Paris, April 27 – On the first anniversary of the World Education Forum in Dakar, April 26 – 28, 2000 (see our detailed documentation in the number 55 and 56 of our journal) at which the international community pledged to provide basic quality education to all the children of the world by the year 2015, the heads of the five United Nations agencies responsible for the Education for All (EFA) drive issued a joint statement taking stock of the situation and of what needs to be done. The statement, entitled “Harness the Power of Education”, is signed by UNESCO Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura; the President of the World Bank, James Wolfensohn; the Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), Thoraya Obaid; the Executive Director of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Carol Bellamy; and the Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Mark Malloch Brown. Here is the full text of the joint statement.
More than 113 million primary school-age children are denied the chance to go to school in the developing world today. Well over 60 percent are girls. The world’s failure to give these children even the basic building blocks of literacy and the ability to transform their lives will have profound consequences, not only for their home countries, but for the rest of the global community for generations to come.
This was the direct challenge posed by the Dakar World Education Forum in April 2000, which was convened by the international parties to the Education for All Initiative (EFA), namely UNESCO, the World Bank, UNICEF, UNDP, and UNFPA.
The international community knows that the rationale for making good quality education universally available is compelling. It contributes to economic well-being and cohesive, stable communities; and it empowers poor people to boost their incomes and leave the pain of poverty behind. No country has ever achieved sustained economic growth without reaching the critical threshold of literacy for its population. Another way education transforms lives is through equal schooling opportunities for girls, since they correlate closely with women’s choices later in life, the number of children they have, the survival rates of their infants, how their children perform at school, and how productive their livelihoods subsequently become, all of which have a direct bearing on national economic growth.
The challenge therefore to give all children the chance to attend and complete primary school is monumental. Of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), two focus specifically on education. One goal sets the target of ensuring that all young children are able to complete a full course of primary education by 2015. The second goal aims to eliminate gender disparities at all levels of education by 2005.
A sizeable number of countries will be unable to meet this goal unless special effort is made now to mobilize the financial resources and the global political will to make good on these key development pledges.
To close the financing gap that currently stands in the way, new initiatives will need to be launched and driven in collaboration with many different players. Individual countries will need to allocate more of their public budgets to education, bilateral agencies will need to strengthen and extend their support for education, multilateral agencies will need to boost lending and enhance their collaboration. National and international non-governmental bodies will need to support these initiatives locally.
A sizeable number of developing countries – around 76 – have either already achieved universal primary education or are making sound progress towards getting all young children into primary school by the target date of 2015. In some 27 countries, progress has been made, but is showing signs of faltering. It is sobering that some 32 countries are unlikely to meet the target of universal primary education by 2015 unless their governments make education a key development priority, and donors and economically advanced countries provide significant support. Furthermore, conflict has dogged 11 of these 32 countries, which means that they will face the extra problem of educating war orphans and child soldiers.
The educational challenge is greatest in Africa. Here 22 countries – about half of all countries in the region – are unlikely, unless serious action is taken, to reach the target of universal primary enrolment by 2015. In seven of these countries, around half of all children of primary age are currently not in primary school. In 12 countries, primary enrolments have increased over the decade, but at a rate that will be insufficient to ensure that all children are in primary school by 2015. It is quite possible that half-way through the next decade, more than 30 percent of children will never attend primary school or learn to read and write.
The educational challenge for Africa, and increasingly for South Asia, is being undermined by the HIV/AIDS epidemic. In the worst-affected countries in Africa, 10 percent of teachers are expected to die over the next five years. Over the same period, and in the same countries, the number of HIV/AIDS orphans will rise to more than 20 percent of all school-age children. The disease will sharply reduce girls’ school attendance as they are forced to become household caregivers.
The second Millennium Development Goal on education – eliminating gender disparities – will also be an enormous challenge. Some 66 developing countries currently have significant gender disparities in primary or basic school levels. Again, the situation is most severe in Africa, where significant gender disparities exist in 75 percent of the countries.
The international community needs to work together to:
Build Leadership on Education: Country leadership on education expansion and reform is urgently needed. Renewed political commitment at the country level must necessarily be the cornerstone of broader regional and international action. The Dakar World Education Forum put countries squarely in control of providing education for all their citizens. All over the world, countries to varying degrees are in the process of drawing up action plans to universalize basic education and promote quality education for all. We are encouraging them to involve all stakeholders – partners, teachers and civil society – in the process, because wide endorsement of this national ambition is vital for its success. By the same token, we stand united in our resolve to work with civil society organizations in advancing education for all and hope that through our efforts new modes of co-operation will emerge and take root. We are committed to using all co-ordination mechanisms to achieve these goals.
Other players, be they multilateral development agencies like UNESCO, UNDP, UNICEF , UNFPA or the World Bank, and bilateral agencies, also have a critical role to play. They can, and must, stimulate and support country-led education reforms. Some of this is already happening as a follow-up to Dakar but it needs to be stepped up, and be more systematic and purposeful. For example, the United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative is currently mounting a sustained campaign to improve the quality and availability of girls’ education and to eliminate gender disparity in education systems.
Mobilize Resources for Education: An estimated US$5 billion to US$7 billion per year is needed to get all primary school-age children into school. Additional resources are needed to improve educational quality and relevance. Existing multilateral and bilateral agencies are currently not meeting even a half of these financing needs. The Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Initiative is releasing very substantial resources for education. HIPC initiatives will release some US$663 million per year during 2001-02 for education spending. But not all the countries needing EFA assistance are covered under the programme.
Twelve months after the Dakar World Education Forum, we see clearly what needs to be done to make good on our commitments. The pressure on all of us is to give hope to children and young people in a world where, with a good quality education, they too can realize their dreams of opportunity and achievement.
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