Universal Secondary Education for All: What Are the Options?
23 June 2015

Distinguished Colleagues, it is an honor to be here and I am very grateful to the organizers for the invitation. As you know the Commonwealth of Learning, an intergovernmental organisation, helps Commonwealth Member States and institutions to harness the potential of educational technologies for expanding access to education and training. We believe that access to learning is the key to development.

My topic today is ‘Universal Secondary Education: what are the options?’ My remarks are based on a joint presentation with my colleague, Frances Ferreira, who is our Education Specialist: Open Schooling.  I will first set the context, then consider the three options that we potentially have for meeting the demand for universal  secondary schooling, namely, open schooling; the emergence of Open Education Resources (OER) and the uses of ICTs. I will then conclude with some key lessons that we at COL have drawn over the last ten years.

Let us first review the context.

Many countries have achieved UPE and we now talking about Universal Secondary education and the Post 2015 Agenda. There is a growing consensus around GOAL 4 of the SDGs which seeks to  “Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education that promotes lifelong learning opportunities for all “can be directly linked to Universal secondary education for all.

Considering that to achieve goal 4 one has to provide

Quality education which will lead   effective learning outcomes; Skills for employment and entrepreneurship as well as Knowledge and skills for peace and global citizenship with Qualified teachers .  Let us consider  where we are now before looking at our options..

The populations in developing countries will continue to grow over the next three decades. Less than fifteen years down the road nearly 60% of the world's population will be in Asia, with another 15% in Africa. These regions have struggled to provide education to their people. Will we be prepared to cater to this growth?

Already half of the world's population is under 20 and there are two billion teenagers in the developing world. Today, there are 63million young adolescents out of secondary school. This young population, if given adequate education and training can become a huge human resource asset.

While the world average for secondary school enrolment is 73%, the GER in South &West Asia is 64 % while in SSA it is only 41%. Access remains inequitable especially in rural areas with girls being particularly disadvantaged.

What happens when students complete primary schooling? The drop-out rate at successive stages of the educational process is alarming as you can see from the figures from South Asia and Africa. In India, 61% complete primary schooling and the GER at junior secondary level is 86%. In Uganda the number of those who enroll in junior secondary school is a dismal 31%

Why is it important for governments to invest in secondary schooling? A DFID study suggests that an extra year of quality schooling lifts annual economic growth by 1%. According to a recent multi-country analysis ,closing the  gender gap  during adolescence in education , economic activity and health ; would significantly increase national economic growth and well-being. Another study tells us that those who participate in secondary education are more likely to have a better sense of cooperation and social responsibility.

Researchers have established a link between secondary education and economic opportunity. Riboud et al show that groups who have attained education beyond the primary level in Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka find employment much faster than those who haven’t. Furthermore, research has shown that TVE skills gained in school not only increase retention and completion but result in a transition to work. It is clear then that secondary education has a major role in social and economic development. Yet governments do not have the resources to absorb the secondary surge in brick and mortar institutions. What are the options?

Is Open Schooling  the answer?

First, what exactly is open schooling? Its features are the physical separation of learner from the teacher for much of the time; the use of unconventional teaching methods, and information and communications technologies (ICTs); and in general a flexible approach. We call it open schooling rather than open and distance schooling because openness and flexibility are more important features than physical separation. Its flexibility also makes it suitable for young adults who need further schooling but either cannot, or do not wish to return to the conventional classroom

Open schooling is a response to the rapidly increasing demand for secondary education, both as an end itself and as a route to tertiary or to provide skills for employment and entrepreneurship, because it can be conducted at scale and cost-effectively.

Open Schooling is a powerful way of addressing issues of social justice and equity and it can be used to  provide equal opportunities to girls who are prevented to attend school by barriers such as: early marriages, cultural values, and distance from school.

How is open schooling conducted? It uses self-instructional materials and, indeed, the preparation of such materials also provides an asset to the conventional school system, which in developing countries is usually short of materials. Students get local personal support at Study Centres, which at secondary school level are relatively more important than they might be at tertiary level. Organising the networks of study centres provides opportunities for partnerships with other state networks or with NGOs with a special interest in children and young adults.

Open schooling by correspondence goes back a hundred years in the industrialised world and nearly 50 years in Africa . School radio began 75 years ago in Britain , the Australian School of the Air is half a century old and projects using technology for schooling in Africa have a similar history. Some of these projects aim to enrich the classroom experience rather than create a substitute for it. Flexibility and complementarity are an important feature of open schooling. Note also that some open schools operate at very considerable scale which is, of course, an element of cost-effectiveness where it can be achieved. The NIOS with 2.2 million students is clearly the largest open school in the world.

There are various organisational models of open schools - and sometimes one evolves into another, as in the case of Namibia and India. Some are independent, some are branches of open universities, some are run by central ministries of education, and some by school boards. This is another element of flexibility for policy makers.

