and on the relative values that are placed on quantitative and qualitative indicators. All data should be disaggregated, particularly by gender. Specifically, we wish to contribute to the development of meaningful indicators of a quality education that equips learners for the present and prepares them for the future.
4. In light of the above, we the ministers responsible for education, commit ourselves to finding a practical way forward in our mission to provide an education of quality for all, recognising the importance of allocation of appropriate resources for this advancement. Also we launch an appeal to the governments of states throughout the world to ensure that in practice first priority is given to education within their countries.
5. Steering education systems towards greater quality is a complex endeavour involving a number of processes of change. Engaging the support of stakeholders and the public in general facilitates these processes. Increasing local autonomy in the education system within an overall state framework can reinforce this support and ensure that educational institutions reflect the diversity of those they serve. States have found that various initiatives contribute to overall quality improvement:
a) Focusing special efforts in the most disadvantaged communities sends the signal that quality education is for all.
b) Early childhood care and education equip children to make a good start in formal learning. In this regard, introduction of mother language instruction in the early years of schooling helps ease the transition between the home and the school
c) Healthy and properly nourished children learn better and school-feeding programmes can be helpful.
d) Designing a broad-based curriculum better to appreciate our past and to understand contemporary events as a basis for a mature global vision, so as to learn lessons from history and create greater mutual understanding through dialogue.
e) Equipping all children with universally shared ethical and moral values in order to enable them to learn and practice these values of empathy, compassion, honesty, integrity, non-violence, respect for diversities thus learning to live together in peace and harmony.
f) Having participative processes for pupils within schools helps them to learn to live together, understand and transmit important values.
g) Gaining the trust of teachers by reinforcing their pre- and in-service training and status enables them to be effective partners in educational reform and to address, in a professional and flexible manner, the ever-changing demands of the classroom and the move to learner-centered teaching.
h) Adequate learning environments and accountable management systems are essential foundations for quality.
i) Accreditation and quality assurance processes and the transfer of good practice should be encouraged and supported.
j) To respond to access increases in basic education, there is a need for capacity development in secondary, vocational, technical, higher, and adult education. There is a need to focus on the promotion of functional literacy especially for adults to facilitate the creation of knowledge societies and the furtherance of quality education.
k) Assessing the outcomes of education systems for the students, while more difficult than analysing the inputs, provides a more secure basis for evaluating the effects of change. The sharing of research results between countries should be encouraged.
l) Some states find the various international student assessment programmes helpful and would like to see them extended, not as a substitute for national arrangements but to allow benchmarking.
m) The private sector and non-governmental organizations can make a valuable contribution to quality education.
6. In sum, we see the quality of education as essential for equity, equality and the quality of life. Quality education does not come free of charge and we remind the international community of its commitments. Without meeting these quality will remain low. Poor quality education anywhere in the world is bad for humankind as a whole.
7. We call on the Director-General of UNESCO to:
a) Facilitate further studies and exchange of views for a better understanding of educational quality and on strategies to achieve basic school standards and quality education in Member States facing different challenges.
b) Ensure strong links among EFA (Education for All), the Monterrey Consensus, the UN Literacy Decade, the Decade for Education in Africa, and the UN Decade for Education for Sustainable Development.
c) Ensure more appropriate and more efficiently coordinated support in favour of countries which are undergoing reconstruction of their education systems.
d) Explore follow-up mechanisms to this Round Table on Quality Education.