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The findings > Thematic Studies> Demographic Challenges>Part 1
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1. The role of education in the context of population growth and development
 
Population growth, rising social and economic disparities and concerns about the depletion of natural resources have led to a re-examination of the concept of development against a much broader backdrop than economic growth alone. A more integrated approach to human development is emerging that involves enlarging human choices, ensuring universal access to basic social services, including education and health, and human rights. This broader view of development, stressing investment in people, has been the focus of the recent series of world conferences, all of which, from different perspectives, have underlined the central role of education as a key to sustainable development, peace, the fulfilment of fundamental human rights and the improvement of living standards . This section focuses on the global demographic context in which the expansion of basic education is to take place, examines the relationship between demographic and economic growth in individual countries and considers some of the dimensions of the debate on population, development and education, including the potential impact of education on population dynamics, development and sustainability.
 
1.1 Population growth becomes an issue
 
The world's population has grown rapidly …
 
The current size of the world population is the result of a short and unprecedented period of accelerated population growth. This can be seen when considering that from 1804, when the world passed the 1 billion mark, it took 123 years to reach 2 billion people, while succeeding billions took 33 years, 14 years, 13 years and 12 years, resulting in 6 billion people in 1999.
 
… and half of it is currently under the age of 24.
 
Between 1970 and 1998 the world child population (under 15) increased by 29 per cent, from 1.39 to 1.79 billion. The young population aged between 15 and 24 amounts currently to one billion and about 50 per cent of the world's citizens are under the age of 24. Looking towards the future, projections show that the world population will continue to increase, even if at a slower rate, growing to between 7.3 billion and 10.7 billion by the year 2050, depending on different fertility assumptions, with a figure of 8.9 billion (medium fertility variant) considered to be most likely.
 
Even thirty years ago, in 1970, when the world population was well under four billion and the number of children under age 15 in the world was some 400 million lower than now, education for all would have been a very different enterprise.
 
The recognition of the centrality of education is reflected in the number of international conferences that made significant recommendations concerning education during the 1990s. These include, besides the World Conference on Education for All in 1990, the World Summit for Children held in New York in 1990, the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, the World Conference on Human Rights held in Vienna in 1993, the International Conference on Population and Development held in Cairo in 1994, the World Summit for Social Development held in Copenhagen in 1995, the Fourth World Conference on Women held in Beijing in 1995, the International Conference on Child Labour held in Oslo in 1997, the Fifth International Conference on Adult Education held in Hamburg in 1997, the First World Conference of Ministers responsible for Youth held in Lisbon in 1998, and the Second International Congress on Technical and Vocational Education held in Seoul in 1999.
 
Fig. 1.1: World Population Size, 1750 to 2050: past estimates and projected fertility variants (in billions)
 
Source: United Nations Population Division, World Population Prospects: The 1998 Revision
 
Despite declining rates of growth, the annual population increase remains high.
 
Currently the world population is increasing by 78 million people each year because of the large size of the population of reproductive age, which in turn is due to the high rates of population growth of recent decades. Up to 2010-2015 the world population will have an increase of more than 70 million persons per year and it is only in 2030-2040, according to the scenario based on medium fertility assumptions, that the annual population increment will get back to 46 million, which is the size it had in 1950. However, the rate of population growth, after having peaked at 2.04 per cent in the late 1960s, has fallen to 1.46 per cent per year in 1990-1995, and to an even lower rate of 1.33 per cent per year in 1995-2000 (World Population Prospects, 1999).
 
Fig. 1.2: World population average annual increment and growth rate (medium-variant), 1950-2050
Source: United Nations Population Division, World Population Prospects: The 1998 Revision
 
The average number of children per woman has fallen from 4.5 in 1970-1975 to 2.7 in 1999 but - again - because of the youthful age-structure of the world's population, the slowdown in the average number of children per woman has not yet translated into absolute figures. Although the fertility level in 1995-2000 was 40 per cent lower than in 1970-1975, the world's average annual number of births was 8 per cent higher.
 
