Michael Hofmann / Stefan Lock

Finally, more than two years after the World Education Forum in Dakar, promotion of education received the necessary strong response among multilateral organisations and bilateral donors. A salutary unease over the poor educational situation in many developing countries may now turn into a new support concept and more money for education. Germany has committed itself to this goal within the G8 group, with a special focus on basic education. Dr Michael Hofmann and Dr Stefan Lock, of the development ministry (BMZ), portray in this article a new way for international cooperation in promoting education. Dr Michael Hofmann is head of BMZ Department 4: Global and Sectoral Tasks, European and Multilateral Development Cooperation.Dr Stefan Lock is programme officer for education in BMZ Section 415: Education, Health, Population Policy. The article is reprinted from the journal “Entwicklung und Zusammenarbeit” Vol. 43. 2002:8/9, pp. 244–245.

From Dakar to Pisa: Growing Support for Basic Education

International Donors React to Continuing Crisis

Education enables people to improve their social, cultural and economic situation – and strengthens sustainable development:

  • Knowledge is the prerequisite for self-determination and self-realisation. Being able to read and write facilitates the realization of individual rights and social participation.

  • Well-trained skilled workers increase productivity and improve the quality of work.

  • Health education improves hygiene and nutrition and thus also contributes to an increase in life quality and expectancy.

  • Environmental knowledge is the basis for a more sustainable use of natural resources.

These few examples show that education is a prerequisite for successful poverty reduction. Where basic education cannot be sufficiently provided, development programmes in all sectors quickly come up against their limits. The correlation between illiteracy and mass poverty in large parts of Africa is as obvious as is the positive relationship of development successes and long-term investment in education – especially in basic education - in Asia.

It should long have become common knowledge in all countries that investment in education is highly profitable in the long run – and that the promotion of women and girls in particular pays off in every respect:

  • Mothers with a school education have healthier families than female illiterates. Children’s school enrolment and learning achievements are better ensured if their mothers themselves have enjoyed schooling.


  • Aids prevention programme with their implications for attitudes and behaviour work better with a linkage to health education for women.


  • Modernisation of farming in many countries where women do most of the work in the fields makes headway only by educating women.


  • General education for girls raises the average age at marriage and in the medium- to long-term slows population growth.

All evidence supports school access for girls and boys on an equal basis. UNICEF in particular has done great work in promoting enrolment of girls in schools. However, girls still account for a much lower proportion of enrolments than do boys – not only in Islamic countries – and often they leave school earlier than their male classmates.

Therefore promotion of basic education must pay particular attention to the situation of girls.

Basic Education is the Core Foundation

Education experts agree that the development of higher competences requires at least five to six years of learning the basic cultural techniques of reading, writing and arithmetic. In too many developing countries, however, the public formal school system cannot guarantee command of these techniques, much less an appropriate secondary education. That is why private sector educational institutions have become more important in some developing countries, including non-formal literacy programmes for young people and adults. This is often a necessary and commendable functional equivalent to public school systems, but in social terms it is not without cause for concern.

The scarcer and more expensive access to education is, the greater the risk that socially disadvantaged groups will be excluded from it. Exclusion of entire sections of a population from basic education is already a reality in many countries, a situation which is unacceptable in the light of the global development goals for 2015. Promotion of education should therefore give priority to capacity building for education planning and service delivery by national governments in order to achieve a minimum of social justice.

After all, the 164 countries represented at the World Education Forum in Dakar in April 2000 committed themselves to realising ‘Education for All’ by 2015. The Dakar commitments – particularly comprehensive basic education, elimination of gender-specific inequalities in the primary and secondary educational sector, and equal educational opportunities for boys and girls – were adopted in the United Nations Millennium Declaration. Thus they are core tasks of international poverty reduction, to which German development cooperation has also made a special commitment (Action Programme 2015). The developing countries are certainly called upon here, but so, too, are the donor countries and institutions which in Dakar pledged that “no country seriously committed to basic education will be thwarted in the achievement of this goal by lack of resources”.

Alarming Figures Spur Education Initiatives

Although in a great number of countries notable successes in school enrolment and improving the quality of primary school education have been achieved, the global education situation is still appalling. Almost one billion people are illiterate. About 130 million of them are children with no access to a formal education system, which means every fifth child of school age. Another 150 million children have more or less no opportunities in life because they dropped out of primary school. Girls are affected disproportionately; their socio-cultural disadvantage begins at home and often continues at school due to poorly trained teachers, molestation and sexual coercion, or inadequate sanitation facilities.

In many places, progress in school enrolment has been nullified by population growth. Therefore in the wake of the Dakar conference Oxfam and other NGOs, as well as UNESCO and other international organisations, rightly demanded greater efforts on education – and finally got a hearing after the World Bank also pointed out alarming trends in World Bank studies showing that almost 90 countries are ‘off track’, meaning they are distancing themselves from the course set in Dakar because they are unable or unwilling to offer children a comprehensive basic education of high quality. In one-third of these countries armed conflicts have disrupted the school system to such an extent that entire generations of pupils are being denied basic education. Therefore ceasefires and peace are also indispensable prerequisites for education. Where favourable general conditions are lacking, the education systems fail, too. Thus a priority development task is to create such conditions - good governance and transparent administrative structures – to be able to guarantee sustainable success in the education sector.

Because progress in basic education is too slow or too isolated to achieve a general change in trend, the World Bank has for the first time set generally recognised benchmarks which are oriented on the good examples of successful developing countries. In an action plan that builds on them, the World Bank has identified 18 countries which have promising and realistic educational planning in place and given external support can be brought on to the Dakar course relatively quickly by means of a so-called ‘fast-tracking’

The German Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul has pledged support for this action plan, which was underpinned expressly by the G8 decisions in Kananaskis last June, particularly since promotion of education plays an important role in the African NEPAD initiative.

At the European Union level, a Council of Europe decision has already committed the European Commission and the EU Member States to greater funding of general education and vocational training in the context of global poverty reduction. Basic education is to be given special promotion as a priority both bilaterally and by the Commission. initiative.

The German Input

The benefit of political support for the action plan meant that all involved were able to agree on what should take place at the autumn meeting of the World Bank. German development cooperation aims to and can well take an active part in implementation:

  • The GTZ and KfW have broad experience in promoting basic education and increasingly combine complementary Technical and Financial Cooperation, whose success has been confirmed by a recent sector evaluation report. Both implementing organisations promote as a priority state educational institutions, but also private sector organisations, which in addition receive support through consultancies and investment in education infrastructure by the German Development Service (DED) and German NGOs.


  • German development cooperation has also proved by many projects – in West Africa, Yemen and Guatemala, as well as under especially difficult conditions in Pakistan with its millions of Afghan refugees – that gender-specific measures in particular contribute to general educational success.


  • Last but not least, German development cooperation brings to bear its weight as one of the biggest donors in the education sector, especially since German spending on basic education programmes will double in the next five years.

Germany will also have to continue to speak up in the decision-making bodies of the development banks and the European Union for greater promotion of basic education – and intensify cooperation with like-minded countries. UNESCO and the World Bank are called upon in their monitoring of progress and results to examine critically whether the newly founded partnership between the industrialised and developing countries will be able to achieve the ambitious goals for basic education by 2015.

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