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Time To Put Money Where Your Mouth Is, NGOs Tell Govts in Mexico
By Marwaan Macan-Markar
Inter Press Service

   
   MEXICO CITY, Apr 25 (IPS World Desk) - Forget empty rhetoric; focus on the bottom line. That, in essence, is what an international coalition of education activists have called for on the eve of the World Education Forum, in Senegal, on Apr. 26..
 
 
   What is more, the Global Campaign for Education (GCE), which heads this coalition, has already released a set of nine demands, five of which deal with the financial issues it has in mind. They clamour for, among others, a commitment by governments to publicly guarantee ''their part of the necessary resources for basic education''.
 
 
  According to the GCE, such a financial commitment, requiring an increase in the proportion of the gross national product (GNP) allocated to basic education, cannot be ignored if the Dakar gathering is to achieve its objective of basic education all over the world by 2015.
 
 
  ''National strategies should include costed and practical steps to address the need to bring high-quality teaching skills and active learning to every public school,'' it added in a statement directed to national education leaders from 180 countries due to attend the three-day conference in Dakar.
 
 
   To do otherwise will result in the Forum ''delivering nothing,'' says Oxfam, a London-based NGO partner of the GCE.
 
 
  According to Kevin Watkins, a senior policy advisor at Oxfam, ''The point of the meeting is not just to talk, but to come up with practical ways of achieving education for all.''
 
 
  What Oxfam wants to avoid is a repetition of the scenario that followed the World Conference on Education for All in Jomtien, Thailand, 10 years ago. At that meeting, 155 countries pledged to provide all children with good quality basic education by 2000.
 
 
 However, as Oxfam revealed in February this year, governments ''shamefully failed to deliver on the commitments they made 10 years ago.'' And a study done by it on the current state of education compelled it to conclude, ''We're a long way off meeting the targets.''
 
 
  Early this month, the GCE spelled out the financial package it had in mind when it launched the Global Action Plan for Education. It estimated that 8 billion dollars will have to be invested annually for 10 years in the developing world to ensure children receive quality education for the first eight years in school.''
 
 
  Governments in the developing countries, it added, will have to raise half of this amount through ''increased resource mobilisation and the redistribution of wasteful public spending, such as military expenditure.''.
 
 
  For that, the GCE expects at least six percent of a country's GNP to be set aside annually for education. Such a figure has been based on the recommendations made by the International Commission on Education for the Twenty-first Century (also known as the Delors Commission).
 
 
  The rest of the funding, declares GCE's plan, will have to flow from the international community. Increased development assistance, in its view, will have to make a substantial contribution.
 
 
 According to its calculations, ''allocating eight percent of aid budgets to basic education would mobilise an additional 3 billion dollars. Currently the share of OECD Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) aid budgets allocated to basic education is only around two percent of the total.''
 
 
  For Sheldon Shaeffer, who heads the education section at the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), the GCE's expectations from developing countries is a ''reasonable'' one.
 
 
  ''As a general guideline,'' he says, ''six percent is widely regarded as a reasonable proportion for allocation to the whole education sector.''
 
 
  He adds, however, that the figure is ''a crude measure'', since it does not reflect the level of the GNP, nor how that expenditure ''is spread across the education sector''.
 
 
 Over the last 10 years, the manner in which Third World governments have invested in education has varied from region to region..
 
 
  Cuba and Costa Rica, for instance, have been setting aside 6 percent of their GNP annually for education, as against Brazil, which has been spending in the neighbourhood of 4.8 percent. But three other countries in Latin America, El Salvador, Guatemala and Peru, have averaged less than 2.5 percent..
 
 
   In Asia, on the other hand, funding ranges from the People's Democratic Republic of Lao, which has allocated as little as 0.5 percent, as against a country like Bangladesh, which has come close to investing 6 percent.
 
 
  According to Shaeffer, South Africa has consistently spent more than 6 percent of its GNP on education. By contrast, Cote d'Ivoire has come close to 4.5 percent.
 
 
  Still, UNICEF believes that for all countries there is a strong case for advocating an increase in funds for education, since there are a number of governments that are ''spending less than 2 percent of GNP on (basic) education.''.
 
 
 And the consequence of that is evident by the number of adults and children who have had no formal education. UNICEF offers one illustration: Nearly a billion people entered the 21st century ''unable to read a book or sign their names much less operate a computer or understand a simple application form.''
 
  And the consequence of that is evident by the number of adults and children who have had no formal education. UNICEF offers one illustration: Nearly a billion people entered the 21st century ''unable to read a book or sign their names much less operate a computer or understand a simple application form.''
  Of that number, close to 880 million were illiterate adults, two-thirds of whom were women, and the rest were illiterate children, 60 percent of whom were girls.
  Oxfam provides more: In Vietnam, 68 percent of families living in poverty are headed by someone with no education; in Peru, about two-thirds of extremely poor families are headed by someone with no education.
  And in Zambia, rural women with no education are twice as likely to be living in extreme poverty as those who have benefited from eight and 12 years of education. .
 

Only through clear commitments, asserts the GCE, can governments transform such a story of failure. What matters, in its view, is the bottom line linking finance to the policies needed to deliver on the promise of education for all.

 

  This article is free of copyright restrictions and can be reproduced provided that Inter Press Service is credited.
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