Fertility decline over the next decades will be critical in shaping the future size of the world population
 
If fertility declines rapidly over the next decades, the world population would reach a maximum around the middle of the twenty-first century. If fertility declines slowly, the world population will continue to increase substantially far beyond this. The pattern of fertility decline over the next decades is therefore critical in shaping the ultimate size of the world population (United Nations, 1999c).
 
Fig. 1.3: World average annual number of births and total fertility rate (medium-variant) 1950-2050
Source: United Nations Population Division, World Population Prospects: The 1998 Revision
 
Meanwhile, the last quarter of the 20th century has witnessed a remarkable progress in the reduction of mortality at the global level. The average level of infant mortality dropped from 93 per 1000 live births in 1970-1975 to 57 in 1995-2000 and life expectancy at birth rose from 58 years to 65 years, respectively, despite the fact that the tragic impact of HIV/AIDS starts to appear in the statistics and in the 29 hardest hit African countries the average life expectancy is estimated to be seven years less than it would have been in the absence of AIDS.
 
Ninety-seven percent of the world population increase occurs in the less developed countries - which are least prepared to meet the challenge.
 

Even more significant than the rate of growth or the magnitude of the numbers involved, is the fact that ninety-seven per cent of the world population increase occurs in the less developed regions of the world. Every year the population of Asia is increasing by 50 million, the population of Africa by 17 million and that of Latin America and the Caribbean by nearly 8 million. Sixty per cent of the world's population increase is contributed by only ten countries, with 21 per cent contributed by India and 15 per cent by China (United Nations, 1999a).

Differential growth rates lead to a redistribution of the world population among major geographical areas and groups of countries. In the century between 1950 and 2050, the population of Africa is expected to be multiplied by a little more than 9, Latin America and the Caribbean by nearly 5, Asia by 4, Northern America by 2 and Europe by just 1.2. While in 1950, Europe, North America and Oceania accounted for 28.5 per cent of the world population, their share of the world total decreased to 18 per cent in 1998, and will further decline to 11 per cent in 2050. The shares of Asia and Latin America are relatively more stable at approximately 60 per cent and 10 per cent, respectively. The share of Africa increased from 9 per cent in 1950 to almost 13 per cent in 1995, and is expected to grow further to almost 22 per cent by 2050.

 
1.2 Population and development in the international debate
The impact of population growth has become a global challenge.
 
While population growth varies considerably across countries and regions, the impacts of this growth have become a global challenge and consequently demography has taken on a central role in the agenda of international co-operation. Under the auspices of the United Nations five population conferences took place during the second half of the 1900s, from a technical meeting held in Rome in 1954, to the third intergovernmental conference on population and development held in Cairo in 1994, where 180 nations took part in the finalisation of a Programme of Action for the next 20 years. Population issues were already situated in the broad context of socio-economic development by the World Population Plan of Action agreed upon in Bucharest in 1974. Twenty years later, the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development reflected the awareness that population, poverty, patterns of production and consumption and the environment are so closely interconnected that none of them can be considered in isolation: "Sustainable development as a means to ensure human well-being, equitably shared by all people today and in the future, requires that the interrelationship between population, resources, the environment and development should be fully recognised, properly managed and brought into harmonious, dynamic balance" (Principle 6 in Programme of Action, 1994, p. 10). On this same issue, the Programme for the Further Implementation of Agenda 21, adopted in 1997, affirms: "The current decline in population growth rates must be further promoted through national and international policies that promote economic development, social development, environmental protection and poverty eradication, particularly the further expansion of basic education."
 
There is no general pattern in the relationship between population and development…
 
Whether rapid population growth influences the pace of economic development positively or negatively, or indeed whether it is the pace of economic development that influences the rate of population growth, is a question that continues to attract scholarly and popular attention. Causal links between population and development are complex and not easily analysed. These causal links and interrelationships differ between countries so that it is difficult to identify general patterns. Also the level of economic development that a country has achieved prior to the onset of rapid population growth has an impact on the consequences of that growth: in general, the more advanced the level of development, the less the impact of population growth (Psacharopoulos, Rosenhouse, 1999). Moreover, the short- and long-term effects of rapid population growth on development might not only differ but, even, go in different directions.
 
