World Education Forum > Speeches >
Dr. Nafis Sadik

Statement by
Dr. Nafis Sadik
Executive Director
United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)

At the
World Education Forum
Dakar, Senegal
26 April 2000
We met in Jomtien 10 years ago with high hopes for our common goal. Set against the highly practical aims agreed in 1990, the last ten years have been a mixture of achievements and disappointments. There has been excellent progress particularly in terms of reducing the rate of illiteracy in the world. But in some countries, the progress made in the 1960s has been limited and in progress in the 1970s has stopped or gone into reverse. Between 1990 and 1995, for example, the gender gap in adult literacy actually widened
There are many plausible reasons for this relative failure. One was simply that the school-age population in the 1990s was the largest in the history of the world and was growing faster than ever before. Countries with the fastest population growth also had the least capacity to find additional resources for education. In many of these countries the burden of debt and structural adjustment has forced education and other social sector expenditures to take a lower place in the national agenda.
It is time now to remind ourselves of the priorities. All countries' experience of development shows the economic value to education. Together with primary health care, education is the foundation of development.
Experience also shows the importance of concentrating efforts on education for girls. As we have heard, girls are two-thirds of young people not in school, and two-thirds of the world's illiterates are women. There are many obstacles to closing the continuing gender gap in education, but none of them are insurmountable. Many of these obstacles are solely in the mind: somehow policy makers, political leaders and even parents, still do not see the overriding need of educating girls.
In many societies, all the benefits for girls and women from education, such as knowing their rights to protect themselves against violence, protect themselves against diseases and unwanted pregnancy, economic empowerment are precisely the reason why these societies/countries consciously or subconsciously have denied girls of educational opportunities. In several countries, the content of girls' education is selective and inclusive only of how to be a dutiful wife or mother.
Education for girls and young women is still treated often as an optional extra - an aim to be pursued when other more urgent needs are satisfied. But there is no more urgent needs than to liberate the human potential and the economic contribution of the half of our young people who happen to be female.
These are of course the reasons why political commitment and leadership will be so important to realizing the goals of education for all, especially of girls.
This also implies the need to build broad-based partnerships that involve non-government organizations, the private sector, the international community and most importantly, governments. There must be on-going consultations with all these sectors in developing, implementing and monitoring EFA plans. This was also the message of the President of Senegal at his opening statement when he said that the way to move EFA forward is to engage every one concerned and to use national assessments as a basis for taking concrete actions at country level.
We must look at education in its totality, linking it with efforts to improve content, quality and life skills. For example, through the education activities it supports, UNFPA aims to contribute to improvements in the quality of basic education through the introduction of new curricula that includes life skills, HIV/AIDS, gender issues, population, reproductive health, family life, and sexuality education. We have also supported training programmes for teachers that help ensure gender sensitivity in the classroom, and programmes to enable them opportunities to acquire skills to positively influence student attitudes and behaviours.
Marriage before the age of 18 is another powerful distinctive to education. It is also a threat to reproductive health. Early marriage often means early pregnancy, which is highly risky for both mother and child; adolescent girls are physically, mentally and emotionally unprepared for childbirth. The risks are well known, yet the practice continues. One of our common aims should be to make early marriage unacceptable, in a social as well as a legal sense; and to promote instead the advantages of girls' education. We must broaden the, minds of parents as well children.
Poverty is frequently offered as a reason for marrying off young girls; but I think a far more powerful motive is the cultural conservatism that assigns no value to girls except as future wives and mothers. A girl's future is often predetermined and her choices and options pr-empted b cultural norms and practices. Culture that deny choices to women and girls must be changed.
Together with positive action to promote gender equality, education and health care empower women to take control of their own destiny. Raising the status and recognizing the diverse roles of women strengthens the family and society, as a whole Education, health and equality are every woman's right.
Over the last 30 years, countries, which have invested in education for girls as part of its education priorities, and as part of an integrated approach to social development, have seen excellent results. As a group, they have slower population growth, faster economic growth and a higher level of social cohesion. It is time for all countries to put aside their doubts and fears about educating women, and give it the highest priority.
None of this is new. Practical experience shows the need and the benefit of education for all. There is and has been for a long time a global consensus on it. The UN conferences of the 1990s, starting with Jomtien, all emphasized education, and all stressed the need to close the gender gap.
UNFPA is committed to the global initiative on girls' education launched by the UN Secretary-General yesterday. This programme will go a long way towards eliminating gender discrimination and gender disparity from educating systems. UNFPA is committed to working with partners in promoting integration of education with development strategies, in partnership with governments, with donors, other members of the UN system, non-government organizations, the private sector, the media and civil society.
This morning's panel discussion is of particular relevance to many developing countries as it addresses the question of resources. This can be addressed from two aspects: through more efficient and effective utilization of existing resources for education, and through mobilization of additional resources.
In terms of the better utilization of resources, first of all schools must be fully utilized and properly equipped, teachers must be held accountable, students provided with the means to attend, and special attention given to gender inequalities and girls; needs. Second, we must encourage creativity and innovation to try new ways of doing things. This could include more and better partnerships with the community in managing its educational programmes and systems, and greater accountability given to the local level. Third, it means that countries must prioritize allocations within the education sector, such as ensuring a proper balance between university education and basic education. In some countries, the greatest share of government budgets is for higher education and basic education is very poorly addressed.
In terms of mobilizing resources, countries must mobilize domestic resources from all sources - - from the government, from the private sector, from NGOs, from the household and from the community. Mobilizing of resources will be easier if parents and communities recognize the importance of education for all their children, both boys and girls.
It is important to assess how resources are shared within the country, as there is a tendency to concentrate resources at the central level, when the need is most critical in rural areas. Relatively, the same amount of resources can go a long way in meeting basic education needs of those in margininalized communities, some of which require only basic teaching and learning aids.
The 20.20 initiative needs t be pursued actively to ensure that the necessary national and international resources are given to critical areas of social development of which education is undoubtedly, the top priority.
We must also encourage greater south-south cooperation and the exchange of wonderful experiences and lessons learned in educational policies and programmes in many developing countries.
We all can benefit a great deal from harnessing the private sector, which is already active in many countries and reaping the profits from, investing in education because people believe that private schools are better managed and ran. WE can definitely learn from the private sector about management principles and how to improve the efficiency of the public sector.
The international community must pledge to help countries that have the right policies and concrete programmes to help achieve the goals of Education for All.
In conclusion, I would like to note that many countries are reaping the benefits of slower populating growth and smaller groups of school-age children, combined with a large group of young people entering the work force. This combination offers countries an opportunity to increase both the quantity and quality of investment in education without sacrificing other priorities.
Global investment in education is as much a necessity for donors as it is for developing countries. There is no way of calculating all the benefits education will bring - but it is clear that failure to invest will cripple human lives and the countries they live in.
There are many problems in achieving education for all and many technical issues to be resolved. But the first necessity for finding solutions is the determination to find them. Education does not offer quick returns on the large investment it demands. Both the return over time is larger than any other, especially when it is combined with other investments, notably in health, in women and in gender equality, and especially in reproductive health. Universal quality education is not only a perfectly practical aim for all countries, it is also a most essential goal for our common future.