Click here for search results

Newsletter

Secondary Education - Key Issues


line

Today, the demand for secondary education worldwide is soaring due to progress towards universal primary school completion, large cohorts of young people searching for the key to a better life, and the global demand for an increasingly sophisticated labor force.  This heightened demand for secondary education is accompanied by the need to respond to the twin challenges of “increasing access to” and, at the same time, “improving quality and relevance of” secondary education.  These two overarching themes run through all other issues in secondary education.  A key policy objective of the World Bank is to ensure that both access and quality are increased for those generally excluded by poverty, ethnicity, gender, and other factors.

The World Bank has identified the following as key issues in secondary education:

Source: World Bank policy paper, “Expanding Opportunities and Building Competencies for Young People: A New Agenda for Secondary Education


Access 
One of the main challenges for policymakers is to ensure that secondary education is accessible to young people.  In many countries, inequity in access to secondary education is a major barrier to human development, and therefore to economic growth and poverty reduction.  Despite significant growth in secondary school enrollments in recent years, developing countries still face enormous challenges.  Whereas the primary school completion gap between rich and poor countries has diminished, the gap in the proportion of the population with secondary education has widened in the past 40 years. 

As secondary enrollment expands, gender differences in access become more apparent.  Cultural factors that favor sending boys to school while keeping girls at home to do domestic work, combined with low expectations that girls will enter the job market, are often cited as the primary reasons for gender differentials.  Affordability is another reason why many children do not attend school or drop out early.  Many families depend on their children to contribute to the family income; others simply cannot afford the expenses associated with school attendance. 

Sub-Saharan African countries, along with other low-income countries, face the greatest challenge.  Those countries have to contend with a growing population that puts pressure on basic educational services, and many of them are likely to have to struggle to meet the goal of providing quality basic education to all school-age children by 2015.  In addition, the AIDS pandemic is devastating the teaching force and undermining the entire educational fabric. 

In other regions, the relative success that countries have had in expanding primary school enrollment, combined with globalization and population pressures, is generating considerable demand for the expansion of secondary education.  Providing equal access to secondary education for all young people, particularly those who have been traditionally excluded from the educational system, is a key challenge.

For more information, see "Chapter 3: The Twin Challenges in Secondary Education: Expanding Access and Improving Quality and Relevance" in “Expanding Opportunities and Building Competencies for Young People: A New Agenda for Secondary Education.”

top arrowtop arrow

Quality and Relevance
As the demand for secondary education increases, there must be an accompanying emphasis on increasing the quality and relevance of that education.  The demand for higher skilled workers to actively and effectively participate in the global economy is driving the push for quality and relevance.  Policymakers and educators must reexamine every facet of the secondary education system to ensure that young people are gaining the skills and knowledge that they need to be successful in today’s world.  Only through increasing quality and relevance can secondary education truly serve as a catalyst to economic growth and poverty reduction.

While many poor countries must struggle simultaneously with increasing enrollment and quality of education, many middle-income and transition countries, in particular those in Eastern Europe, Latin America, and East Asia, have already achieved high enrollment levels in secondary education.  Their main challenge is to improve quality, relevance, and efficiency to better align their education systems with those in open democracies and to respond to the rapidly changing demands of increasingly globalized economies.

For more information, see “Chapter 3: The Twin Challenges in Secondary Education: Expanding Access and Improving Quality and Relevance” in “Expanding Opportunities and Building Competencies for Young People: A New Agenda for Secondary Education.”

top arrowtop arrow

Curriculum
Within the context of the knowledge economy, changing work patterns are leading to radical new approaches in the way curriculum knowledge is selected, organized, and sequenced.  In addition, greater emphasis on the democratization of access to knowledge and on the formation of social capital, as well as better understanding of youth issues and how adolescents learn, are greatly impacting curriculum design.

Today, in many countries, adults and young people share a feeling that secondary education curriculum is profoundly inadequate.  It is commonly asserted that there is a knowledge gap between the subject matter currently being taught and the knowledge and skills that are required if individuals and countries are to be competitive in the globalized world.  There is a demand for a much closer intertwining of theoretical and practical learning, as well as general and vocational education, to prepare students to take full advantage of educational and employment opportunities. 