… but on balance slower rates of growth facilitate the economy in developing countries.
 
However, analytical and empirical findings seem to support the conclusion that on balance, slower population growth would be beneficial to economic development for most developing countries (National Research Council, 1986, p. 90). Another question at the centre of the debate is whether economic and social progress is a prerequisite for the demographic transition from high to low rates of mortality and fertility or whether, with current means for birth control and the reduction of mortality rates, demographic change will take place in any case, even in the poorest social groups. As research into demographic transition has developed, it has become clear that there is no single historical pattern. On the contrary, there is a high degree of variation in different situations since modalities of demographic transition are largely dependent on historic and cultural circumstances, with the resulting need to pay greater attention to contextual factors. However social development has been recognised as "an absolute requirement for a genuine demographic transition" given that "a durable reduction in fertility rates requires improved standards of living" (Cosio-Zavala, 1999, p. 97).
 
1.3 The interplay between demographic and economic trends
 
In general, it is where population growth outpaces economic growth, and thus Gross National Product (GNP) per capita declines, and where population growth reinforces social and economic disparities that pressure on economic stability and social cohesion occurs.
 
The world economy has grown much faster than the world population …
 
Taking a global perspective, economic growth and wealth creation in the last century have been spectacular. While over the three centuries from 1500 to 1820, world GDP roughly tripled, during the 170 years after 1820 it increased more than 40-fold (OECD, 1999). Against this background, world population growth seems modest.
 
… but not all people have benefited equally from this.
 
However, there has been much less success in distributing wealth than in creating it - not just across but also within countries, creating new imbalances and problems to be faced.
 
How did demographic and economic trends interact in different countries?
 

It is therefore instructive to examine the way in which demographic and economic trends have played out and interacted in different countries. While population factors cannot account for short-term economic fluctuations, there has been persistent interest in the longer-term economic effects of demographic change. For many years, empirical studies have failed to find evidence of strong or consistent relationships, either positive or negative, between demographic change and subsequent economic growth. However, recent analyses, based on data since the end of the 1970s, have revealed fairly large negative associations between rapid population growth and growth rates of per capita output (Blanchet, 1999). Lately, the predominant view is that slower rates of population growth can buy more time to adjust and can increase countries' ability to attack poverty, protect and repair the environment and build the basis for future sustainable development (United Nations 1999d). The countries examined are the nine high population countries (Bangladesh, Brazil, China, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan) that came together in New Delhi in 1993 to follow up the Jomtien conference and are collaborating with one another and with UNESCO, UNFPA, UNICEF, UNDP and the World Bank in order to achieve the goal of education for all. These countries, which have subsequently been referred to as the E-9 countries, together comprise more than half of the world's population and over 70 per cent of the world's illiterate adults.

Table 1.1, which presents population, fertility rates, contraceptive prevalence and the annual percentage of population growth, reveals that in only two countries, Nigeria and Pakistan, the average woman now bears more than four children during her reproductive years. In the 1960s and 1970s, this was the rule in nearly all developing countries. The other seven countries are at different points in the demographic transition. Each country has had its own unique experience, but all seven appear to be following a common pattern.

 
Table 1.1: Population, TFR, natural increase and contraceptive prevalence, 1998, E-9 countries
 
Country
Population (in million mid-1998)
Total Fertility Rate
Natural increase (% per year)
Contraceptive prevalence (%)
China
1,256
1.8
1.0
83
India
982
3.4
1.9
41
Indonesia
206
2.7
1.5
55
Brazil
166
2.5
1.4
77
Pakistan
148
5.6
2.8
18
Bangladesh
125
3.3
1.8
49
Nigeria
106
6.5
3.0
15
Mexico
96
3.1
2.2
65
Egypt
66
3.6
2.2
48
Source: Chesnais, 1999. Based on Demographic and Health Surveys, 1998.
 
The following charts (Figures 1.4-1.12) present the annual rates of growth of the population, of GNP and of GNP per capita on one scale (1970-1980-1990-1997), thus allowing the comparison of demographic and economic development within countries, and the GNP per capita converted using Purchasing Power Parities (PPP) on the other scale, in order to adjust for price differences across countries, thus allowing to compare levels of wealth across countries (Source: World Bank, 1999 World Development Indicators).
 
