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'Education for All' Goal Eludes Regional Governments
in the Caribbean

By Wesley Gibbings
Inter Press Service

     PORT OF SPAIN, Apr 11 (IPS) - Almost 10 years after the world set itself a year 2000 goal of Education for All -- EFA, to United Nations technocrats -- the target appears as elusive as ever with developing countries almost routinely failing to meet targets.
   Education budgets are down, infrastructural works are badly needed and, throughout regions like Latin America and the Caribbean, there are concerns about high levels of functional illiteracy and the ripple effects of unemployment and poverty.
   In many instances, the construction of more schools has not meant higher levels of education and regional governments are grappling with questions related to the value they are getting for money spent in the system.
   A study by Oxfam, the British-based non governmental organisation (NGO), estimates that as many as 125 million children are currently out of school worldwide while 872 million adults in developing countries are illiterate.
   In Latin America only one out of every three children makes it beyond secondary school, another study by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) reveals.
   Elsewhere in the English-speaking Caribbean things look better with as many as 85 percent of Trinidad & Tobago's young people moving to secondary school. But there are serious concerns about the low levels of functional literacy and tertiary level admissions among schoolchildren in the region.
   Reviews by individual countries, in preparation for the April-end World Education Forum (WEF) meeting in Dakar, Senegal, indicate that though there have been gains in the education worldwide, its ''quality has not kept pace with quantity''.
   This and other assessments and effective strategies which have been discussed at six regional conferences between December 1999 and February 2000 are to be presented to the Dakar meeting.
   ''The EFA assessment process is about learning from the past decade in order to achieve more in the next decade,'' Koochiro Matsuura, director-general of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), explained at the Cairo meeting for the Arab states and North Africa, Jan. 24-27.
   ''We must be realistic in our goals, measure and monitor our progress and, above all, keep a sense of driving ambition,'' he added. Such a tacit admission, that the EFA target has fallen short, is not new.
   At the last Summit of the Americas in Chile in 1998, the Prime Minister of Jamaica, Percival Patterson, had warned that unless more was done for education in the world's poor countries, the ''disparities which now exist between developed and under-developed states'' would only worsen under the new trade regime.
   He said that education needed not just money -- the IDB and the World Bank have extended 8.3 billion dollars in loans for education in the Americas -- but new initiatives.
   The focus should be on developing new strategies for early childhood education, assessments, evaluations and indicators and the development of textbooks and other educational materials that ''incorporate information technology projects and programmes''.
   How much do countries in Latin America and the Caribbean spend on education? Brazil, Costa Rica and Cuba averaged 6 percent annually, while countries like El Salvador, Guatemala and Peru set aside less than 2.5 percent.
   This contrasts with a 9.8 percent public expenditure on education in the United States, 16.7 percent for Mexico and 14.2 percent in South Korea.
   Now the countries in the Americas have pledged to raise more money and to increase the budgetary share for education in order to achieve 100 percent enrollment rate in primary schools by 2010 and 75 percent rate in secondary schools in the same year.
   Current allocations to the social sector, including for education, are nowhere close to the ''20/20 Initiative'' adopted at the 1995 Social Summit in Copenhagen.
   Under the initiative, industrial countries are to devote at least 20 percent of their aid budgets to basic social services, while developing nations are required to set aside about 20 percent of their national budgets in that area.
   Two years ago, the then acting president of the World Bank, Sven Sandstrom, who was speaking in Chile, said Latin America and the Caribbean region have made progress in education goals but ''enormous challenges remain''.
   He listed these as low levels of academic achievement, high rates of grade repetition and lack of access by the poor to quality education which results in unequal education opportunities across social strata.
   Barbados Prime Minister Owen Arthur who has described education as a ''fundamental tool'' said it ''not only underpins our efforts in strengthening civil society but ... will also fuel the diversification of our economies''.
   This, he said, was ''critical to the prosperity and sustainable development of our countries''.
   According to a release from the Dakar WEF Secretariat, the country assessments done so far show ''an accelerated effort to achieve quality education for all, is necessary
   ''Without renewed political commitment to universal primary education,'' it said, ''the global goal set in 1990 of having all children in school will not be achieved.''
   Regional governments hope the Senegal forum will add significant impetus to the process.
  This article is free of copyright restrictions and can be reproduced provided that Inter Press Service is credited.
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