COL commissioned research on the costs and effectiveness of two open schools in rather different environments, the NIOS and the Namibian College of Open Learning (NAMCOL). The work was done by two well-known experts on cost studies, Badri Koul and Greville Rumble, who were already very familiar with the contexts in India and Namibia respectively. Their 250-page report is available on the COL website.

The National Institute of Open Schooling, formerly the National Open School , is headquartered in Delhi with regional centres in several cities and a presence overseas in Nepal , Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates, among others. Study centres are provided by over 5,000 accredited institutions which register students, supply study materials, provide tutorial support, handle assignments, hold exams and distribute certificates.

NAMCOL, the Namibian College of Open Learning is headquartered in Windhoek and has 133 study centres in the country's 14 political regions as well as ten computer-based learning centres  across the country.  It accounts for some 35% of the secondary school population in the country.

This chart shows enrolment statistics for NIOS . These figures show that the focus is mainly on academic programmes although at the moment much more emphasis is being placed on developing vocational programmes. This is a significant operation in terms of sheer numbers.

The figures for Namibia show, as I just noted, that NAMCOL plays a very significant role at senior secondary level, where  , during the time of the study, 48% of the senior secondary students who sat  their end-of school examinations were  enrolled at NAMCOL.

Comparing the learner profiles reveals both similarities and differences. Both institutions recruit students in the age range 15-25 but the gender balances are mirror images of each other. Few NAMCOL students have paid work, but a significant minority is involved in other educational courses.

With these figures in mind the cost per student at NAMCOL is very attractive at about 20% of the cost in the formal system.

Perhaps reflecting on the scale of NIOS, the figures in India are even more impressive. Unit costs are less than 10% of those of the government central schools.

Our study shows that open schooling can address the challenges of increased demand and reach out to diverse target groups: from older secondary-school-age children to young adults. Open schooling is significantly more cost-efficient than formal education and can have high retention rates approaching 90%. Moreover the production of learning materials in print, audio, CD-ROMS and video creates an asset for the whole school system not just the open school.

Very important is that fact that the Open School’s flexibility allows the diversification of the curriculum which lead to the offering of TVE courses, which can address the issue of skills for employment and entrepreneurship. In this regard  COL plays an active role  to support  the partnering  of Open Schools with Vocational and Skills training institutions to support the practical provision of skills orientated courses.

As a result of participation in communities of practice such as the Commonwealth Open Schooling Association(COMOSA) more institutions have strengthened open schooling policies and practices, and more girls and boys from marginalised communities complete primary and secondary education through open schooling

Let us now look at the second option that can contribute to the development of both open and conventional secondary schools. With the rise of social media, there has been a global movement towards collaboration in the development and sharing of content. At a meeting in 2002 at UNESCO, Paris, the term Open Education Resources or OER was first coined to promote the development and use of free materials for education. This has gained considerable traction resulting in the Paris OER Declaration which was adopted at a World Congress organized by COL and UNESCO in Paris with support from the Hewlett Foundation.

As we know, OER are educational materials which are free and freely available, are suitable not just for higher education but for all levels including primary and secondary education. OER can be reused and repurposed to suit different needs and could be available in any medium, print, audio, video, digital. One key difference between OER and other educational resources is that OER have an open license, which allows adaptation and reuse without having to request the copyright holder. OER have the potential to increase access, improve quality and cut the costs of education and training. The establishment of open schools requires investment of resources both financial and human. How can these be spread across and shared by a range of partners?

COL established a six-country partnership to develop 20 sets of course materials in print and online formats, based on the secondary curricula of Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, Seychelles, Trinidad & Tobago and Zambia.  The materials have been developed as Open Education Resources (OER), so that without duplicating effort, participating countries can have access to quality materials that they can adopt and adapt as necessary. OER can allow us to harvest the best content from the web to diversify our course offerings. Quality OER can enable us to introduce more technical vocational subjects in our curriculum which are estimated to cost fourteen times more than academic subjects. Governments around the Commonwealth are placing a great deal of emphasis on skills development and a closer alignment between the education sector and the labour market.

Antigua and Barbuda initiated development of a virtual learning environment (VLE), and with additional support from COL, an open textbook prototype repository was added to the VLE. The OERs in the repository were collected, examined for quality and tagged for easy retrieval. Working with specialist Mathematics educator, over 500 Mathematics OER from 72 different service providers were organized and sequenced within the VLE and mapped to the Caribbean Secondary Education Curriculum (CSEC) Mathematics syllabus. An online mathematics ‘textbook’ was thereby compiled from available quality free OER.  According to Neil Butcher, a senior educational technology consultant, “the prototype could be used like a traditional static textbook (although with integrated multimedia and a range of tools available within the VLE environment), the OER VLE Prototype’s real power lies in providing students and educators the tools to manipulate and customize its resources”.