Some countries have seen consistent growth in national income that, coupled with decreasing rates of population growth, can translate into higher standards of living.
 
Figures 1.4 - 1.12: Demographic and economic growth in the E-9 countries (1970-1997)
 
 
China appears to be at one extreme. The "one child" population policy that China has sought to apply since the 1970s has been widely implemented in the cities and, to a lesser extent, in the countryside. As a result, total fertility rates dropped from 4.9 in 1970-1975 to 1.8 in 1995-2000. The total population grew from around 800 million in 1970 to over 1.2 billion in the 1990s. However, the annual rate of population growth declined from 2.2 per cent in 1970 to less than 1 per cent in 1998. Over this period China has seen consistent growth of national income although the rate of economic growth has varied somewhat over the years. In 1997 the annual growth of GNP per capita in China (8.47 per cent) exceeded population growth (0.96 per cent) by far. While this has allowed China to raise the average standard of living greatly, not all people have benefited equally from this development: the 20 per cent of the population ranked lowest by personal or family income accrue just 5.5 per cent of national income, whereas the 20 per cent ranked highest accrue almost half the national income.
 
 
The case of India depicts another trend: the decline in fertility also began in the 1970s and has persisted, although at a much lower rate than in China with the consequence that the total population in India grew from 500 million in 1970 to over 900 million at the end of the 1990s. Total fertility rates declined from 5.4 births per woman in 1970 to 3.4 in 1998. From the first Quinquennial Plan launched in 1952, the Indian Government implemented a population policy aimed at reducing the birth rate but limited governmental support and strong cultural resistance to family planning limited the effects of this reform. The global rate of contraceptive prevalence (including the use of traditional methods) remained at just above 40 per cent in 1998. India also had a consistent growth of national income, both when considering the economy as a whole and when measured by GNP per capita. However, income is also distributed unequally, with the lowest ranking 20 per cent of the population accruing less than 10 per cent of national income and 40 per cent of it being allocated to the highest-ranking 20 per cent of the population.
 
 
In Indonesia current fertility rates are lower than in India, with 2.7 births per woman in 1998 and a contraceptive prevalence of 55 per cent. The total population went from some 120 million to 200 million between 1970 and 1997. Annual population growth rates declined steadily from 2.4 to 1.6 during the same period, due to a population policy aimed at limiting the number of children per family to two. Annual rates of GNP growth and GNP growth per capita exhibited an inverse trend going from 7.9 to 8.8 and from 5.4 to 7.0 respectively, between 1970 and 1990. Despite the overall favourable economic and demographic situation, GNP growth and GNP growth per capita dropped in 1997 due to the Asian financial crisis and subsequent political instability. During the 1990s, the lowest ranking 20 per cent of the population accrued 8 per cent of the national income, whereas the highest ranking 20 per cent accrued 50 per cent of it.
 
The total fertility rate in Bangladesh also fell sharply during the last two decades, from 6.6 to about 3.3 children per woman. The annual rate of population growth, as well as the annual population increment, peaked during the 1970s, while it is now well below 2.0. After a decrease of GNP growth and GNP growth per capita around the beginning of the 1980s, the economic growth outpaced the declining population growth during the 1990s.
 
Latin America underwent striking demographic changes between the end of the 1960s and the end of the 1990s, due to the implementation of effective family planning policies. In Brazil, fertility rates were at 4.7 in 1970-1975, while by mid-1998, the average number of births per woman had dropped to 2.5 and contraceptive prevalence had reached a maximum of 77 per cent. The annual rate of population growth halved between 1970 and 1997, declining from 2.5 to 1.3 percent. With the exception of the economic crisis at the beginning of the 1980s, due to the rise of the oil prices and the increase of the cost of foreign debt, the economy has grown steadily, at a faster rate than population growth, resulting in increased GNP per capita. Between 1990 and 1997, GNP growth and GNP per capita growth increased reaching 3.3 and 1.9 per cent, respectively. However, income distribution was and remains highly unequal. The lowest ranking 20 per cent of the population accrued just 2.8 per cent of national income in the 1970s and its share was further reduced to 2.5 per cent in the 1990s. Conversely, the highest ranking 20 per cent of the population accrued 62 per cent of the income in 1970 and this share was further expanded to 64.2 per cent in the 1990s. In this case, the economic crisis that occurred in the region during the 1980s seems to have prevented, at least temporarily, the country from benefiting from the demographic decline. The reduced population growth, however, may be one of the factors explaining the speed and size of the economic recovery during the 1990s.
 