For more information, see “Chapter 5: Responding to the Twin Challenges: Curriculum and Assessment” in “Expanding Opportunities and Building Competencies for Young People: A New Agenda for Secondary Education.”

top arrowtop arrow

Assessment
In the effort to expand secondary education and improve its quality the role of national examinations cannot be taken for granted.  Examinations can be used to distribute opportunities for further education and as a condition for accessing labor markets.  They are a powerful tool for influencing and shaping secondary school curriculum.  Broadly speaking, entrance examinations to secondary education are disappearing or are being used for purposes other than competitive selection.  On the other hand, concern about global competitiveness has sparked an increased interest in nationwide student achievement testing.  Good assessment tools provide policymakers with critical decision-making information to evaluate the quality and cost-effectiveness of educational interventions.

For more information, see “Chapter 5: Responding to the Twin Challenges: Curriculum and Assessment” in “Expanding Opportunities and Building Competencies for Young People: A New Agenda for Secondary Education.”

top arrowtop arrow

Teaching
The teaching profession is charged with the immense task of building human skills and capacities necessary for economic growth, poverty reduction, social well-being, and individual development.  It is no surprise that teachers are considered the most important element in education systems everywhere.  Reform efforts in both developed and developing countries assume that the most direct and effective way of raising instructional quality is to introduce changes in teacher education and recruitment, improve the knowledge and pedagogical skills of teachers, and to ensure that organizational conditions promote effective instruction. 

Globalization and the shift to the knowledge economy have had a profound impact on teacher recruitment, training, and support.  There is an increasing demand for teachers who are knowledge workers, designers of creative and relevant learning environments to help move students towards the growing opportunities in higher education and employment.

For more information, see “Chapter 6: Responding to the Twin Challenges: Teachers, Teaching, and Technology” in “Expanding Opportunities and Building Competencies for Young People: A New Agenda for Secondary Education.”

top arrowtop arrow

Technology
Globalization, the increased importance of knowledge as a driving force in economic development, and the skill-biased nature of technological changes in the workplace are putting additional pressures on national governments to modernize and revamp their secondary education systems in order to produce graduates who are well prepared to enter the work force or institutions of higher learning.  Information and communication technologies (ICTs) are transforming teaching and learning processes in educational systems worldwide. 

For some decades now technologies have been seen as tools for expanding access to education at reduced costs.  Indeed, distance education has contributed to expanded educational access, particularly at the tertiary level.  However, ICTs also introduce substantial and recurring new costs, as school systems struggle to stay current with technology.  The mere presence of computers in classrooms does not guarantee that student learning will improve.  Effective use of ICTs requires accompanying, and often difficult, changes in curriculum, teaching, and school organization.  In addition, sophisticated technologies are not always introduced equitably, resulting in the exclusion of some students based on location, gender, income, or other factors.

For more information, see “Chapter 6: Responding to the Twin Challenges: Teachers, Teaching, and Technology” in “Expanding Opportunities and Building Competencies for Young People: A New Agenda for Secondary Education.”

top arrowtop arrow

Financing
The escalating demand for secondary education increases the pressure on national budgets in an already constrained financial environment.  Significantly increasing access to secondary education requires new financial resources.  There is little evidence, however, that increases in funding alone lead to improvements in the quality of education.  The financial reality is that many developing countries and transition economies lack the capacity to raise the additional resources necessary to address the new challenges in secondary education.  Nations must find new ways of increasing funding for secondary education through public, private, or community sources, and at the same time, maximizing efficiency and effectiveness in resource allocation and utilization.

For more information, see “Chapter 7: Financing Secondary Education” in “Expanding Opportunities and Building Competencies for Young People: A New Agenda for Secondary Education.”

top arrowtop arrow

Governance
In the 21st century, traditional modes of organizing and governing secondary education are no longer relevant.  Long-established forms of governance based on a system of publicly authorized, publicly funded, and publicly operated schools supported by centrally defined norms and regulations are being replaced by an array of governance arrangements in which the central government continues to play a central role in steering and monitoring the system, but lower-level governments and private sector share in the funding and operation of schools.  Countries that have had reasonable success in providing most of their young people with good secondary education share four common elements in governance: transparent, well-known regulations; a sharp definition of responsibilities; strong public management; and a precise definition of outcomes and measurement of results.  Moreover, secondary education systems today must be flexible and responsive to the rapidly changing environment, balancing student needs with management issues in the global information age.

For more information, see “Chapter 8: Governance in Secondary Education: Managing Expansion and Quality Improvement” in “Expanding Opportunities and Building Competencies for Young People: A New Agenda for Secondary Education.”

top arrowtop arrow