The third option for scaling up secondary schooling is through the use of appropriate technologies

The reason I emphasise ‘appropriate technologies’ is because there is a clear digital divide across the Commonwealth, if you look at the proportion of households with access to computers and the internet. With less than 10% in sub-Saharan Africa and 8 Commonwealth Member States in Asia, it is over 80% in Europe and North America.

This divide can be turned into a dividend because of the phenomenal growth of mobile devices, which are more affordable, accessible and available.

As you can see from this chart, the growth of mobiles in developing countries has far exceeded the development of mobiles in developed countries in the last five years. There is nearly four times increase in the growth of mobiles in developing countries during this period. Any discussion of ICT based learning must take this into account.

There are several examples of the use of mobile devices as a teaching-learning tool. MO math uses mobiles for teaching and learning math ;it allows students to practice their mathematics skills directly from their mobile phones .MoMath was launched  in South Africa  in 2009 and last year Tanzania became the second African country  to launch Mo Math. Research data collected from this project  in South Africa, indicates that learners’ competence levels improved by 14% compared to learners who were not using Mobile Mathematics. In Grade 10 in public schools, students who used MoMaths regularly received grades 7 percent higher than their peers who did not use the service on a regular basis and  some of the teachers said that after using MoMath  they could see  “improvements in learners’ attitudes towards mathematics, reduction in their workload in terms of administration and marking of homework, and improvement in learner results” (United Nations, 2012, p 4)

The Open Access College, Australia’s open school uses technology in several ways to reach different students. It uses a blended approach through which the students study online and seek clarifications from teachers at contact sessions. Or teachers teach online with students connected through teleconferencing at multiple sites. Or they use Saba Centra, a free software to attend and interact in eMeetings. Music lessons are taught through video Conferencing.

In St Lucia, the One Laptop per Child initiative was introduced in 2012. In March of this year, the Ministry of Education produced an evaluation report of the Schools Laptop Programme. According to the report , 90 percent of parents, 82 percent of principals, 99 percent of students and 86 percent of the teachers were pleased with the Schools Laptop Programme. Eighty-eight percent of parents and 84 percent  of students confirmed that the laptops were being used to complete homework, while 82 percent of principals and 67 percent  of teachers indicated that the laptops have helped to improve teaching and education at their school. Ninety-two percent of teachers and 88 percent of students reported being comfortable using the laptops.

Another Caribbean initiative is Notes master; it is a freely accessible e-learning platform, designed to contribute to the growth of a Global Education Network for secondary level students. The platform enables students and educators, from different countries, to learn and share materials, using familiar syllabus frameworks that reflect their own curriculum. They provide a pre-configured e-learning environment that makes it easier for their communities to archive, create and share educational resources. COL is working with NM and COMOSA to encourage the development of OER and the use of ICT to scale up education and enhance the quality in both conventional and open schools across the Commonwealth.

The use of low cost mobile devices opens up other possibilities. There are 3 components here—the centre piece is the 7 inch tablet—the  second is the wifi router and the third the battery backup.  The Col tech group is of the view that the new tablets have the adequate power to host a server. The group loaded Ubuntu, a popular flavor of Linux on to the 7 inch Google tablet. They then loaded Moodle LMS and WordPress, a popular blogging and content management software. To make them available to other tablets, they connected the server to a wifi hotspot.

Once you have the operational wifi hotspot, one can connect another device such as a tab let. If 2 devices are connected to a hotspot, they are also connected to each other. This is how any tablet connecting to a hotspot is connected to a server. Thus we can have a group of learners with tablets accessing LMS present and running from the server tablet. This is how a classroom without access to power or internet is created. This could have major implications for our learners in remote areas.

What are our key conclusions?

What have we learnt in the last ten years? That political will is necessary to make open schooling an integral part of a national education system and that this political will needs to express itself in the form of enabling policy and planning. Open schooling is a system that derives its benefits from scale. It cannot be improvised on the back of an envelope as a small pilot project. It follows that adequate human, financial and technical resources are critical to success and need to be planned. The economic model is that a higher upfront investment pays off in lower operating costs once the system is running.

Next, just as tertiary institutions embarking on open and distance learning need to train their staff to operate a different pedagogy and teaching/learning system, so staff from conventional schools must be trained in the special requirements of open schooling. Much of COL's work with NIOS has been in support of training for its many thousands of tutors and facilitators. Collaboration and partnerships are essential. Harnessing the potential of OER and ICT will serve to strengthen not just open schools but the entire secondary school sector.

To ensure inclusive and equitable quality education that promotes lifelong learning opportunities for all ,the Commonwealth of Learning will continue to make the promotion and support of open schooling a key plank of its work. Over the next six years COL will work with governments and institutions to develop quality curriculum content in TVE subjects (aligned to skills needed for the world of work) using OER and various educational technologies and enhance the quality of conventional schooling through the introduction of viable and cost-effective models, including virtual schooling.

Thank you for your kind attention.

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