 
At the beginning of the 1970s, Mexico had, among the E-9 countries, the fastest population growth, with an average growth rate of 3.2 per cent and a total fertility rate of 6.5 births per woman. In the period 1995-2000, fertility decreased, on average, to less than 2.8 children per woman and in 1997 population growth dropped to an annual rate of 1.7 per cent. Before the financial crisis that occurred in Latin America during the 1980s, the sharp decline in the annual rate of population growth, which halved during the twenty-seven year period between 1970 and 1997, was coupled with rapid economic growth. Growth in GNP per capita went from 3.9 per cent in 1970 to 5.2 per cent in 1980, before dropping to –8.2 per cent in 1990. However, economic recovery, during the 1990s, was even faster than in Brazil, bringing economic growth rates to an even higher level than in 1980, with GNP per capita growth at 6.3 per cent. Income distribution is similar to that observed in Brazil, with a share of 3.6 of national income for the lowest ranking 20 per cent of the population and 58.2 per cent for the highest ranking 20 per cent of the population.
 
 
In Africa, there are marked sub-regional variations among countries. Fertility reduction in Egypt was gradual, declining from 5.5 in 1970-1975 to 3.4 in 1995-2000. The total population count went from 35 million in 1970 to 44 million in 1980, to 56 million in 1990 and was projected to be 68 million in 2000. The annual rate of population growth started to reverse its trend during the 1980s, going from 2.8 to 1.8 between 1980 and 1997. Economic growth outpaced population growth considerably between 1980 and 1990. Between 1990 and 1997, conversely, following the decade with the highest population change, GNP growth and GNP per capita decreased from 16.7 and 14.1 per cent respectively, to 6.4 and 4.5.
 
In some countries economic development cannot meet the pace of population growth
 
 
Nigeria depicts the situation of Sub-Saharan Africa countries, with a fertility rate that in 1998 was still at 6.5 births per woman and a population growth rate of 2.9 in 1997. The population doubled between 1970 and 1995, going from 50 million to 99 million and, according to the medium-variant projections, will double once again by 2030, reaching 197 million. A decrease in GNP growth and GNP per capita growth corresponded, during the 1980s, to an increase of the population growth rates. Although GNP growth and GNP per capita growth rates increased during the 1990s, they lagged behind the changes in population growth.
 
 
Similarly, with a fertility rate of 5.6 in 1998, Pakistan stands out and its demographic situation resembles that of India and China at the beginning of the 1970s, before the demographic transition commenced. Despite high rates of economic growth during the 1970s and 1980s, it appears that the increase in national income in Pakistan can no longer sustain the fast population growth. Population growth decreased by just 0.6 percentage points in thirty years, while GNP growth and growth of GNP per capita exhibited increasingly negative changes in the period from 1970 to 1997, declining from 11.9 and 8.6 per cent to 0 and –2.4 per cent, respectively. Political instability and the absence of an active family-planning programme may contribute to the explanation of these trends. Income distribution follows the pattern of the countries examined before, with 9 per cent of income accruing to the lowest 20 per cent of the population and 45 per cent to the highest 20 per cent.
 
To sum up, population continues to expand in all developing regions of the world, even if at a reduced pace in most of them. Based on the data of the E-9 countries for the period between 1970 and 1997, population growth and economic growth appear to be interrelated, beyond the influence of global financial events that may explain sudden, temporary drops in national incomes. In countries such as Pakistan or Nigeria, where the rates of growth of the population remain high, economic growth and wealth per capita cannot keep up with the annual expansion of the population. Conversely, countries such as China, Indonesia, Brazil and Egypt, with a population that is growing at slower rates and where the demographic transition is underway, benefit from increasing rates of economic growth and exhibit an increased wealth per capita. However, one of the recurrent issues is that of an uneven distribution of wealth that leaves a consistent share of the population in poverty. Although any conclusion is preliminary in this domain, the evidence presented seems to confirm a negative association between rapid population growth and growth rates of per capita outputs.
 
