education and population issues
O. J. Sikes
the convenors of the Jomtien Conference first met to plan
the conference, the idea of inviting UNFPA to join them occurred
to no one. After all, why would a population organization
be interested in education issues? But when the agenda for
the conference began to take shape, with inputs from around
the globe, the picture changed. It became increasingly clear
that education issues reach far beyond what some had perceived
as a narrow field. And before the conference was over, UNFPA
was invited to become a member of the Steering Committee of
the International Consultative Forum on Education for All.
interest in education stemmed from its work on population education
in the classroom and outside, in over 100 countries. By 1990,
countries had become very supportive of their "PopEd" programmes.
They saw clearly the importance of preparing adolescents to
understand the significance of population issues for them, their
families and the world. As the decade progressed, the need to
develop in young children respect for others and for the environment,
became increasingly evident. In addition, it became clear that
education, especially for girls, facilitated decision-making
and opened opportunities for choices not previously available
were many follow-up activities to Jomtien, but one of the most
interesting was the launch of the E-9 Initiative in 1993. Three
of the Steering Committee members (UNESCO, UNICEF and UNFPA)
were particularly interested in the education challenges faced
by the nine high-population developing nations and we became
the convenors of the Initiative. We thought that, if the ministers
of education from these countries could share their experiences,
addressing the education problems they had in common, it could
lead to useful collaboration with lessons for other countries
as well. It has been a remarkably successful initiative. While
all heads of state of the participating countries could not
be present in New Delhi for the E-9 launch, all signed on shortly
afterwards and the countries have remained committed.
is not an initiative run by the agencies. The ministers have
taken the reins and have identified the issues to be addressed.
Their most recent proposal was to invite WHO to help them address
the problems of school health. By coincidence, WHO has started
a project on school health, including reproductive health, in
the same countries. As I write, arrangements are being made
to link the two initiatives.
ICPD in 1994 was a landmark
conference in many ways, including its emphasis on education.
This did not happen by chance. The EFA Forum Secretariat played
a major role in ensuring that governments who planned the conference
1) understood the relevance of education for their population
activities and 2) made certain that a full chapter in the ICPD
Programme of Action was devoted to education. The 179 governments
that endorsed the Programme of Action were enthusiastic in their
recognition of the interrelationships between education and
is vital that, in the new millennium, educators and development
planners understand population issues. If population growth
rates continue to decline, developing countries will be in a
better position to direct scarce funds to improving the quality
of education rather than struggling to keep pace with growing
J. Sikes is the Deputy Director of the Latin America and
Caribbean Division in United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).
He was an active member of the EFA Forum Steering Committee
from 1990 to 1998.
about the initiative on the nine
high-population countries (E-9)