New Delivery Systems for Basic Education
The challenge of providing education for all calls for political determination at both national and international levels, and for a degree of international cooperation greatly surpassing achievements of the past. Already it is obvious that the enormous human and financial resources required to meet this challenge can be released only through profound changes in the organization of human affairs and the mobilization of ordinary people in communities all over the globe.
Baha'is see education in terms of the knowledge, qualities, skills, attitudes, and capacities that enable individuals to become conscious subjects of their own growth, and active, responsible participants in a systematic process of building a new world order. Ongoing education is at the very heart of any healthy Baha'i community. Successful community action requires the development of each person's capacity for intellectual investigation. Through community consultation, members learn to analyze social conditions and discover the forces that have caused them. In order to contribute to consultation on community problems and generate plans, each person must develop the ability to express ideas and listen carefully to others. A well-educated community member is a determined yet humble participant who helps overcome conflict and division, thereby contributing to a spirit of unity and collaboration.
The Baha'i International Community, comprising a cross-section of most of the world's ethnic, national, social, and cultural diversity, has for several decades devoted much of it's energy to the tasks of education. Its efforts have been directed not only towards intellectual development and training but also to the inculcation in its members of moral values appropriate to life in a rapidly changing social environment. Although it has not yet created a system of universal education, it feels encouraged by the progress of several decades of organized efforts. Moreover, it is convinced that the principles underlying its approach are applicable universally and can contribute to a global campaign to extend the benefits of education to the generality of mankind.
One principle is to encourage the initiation of educational endeavors at the grass roots, and then support and enrich them from other levels. The principle of universal participation reinforces this "bottom-up" approach and strongly influences methods used in teaching-learning situations. For example, sharp distinctions between teacher and student often disappear after students reach a certain age, so that an individual may be a trainee in one aspect of a program and a teacher in a parallel aspect, allowing educational endeavors to empower a vast pool of human resources for change. The student's attention is focused from the beginning on needs and aspirations of the local community, and curricula seek to develop those skills and capacities that render acts of service meaningful and effective.
Yet another set of principles has to do with organization, as the approach to education set forth in this document can bear fruit only if organizational channels capable of responding to the complex requirements of a worldwide educational endeavor are also in place. In the Baha'i community, these channels are constantly being created and perfected in the context of a more comprehensive plan for the development of an administrative order.
Although the importance Baha'is attribute to this administrative system transcends their concern for education, from the standpoint of education it may be depicted as a growing international network embracing more than 18,000 communities in 150 countries and independent territories around the world. The members of each local and national community annually elect a governing council which consults with the community, plans and implements activities, collects and disburses funds, and reports developments and achievements to its constituency. Decisions are arrived at through consultation within and between communities and administrative bodies. Suggestions and proposals, whether formulated by individuals or arising in the process of community consultation, are considered, reviewed, and often adopted by the elected governing councils.
Parallel to this elected branch, appointed boards of knowledgeable individuals function at all levels in an advisory capacity. At the international level, both the appointed boards and the elected councils are guided by a governing body which coordinates the development of the worldwide Baha'i community. This administrative structure serves to coordinate the initiatives of sincere and determined individuals and groups who have accepted to follow its common direction and abide by its rules.
The financial needs of the educational services of this system are met through the voluntary contributions and services of community members. There are strong recommendations in the Baha'i writings to allocate a portion of one's income, and to bequeath a part of one's estate, to the education of children. As far as conditions permit, those who render service do so with no expectation of remuneration, which, when necessary, is almost always for direct delivery of educational services. The voluntary work of the members of councils and committees reduces administrative costs to a bare minimum. Volunteerism is reinforced by consistent emphasis on sincerity, humility, and a spirit of disinterested service as indispensable prerequisites for the functioning of this administrative order. These are simply examples of principles guiding the organization of Baha'i education efforts, a detailed discussion of which is beyond the scope of this document.
The Baha'i International Community wishes to share its heartfelt assurance that, despite difficulties, it is possible to create networks of organizations which foster local initiative while benefiting from national and international coordination of resources. Within such networks, people from all walks of life can join forces, and communities from different socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds can become partners of equal voice in a common enterprise to build a new world order. Through these organizations the real resources of the world, which are its people, wherever they come from, whatever their circumstances, can be mobilized to educate and be educated, to overcome all obstacles and to create new conditions for human existence. The Baha'i International Community is convinced that a global effort towards the goal of education for all will require a creative approach to the mobilization of human resources, at the same time that it elicits political will and financial resources from the governments of the world and opens new channels for effective international cooperation.