Concern with rapid population growth has led researchers and policymakers to examine the determinants of fertility change. Among the factors associated with fertility decline are contraceptive prevalence, economic well-being, decline in levels of child mortality, increased education among women and changing marriage patterns.
 
Even if education is only one of the factors involved in the demographic transition, it is one factor that is amenable to change through public policies. Public authorities can, for example, mandate school attendance, invest in school buildings, libraries, public television and radio and indeed, take a whole range of decisions aimed at extending the reach and improving the quality of education. Education, thus, is one of the most effective as well as acceptable means through which policy-makers can intervene with regard to the population problem.
 
Rising levels of education can play an important role on population dynamics …
 
The relationships between education and population dynamics are complex and multifaceted and they evolve over time. The impact of the first over the second includes direct effects on knowledge, skills, values and dispositions, as well as indirect effects such as those on work and life opportunities and the age of marriage. Usually, education does not work in isolation, but as an intervening variable acts through, or in combination with, other variables to affect both population dynamics and development. Yet, both historical experience and empirical evidence suggest that education has the power to influence the process and pace of demographic change.
 
… by reducing fertility rates …
 
Among the most consistent relationships identified by demographic studies is that between the education of women and fertility (Bledsoe, 1999). Aggregate data at the country level show that lower levels of fertility are associated with higher levels of education (United Nations 1973 and 1989). Survey data confirm the finding that better educated women tend to bear fewer and healthier children than women with little or no education. Data from the World Fertility Surveys carried out in the 1970s show that women with seven or more years of education have, on average, 3.9 children at the end of their reproductive lives, while those with no schooling would have 6.9 children, that is, almost 80 per cent more (United Nations, 1987). Similarly, data from the Demographic and Health Surveys carried out in the 1980s and 1990s show that women with no education would have twice the number of children of women with ten or more years of schooling (United Nations, 1995d), although the association has been found to vary in relation to the socio-economic context.
 
In the following chart (Figure 1.13) total fertility rates, that is, the average number of children that women aged 15-49 bear, are plotted against the estimated female adult literacy rates by country.
Source: UNESCO World Education Report 2000
 
Even a simple indicator such as literacy, which measures the ability to access and produce written information as a dichotomous variable rather than a continuum as it is in reality, has proved to be associated with fertility. In almost all countries where 50 per cent or more of women are still illiterate total fertility rates are higher than four children per woman. Conversely, in most of the countries where 80 per cent or more of women are literate women bear on average less than four children.
 
The World Fertility Surveys and the Demographic and Health Surveys suggest the existence of education thresholds associated with a significant reduction in fertility rates. Figure 1.14 shows total fertility rates according to years of education for selected developing countries.
 
Fig. 1.14: Total fertility rates according to women’s years of education in selected countries
Source: United Nations, World Population Monitoring. Selected Aspects of Reproductive Rights and Reproductive Health, Table 22, New York, 1996.
 
When primary education is not completed, there does not appear to be a strong relationship between education and fertility. But the magnitude of fertility differentials by education varies considerably between countries. Peru is an extreme case, with women without any education bearing on average 7.4 children and women with ten or more years of education having an average of 2.5 children. While the impact of education on fertility is less powerful in other countries, the chart shows the tendency for fertility rates to decline as levels of education rise. Kenya illustrates the case found usually in the poorest most illiterate societies with overall high fertility, in which a small amount of education can be associated with an increase in fertility, due to an increased ability of women to give live births, probably because of improved health, better nutrition and the abandoning of traditional patterns of breastfeeding and postpartum abstinence (Cochrane, 1979). Conversely, large differences in fertility rates are always found between women who have completed at least seven years of education and women who have not completed primary education.
 
