Voice of a Visionary




Ray Harris – click here to listen to interview by BBC.

Ray Harris is an education specialist who is experienced in developing training programmes for educators, governments and Non-Governmental Organisations. Originally a trainer for international education in the UK, he moved to Nicaragua to run workshops on environmental education and development after being awarded by the HRM Queen Elizabeth for his work in Environment protection and animal welfare. Since then he has worked in Africa, Asia, Latin America and Europe developing teacher training activities and youth programmes. A consultant and adviser to many leading institutions, including the World Bank and, UNESCO and  UNICEF.

He is currently an advisor to the World Bank and the Ministry of Education, Vietnam.

My vision is for education for all, in terms of inclusion, in terms of challenging inequalities and making sure that, whether you are poor, whether you’re rural, whether you’re a girl, you have an equal access to good-quality education. This would be my vision. And it is achievable. Having been a teacher at primary and secondary level, having taught teachers in many countries, I realise that the quality can be achieved without a significant increase in funding. Even now, more than 110 million children – almost two-thirds of them girls in developing countries – have no access to primary education. Certainly, in terms of access, then sub-Saharan Africa would be probably top of the list.

Many factors inhibit children from going to school. Some of them are push factors and some of them are pull factors. The push factor – pushing them away from the school, if you like – is the poor quality of education generally. This would be: an irrelevant curriculum; perhaps poor sanitary facilities; and overcrowded classrooms. The second thing would be pull factors from the community, where children are needed at home or in workplaces, to maintain economic stability within the family. Many girls, for example, are used for looking after their brothers and sisters while their parents are out at work. A big initiative has been universal primary education, which is trying to encourage more children into school. The problem that has come is that the quality of the school has not improved, and the teacher training has not improved, the facilities have not improved. You will get statistics – let’s say, in Uganda – where a teacher who was teaching 50 children now may well be teaching 100 children. And it’s the numbers in school which put pressure on schools and administration. If then the school quality is improved and the educational quality is improved, this will entice and encourage more children into school.

UNicef child TAdanceplayGL

Recently, I’ve been working in Colombia with a programme called “Escuela Nueva”- New School. And this was a very futuristic programme, if you like. This was started in the 1970s, and was particularly focused on rural multigrade schools. The difference between Escuela Nueva and other initiatives is that it’s focused on children’s learning. So children use what’s called Learning Guides. Now a problem with rural education is that many children lose time because they’re working with their parents on harvest time and perhaps at the market. And normally they’re penalised. In Escuela Nueva it is understood that children will lose time for these rural activities. So a child, perhaps, who’s away for a week harvesting quite well away from the village may well come back and be able to pick up the Learning Guide. So the motivation is all the time on meeting children’s learning needs.

Certainly the role of the teacher will have changed. He’s helping the children to learn. And rarely will you see a teacher at the front expecting children to memorise without thinking. Teachers are encouraged to adapt the curriculum, to suit the needs of the local community. So they do get a basic core curriculum. But on top of that, they get a range of different subject areas which are relevant to that particular area. Whether it’s in the mountain or a coastal area or a coffee-growing area or a forest, there will be relevant curriculum modules that are linked to that particular environment. So that, if a community sees there’s a benefit from education, they will then fully support it. And we now see Escuela Nueva programmes in Brazil, in Paraguay, in Nicaragua, in Guatemala. And now this year we’ve been working in Madagascar and Zimbabwe.

I was at a workshop last year with a group of teachers. And these teachers are under severe pressure. They’re working in areas where you have guerrillas fighting against paramilitaries. So in fact they’re living with guns behind them. What I brought from them was just their sheer enthusiasm. They would stand up and they would say: “The reason that we continue is that we love our children.” And you couldn’t believe the passion that they were offering.

Children are our future. They have to be nurtured. And first of all we must have a change in attitude, where we value our children and we understand how children learn.

I wouldn’t be in education if I wasn’t an optimist. I am very hopeful, but I do worry about the poor, the rural and the female, who are still going to suffer inequalities for quite some time, unfortunately.


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