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EFA partners give their views > O. J. Sikes
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 O. J. Sikes

 

 
Linking education and population issues
By O. J. Sikes
 

  When 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.

 
  UNFPA's 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 to women.
 
  There 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.
 
 This 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.
 
  The 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 population.
 
  It 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 numbers."
 
O. 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.
 
Read more about the initiative on the nine high-population countries (E-9)
 
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