The hypothesised specific connections between education and fertility have been classified in many ways. One classification distinguishes the effects of education that act on the demand for children and those that affect the supply of children. The first include the desired family size, with more educated couples opting for a small family norm and the acquisition of a style of child-rearing that is relatively costly to the parents, in time and money. The effects of education that act on the supply of children include age of marriage, which is delayed along with increasing educational attainment, increased access to information about family planning, increased knowledge and use of contraceptive methods and consequently a reduced number of unwanted children (United Nations, 1987).
 
… by contributing to the decline of maternal, infant and child mortality …
 
Education also exerts both an indirect and a direct effect on the decline of maternal, infant and child mortality (United Nations, 1998c). In the following chart (Figure 1.15) infant mortality rates, that is, the number of deaths of infants under 1 year of age per 1,000 live births, are plotted against the estimated female adult literacy rates by country.
 
Fig. 1.15: Infant mortality rates and estimated female adult literacy rates by country, 1997
 
Source: UNESCO World Education Report 2000
 
In general, education is associated with higher levels of income that, in turn, give access to safer and more comfortable conditions of life and better nutrition and health care. However, even when health care is available to all, the individuals and families that seek care are those with higher levels of education, (Hobcraft, 1992). By one estimate, a ten percent increase in girls’ primary enrolment can be expected to decrease infant mortality by 4.1 deaths per 1,000, and a similar increase in girls’ secondary enrolment by another 5.6 deaths per 1,000 (UNICEF, 1999). The protective influence of education of the mother continues throughout childhood. One of the most pervasive and consistent effects of maternal education is its impact on the nutritional and health care provided to children. Empirical evidence has shown that the education level of the mother is strongly associated with survival of the children between the ages of six and 60 months (Cleland and Harris, 1998).
 
The results of multivariate analyses indicate that providing mothers with seven or more years of education might be associated in some regions with a 40 per cent decline in overall child mortality (United Nations, 1994).
 
Lower mortality rates, as already noted, are in turn associated with lower fertility rates. Women often cite poor infant survival as a reason for maintaining high fertility, and many studies have confirmed the association between fertility and infant and child mortality.
 
… and by promoting greater gender equity.
 
Education in a broad sense can also help eliminate the tragic situation of "missing girls and women", on which the International Conference on Population and Development focused international attention. There remain many societies in which there is a pervasive tendency for females to be disadvantaged with respect to men (United Nations, 1998c). At an early age, when children are dependent for their survival upon the care and attention of others, this discrimination can prove to be fatal. Education is a means for eroding traditional sex-biased attitudes and encouraging more egalitarian views and more equal treatment of boys and girls.
 
The reduction of high fertility and mortality rates, an egalitarian view of persons of both sexes, as well as the improvement of health and living conditions, are among the so-called "social benefits of education". For a long time, the main argument for justifying education has been based on its direct economic effects. However, progressively, increasing awareness that the effects of education spread beyond direct economic effects to include social benefits for individuals and society at large has developed. "Such benefits include a better way of taking care of ourselves and consequently creating a better society in which to live" (Behrman and Nevzer, 1997, p. 1).
 
Against this background, education and investment in human resources have assumed overarching importance.
 
The Jomtien conference contributed in this process, having marked the emergence of an international consensus that education is the single most vital element in protecting the environment, controlling population growth, combating poverty, promoting human rights and democracy and creating equality between the sexes (Amman Affirmation in UNDP, UNESCO, UNICEF, World Bank 1996).
 
The World Declaration on Education for All is based on the recognition that education "is a fundamental right for all people, women and men, of all ages, throughout the world", "is an indispensable key to, though not a sufficient condition for, personal and social improvement" and "can help ensure a safer, healthier, more prosperous and environmentally healthier sound world, while simultaneously contributing to social, economic and cultural progress, tolerance, and international cooperation". Education as a goal is an outcome of development, while as a means it can be an engine of development and an indispensable tool for improving the quality of people’s lives.
 
The relationship between education and population assumes even greater weight when discussed in the broader context of development and sustainability
 
This dual role of education is also reflected in the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development that defines education as a "key factor in sustainable development", being at the same time "a component of well-being and a factor in the development of well-being through its links with demographic as well as economic and social factors".
 
