TO THE WORLD EDUCATION FORUM
MARK MALLOCH BROWN
UNITED NATIONS DEVELOPMENT PROGRAMME
26 APRIL 2000
President, excellencies, honoured guests, ladies and gentlemen,
Mexico, basic education is currently looming as a decisive factor
in the upcoming presidential election: the leading candidate
has promised computers in every elementary school; his opponents
argue that it is more important to think of fixing windows,
providing textbooks and improving the bureaucracy. In the United
States, vice-president Al Gore and Governor George W. Bush have
deserted the traditional campaign trail for the classroom as
they offer competing proposals to revive the country's public
school system. The same debates are being repeated elsewhere.
In every case, politicians are struggling to answer the persistent
cry of parents: who will prepare our children for a new knowledge-based
political leaders first came together at Jomtien a new wave
of political and economic challenges has swept across our world.
But one thing that has not changed over these turbulent ten
years is the critical need for education. If anything, the need
to prioritize Education For All is more morally and economically
urgent than ever. While debates continue to rage over other
development variables there is no argument over the power of
education. Time and again in study after study - and country
after country - well-run education programmes have proven themselves
to be the best value investment for development dollars. From
the Republic of South Korea, where a generation of parents allowed
the state to plow back the sweat of their labour into their
children's education; to my own memories as a first-time visitor
to the United States, taking the Greyhound bus across the country
and seeing that the oldest building in town after town was always
the church or school -- the message is the same : education
a parent in a Kenyan village, a young girl in the alta plano
of Bolivia or a boy in the paddyfields of Thailand: There is
no alternative to education. And that is why we at UNDP are
very proud to be one of the co-sponsors of the International
Consultative Forum on Education For All. And I particularly
congratulate Koichiro Matsuura and UNESCO for their hard work
in the preparation and planning for this very important event.
We also salute our other co-sponsors Carol Bellamy and UNICEF,
Nafis Sadik and UNFPA, Jim Wolfensohn of the World Bank and
our hosts President Wade and the Government and people of Senegal.
many parts of the world we have made enormous progress since
Jomtien. The total number of children in primary school rose
from 599 million in 1990 to 681 million in 1998. But even for
those countries that have met education targets the goal-posts
have already shifted; primary education is not enough. And others
that have faltered are now even farther behind. There are still
113 million out-of-school-children, nearly a billion illiterate
adults, a majority of them women, and severe shortages of qualified
teachers, adequate schoolrooms and teaching materials. At the
same time, education has moved from being the floor on which
a country builds its competitive success to being its competitive
success. Older measures of competitiveness such as labour costs,
resource endowments and infrastructure are being superceded
by human capital. The single most important question for economic
success is now : How smart are your people? Because knowledge
does not respect geography or old economies. Ideas have wings
and in the IT age they fly at the speed of light.
we cannot underestimate the scale of the challenge. And even
as the proportion of Official Development Assistance devoted
to education has remained steady over the past decade, the total
has dropped due to the overall fall in aid flows. At UNDP, that
has forced us to re-think how best to help meet our shared,
overarching goal of helping halve world poverty by 2015. We
must do it, however, within the boundaries of a re-focused organization
that understands and sticks to its comparative strengths vis-à-vis
its international, bilateral and national partners. We are not
an education agency; but we are a governance and, I hope, IT
for development agency with important broader co-ordination,
technical assistance funding and policy functions. And we are
the UN's focal point in the fight against poverty.
in education, UNDP's comparative advantage does not lie in areas
like teachers, classrooms, textbooks or recurrent costs. The
new UNDP must recognize that to be a good leader you also have
to sometimes be a good follower. That means falling behind UNICEF,
the World Bank or others where and when that is needed. UNDP
must stick to its strengths: helping build political support
at the community, national and global levels for education and
promoting the policy choices and institutional growth that lodges
education provision at the centre of a sound national development
strategy. There are seven broad areas -- encompassing good governance
and advocacy, gender and health, and the role of IT in both
basic education and higher education - where I think UNDP can
help do this.
WILL AND GOOD GOVERNANCE
First and most important is getting parents - and in most
countries these days that means voters - angry and involved
in the debate over the state of education. Just go from
one end of India to the other and you can see the difference
motivated parents prepared to thump the school desk to get
the attention of a local educational establishment can make.
UNDP has a very important advocacy role and we have wonderful
tools to use: Through the global and national Human Development
Reports we can work with our local partners help identify
educational disparities and gaps and build policy momentum
to address them. Then with our partners in the UN system
and the World Bank we can - and in many cases already do
-- help integrate education into broader national poverty
eradication strategies. All intended to drive government
ownership of education policy that encompasses political,
legislative, and budgetary action and responds to the insistent
drumbeat of a public demand to educate our kids.
Second, however, we have to recognize that this is not something
that can be driven at a national level alone. The point
about parent power is that it is felt first at the community
level. And not just on behalf of their children; often it
should be to demand vocational training to meet their own
needs - particularly when members of a disenfranchised informal
sector. Shifting responsibility to the local level is the
best way to ensure both implementation and accountability.
