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Eveline Herfkens

Development and education: the Dutch approach in a nutshell
Briefing notes for Minister Eveline Herfkens for Development Co-operation
Dakar, 27 April 2000
Investing in basic education is one of the best ways of reducing poverty. With that in mind, the Netherlands would like to spend more of its development funding on improving primary education. But the Netherlands can't do it alone. Spending more money on education is pointless unless the recipient country itself is serious about achieving education for all by 2015.
Even today, one hundred and thirteen million children have never seen a school from the inside. Sixty percent of them are girls. In developing countries, many children drop out before finishing primary school. In many countries the quality of education is distressingly low and equal opportunity for boys and girls is a long way from becoming a reality. And even today, there are eight hundred and eighty million adults in the world who cannot read and write.
These figures show how far away we still are from our objective of Education for All, a goal we set for ourselves at a major conference in Jomtien, Thailand, in 1990. To achieve that goal we'll need more investment in basic education. Because lack of basic education is one of the most formidable barriers to poverty reduction and sustainable development.
In the year 2015 it shall be a different story. Then every child shall attend - and finish -primary school! In 2015 girls all over the world will have the same opportunities as boys to get a good education and they will be treated as equals. By then, the quality of education will have improved tremendously. Early childhood education and adult education will also have made great progress.
Of course, this progress won't be made automatically. First of all, it will require political will in countries which are still behind in the provision of basic education. Second, it will take money - a lot of money. And the countries in question will have to demonstrate - in their budgets - that they are seriously committed. They should also begin to involve communities and wider civil society in planning and decision making, and acknowledge the responsibility they have for realising the immense contribution education can make to development. If they are seriously committed, donors must not hesitate to open their wallets.
The World Education Forum in Dakar will have to produce a powerful reaffirmation of our educational objectives. Governments, international organizations and NGOs will need to tell what they are going to do to attain those objectives. But words alone are not enough. We need to be clear about how we will implement the measures we agree on, and how we will monitor that implementation.
If a developing country lacks the necessary political will, it won't do much good for outsiders to pump money into that country's education system through its government. That's why the Netherlands does not support the earmarking for basic education in its ODA budget ex ante. A developing country needs to draw up a good plan and have a transparent budget before we'll send a check.
No country committed to achieving the goal of education for all will be unable to do so because of lack of resources. This is the principle guiding the Dutch involvement in the area. Real political commitment of recipient countries is best demonstrated by the amount they themselves spend on basic education. If a country shows it is ready to take action and asks the Netherlands to lend a hand, we are more than willing to help, including through budgetary support.
But support for basic education includes a lot more than just direct Dutch financing in that sector. Many developing countries are struggling under a heavy debt burden. The money governments must spend on debt servicing cannot be used for social investments in their own country. That is why The Netherlands spends hundreds of millions of guilders annually on debt relief . Through the PRSP process in HIPC countries we know that resources that come available through this will be spent on poverty reduction including primary education.
Last year, the Netherlands decided to limit the number of developing countries receiving structural bilateral aid to around 20. These countries were given the opportunity to decide for themselves in what sectors they wanted Dutch support. To date, the following countries have requested support for their education programs: Bolivia, Burkina Faso, Mali, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, South Africa, Mozambique, Bangladesh, Macedonia, the Palestinian Territories and Indonesia.
Many organizations, including Oxfam International and the World Bank, have suggested that a small group of developing countries join together, with the help of a select group of donors, to achieve our educational objectives ahead of schedule, before the year 2015. These countries could serve as guiding lights. The Netherlands is pleased to support this initiative. On the understanding that the recipients take the lead.
Since the conference in Jomtien, the Netherlands has greatly increased the amount of support it gives to basic education in poor countries. Direct expenditure has risen from nineteen million guilders in 1992 to one hundred and fifty-six million in 1999. Lobbyists in the Hague are hard at work trying to get us to increase this figure even further. They should be talking to the recipient countries. The money is available, but we don't give out more than countries ask for.
Once again, our basic principle is that governments themselves must set priorities. That is the only guarantee that additional funding for debt reduction will truly be invested in basic social services. If a country's overall budget is sound, it shouldn't matter to you as an individual donor whether you finance education or debt relief.