The notion of sustainable development emerged in the 1980s, drawing the attention to the relationship between social development and economic opportunity on the one hand, and the requirements of the environment on the other. The goal is to improve the quality of life for all, especially of the poor and deprived, within the capacity of supporting ecosystems. Many of the major environmental dangers, as those of global warming and the loss of bio-diversity, as well as the depletion of natural resources, are related to population growth. The link between population and the environment was recognised as far back as 1974 when the World Population Plan of Action adopted by the first World Population Conference in Bucharest pointed at the interrelationship between population, resources, environment and development. Almost twenty years later, the Rio Declaration on Environment in 1992 affirmed that: "States should reduce and eliminate unsustainable patterns of production and consumption and promote appropriate demographic policies" (Principle 8). "If development is to be sustained in the long term, it demands first and foremost that a balance be struck between the world population, its needs in terms of resources of all kind and its environment. It therefore requires that population growth be slowed down, that the population itself be better distributed and that the ecological costs of growth be reduced, particularly by bringing urbanisation under control and by effective management of migration" (Major, 1999).
 
Education serves the pursuit of sustainability in several ways. In general, the role of education is especially important in winning acceptance for new ideas that involve unfamiliar concepts and require unconventional ways of thinking. Education’s role in such undertakings is not only to make people more knowledgeable and better informed, but also more ethical, responsible and critical.
 
Within the macro world of education, population education projects and programmes are specifically focused on population, health and development issues with the general goal "to provide young people and adults with an awareness of the interrelationships between population and development, especially those factors constituting the quality of life" (UNESCO, 1999c). The overarching importance of gender concerns is underlined and the reproductive health education of adolescents is being increasingly addressed. Population education also focuses on urgent problems such as HIV/AIDS, Sexually Transmitted Diseases, Drug and Substance Abuse, smoking and alcoholism. Finally, increasing attention is given to education for sustainable development.
 
Education is more than just schooling and formal training
 
In this perspective, "educating" means more than teaching people to read and write. It means empowering people with the knowledge, skills and dispositions to participate actively in the development process. Education therefore covers not only the learning that takes place in schools, but also the critical acquisition of knowledge, values and attitudes that occur in homes, work places and communities as well as through the mass media.
 
The importance attached to education in the achievement of population and development goals reflects a major paradigm shift in the debate on population and development during the 1990s, with regard to the way population and development policies and programmes were to be formulated and implemented. The shift places human beings and their individual well-being and rights at the centre of all development programmes, addressing population issues through people-centred policies rather than top-down targets.
 
Individual well-being and rights are now recognised as the central focus in addressing population and development issues
 
The 1992 Declaration on Environment and Development stated that it is human beings that are at the centre of concerns for sustainable development and that they are entitled to a healthy and productive life in harmony with nature. Similarly, the Programme of Action of the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development affirmed that the human being is the central subject of development and endorsed a strategy that focuses on meeting the needs of individual women and men, rather than achieving demographic targets. In the same direction, at the beginning of the 1995 Copenhagen Declaration on Social Development, the heads of State and Government acknowledged that "for the first time in history" they had gathered in order "to recognise the significance of social development and human well-being for all and to give these goals the highest priority". They further agreed on the goal of creating a framework for action to "place people at the centre of development and direct economies to meet human needs more effectively".
 
At the end of the 1990s, it was affirmed with renewed strength that human beings as individuals are the ultimate goal of all policies and the improvement of their living conditions is the measure for assessing the appropriateness and success of the implementation of such policies.
 
"Population means people. People means numbers, too. While numbers matter, they do not matter in themselves. Numbers are important because of the effects they have on many elements of the quality of life. It is all too often that people are forgotten in favour of abstract, macroeconomic targets: low inflation rates, balanced national budgets. If population is considered in numbers alone, isolated from the other aspects of life this is wrong in both human and scientific terms. The quality of life of population as people, therefore, should be the central focus of all policy making. (…) Policy regarding population-as-numbers cannot overlook its primary goal – improving the quality of life of population –as-people" (Independent Commission on Population and Quality of Life, 1996, p. 15).
 
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