In many countries, there are wide regional discrepancies
in education provision -for example here in Senegal, I understand
primary enrollment rates vary from over 90 per cent in Dakar
to under 30 per cent in Diourbel. Often such gaps reflect
in large part the varying strengths of accountable local
institutions, including parent-teacher associations. As
UNDP's new Poverty Report clearly pointed out to bring change
within reach of the poor, you need to use local institutions,
particularly transparent and effective local governments.
This is something that Brazil has managed to do very effectively
over the past decade. To implement a reform process funded
by the World Bank and other partners, UNDP was asked to
support the establishment of financial mechanisms to decentralize
funding to local school councils. In the first mould-breaking
phase of state level educational bureaucracies this sometimes
meant sending cheques straight to Parent-Teacher Associations
or headmasters to get resources to frontline classrooms.
As the reforms progressed we also helped develop an Integrated
System of Education Information that integrated 25 state
databases into a national system. That information has become
a critical tool for the ministry to improve coverage and
targeting of everything from school lunches to textbooks.
Unlike the system in many OECD countries it works in real
time. That is it identifies bottlenecks in the current school
year, not after the fact. Brazil, with a huge school age
population has met the challenge of Jomtien through smart
policy, political commitment - and, I might add, using IT
through distance learning.
Third, we need to maintain international political support
for EFA. This Forum marks one very important way of doing
that. But it also means continually working to ensure that
funds freed up through debt relief and other initiatives
are properly and effectively channeled to education programmes.
At the same time all of us on the governmental and inter-governmental
side need to use partnerships with international civil society
groups like the Global Campaign for Education and Oxfam,
the private sector and the media to keep these issues firmly
on the global agenda. National educational reform must be
rewarded with increased international financial support.
Fourth, is the overwhelming importance of girls'education.
This is - rightly - a major theme of this Forum, and Secretary-General
Kofi Annan has already very eloquently highlighted the scale
of the problem. But it cannot be emphasized enough. Not
only is education the key to lasting gender empowerment:
it can have a dramatic effect on poverty reduction and quality
of life for entire communities. More than 60 per cent of
the children not in school are girls, with the problem particularly
acute in parts of Asia and Africa. That is why the new global
Initiative to educate girls is a test the United Nations
system and its partners must not fail. Working through the
UN Development Group that I chair, UNICEF has taken an important
leadership role on the issue and we are absolutely committed
to the Initiative's broader success.
Fifth, we can no longer isolate the issue of HIV/AIDS and
regard it as simply a health problem. It is also now a potentially
devastating education problem, especially on this continent.
One on level it is decimating already thinly stretched professional
ranks: in some areas as many as one in three teachers are
now affected, exacerbating already serious capacity problems.
On another, education remains our best weapon in combating
the disease through prevention strategies. And as countries
like Uganda and our hosts in Senegal have shown us, integrating
HIV/AIDS issues into education planning is one of the most
effective ways of doing this successfully.
INTERNET AND HIGHER EDUCATION
Sixth we need to recognize and embrace the genuinely transformative
power of the telecommunications revolution for education.
Too many people dismiss the Internet as a tool for rich
countries. They argue that in a world where half the population
has yet to use a telephone, and there are still so many
illiterate adults, it is inappropriate, expensive and ineffective.
But the point about revolutions is that they are revolutions:
they transform all processes they touch from financial transactions
to educational provision. Unlike old telephone systems it
can reach anywhere without an expensive landline infrastructure
and access costs are falling dramatically. Vast pools of
interactive information from textbooks to technology and
instructor support that would otherwise be inaccessible
are being sprung open for the world's poorest. Even now,
at a time when Africa has nearly 10 per cent of the world's
population but just 0.1 per cent of Internet connections,
it can already make a dramatic difference in poor countries.
South Africa's growing - and successful -- experience with
special telecentres for disadvantaged communities is a model
UNDP has been working to help spread elsewhere in the continent.
And that brings me to my seventh and final point, which
is an appeal to keep in mind that while basic education
is an absolutely necessary building block for real success
in this new global knowledge economy, it is far from sufficient.
It is only the foundation for what must be a focus on life-long
learning and skills acquisition. As Mark Twain laconically
observed, I have never allowed schooling get in the way
of my education. Developing countries as a group contain
80 per cent of the world's population but only half its
higher education students despite huge demand and scarce
resources. At the Public University of Kinshasa, as many
as 2,500 students are forced to cram into a single class
in biomedical sciences. At Nairobi Medical School library,
the number of journals have shrunk to 20 from 300 a decade
ago. Restoring higher education is unlikely to be a bricks
and mortar strategy alone; rather expect old institutions'
capacities to be renewed by internet support.
For All has in its decade of life tilted from mobilizing tool
to, at times, the near jeopardy of empty slogan. Dakar is a
time for sober reflection and a bold and visionary re-commitment.
No silver bullets. But with the right mix of sound policies
and sufficient resources, I believe, a goal we now have a real
opportunity to achieve.