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EFA partners give their views > Maris O. Rourke
 Maris O. Rourke
 Angela W. Little
 Judith L. Evans
 Denise Lievesley
 Victor Ordonez
 Clinton Robinson
 O. J. Sikes

 

 
Education For All: Investing in a better Future
By Matis O. Rourke
 

  Ten years ago, governments all over the world made a number of commitments at Jomtien aimed at increasing the knowledge and skills of their populations. Amongst other things, they set the year 2000 as the time by which all their young citizens should be able to complete basic education.

 
  After ten years, we are now looking back to assess what we have achieved, and looking forward to chart our path into the future to reach the goal of "Education for All."
 
  Developing countries have experienced extraordinary progress in education and the social sectors generally in the past three decades - more so than in any prior period in human history. The greatest successes have been in access to schooling. Despite these achievements, major challenges remain: to increase access to education in some countries, to enhance equity, and to improve quality - due in part to the pressure of high population growth. Still, 125 million children aged between 6 and 11 have no access to education as we enter the new millennium. Many more attend school without completing the primary grades, and still others have an educational experience lacking in quality. This has hampered efforts to build up the capacity needed in communities to become informed and competitive, to close the digital divide that separates developing from developed countries, and thereby to reduce poverty.
 
The World Bank and Education
 
 The Bank's advantages in education, as in its other work, include: the global and cross-country knowledge that it can mobilize and bring to bear; the people and expertise it can dedicate to vital and often difficult policy and implementation tasks; and the finance it can assemble from its own and others' resources.
 
  The overarching priority of World Bank support to education is to provide the world's poorest with opportunities for learning. We see the Education For All goals as an important tool for focusing the attention of governments, donor agencies, non-governmental organizations and ourselves on doing this, particularly, for basic education.
 
  At the Jomtien conference in 1990 the Bank committed itself to doubling its lending for education. This goal has been achieved. In absolute terms, education lending has increased from an annual average of $ 918.7 million in the period 1986-1990 to $ 1,910.8 million for 1991-99. In the post-Jomtien period of 1991-1999 an average of 8.2% of the Bank's lending has been directed to education compared to 4.8% of the pre-Jomtien period of 1986-1990.
 
  The World Bank's commitment to Jomtien is further evident in the increased attention that lending for basic education has received. The percentage of basic education to total education lending has risen from 27% in the 1986-90 period to 44% during 1991-99 following Jomtien, due to the Education for All directives.
 

  The World Bank has played a role in education that has been global and focused on long-term results. Its particular contribution in the past decade was in

- improving the world wide collection of educational statistics,
- improving country's evaluation and assessment systems,
- providing significant technical expertise to the EFA Global Technical Advisory Group (GTAG) and development of robust EFA indicators,
- encouraging innovative approaches to delivery of education,
- actively sharing knowledge,
- supporting targeted efforts on improving girls' access to education and
- supporting targeted efforts on improving quality of education in Africa.

 
Partners in Education
 
  Given the present education scenario, governments can be more effective when they work together with NGOs and local stakeholders, with the support of bilateral and multilateral development agencies.
 
  During the past ten years, UNESCO, UNICEF and the World Bank joined hands with governments, donor agencies, and NGOs, to move forward with the goal of education for all. United Nations organizations -- including UNESCO, UNICEF, UNFPA, and UNDP -regional development banks and a range of professional bodies have also pursued this goal with dedication.
 
  The entities involved in education have a wide range of different comparative advantages and strengths, such as strong presence on the ground, good local knowledge and cultural understanding, ready access to global knowledge, special expertise or a unique mandate, the natural authority of being the families and communities most affected, the ability to convene stakeholders, the political power to bring about change, and the capacity to mobilize resources including finance.
 
Technology and Education: The Changing Scenario
 
  Changing technology and economic reforms are creating dramatic shifts in the structure of societies, polities and economies throughout the world. The rapid increase in knowledge, the pace of changing technology and improved communications pose new challenges and opportunities also for education. The technological advances of the years ahead will provide people with virtually unlimited access to information. In the hyper-competitive global market economy, knowledge is rapidly replacing raw materials and labor as the input most critical for survival and success.
 
  The revolution in information technology will provide unprecedented opportunities to change the nature of education itself. New ways to expand access and improve quality - and fundamentally rethink what should be learned and how - will become widely available at affordable costs. The "digital divide" between developed and developing countries is now large, but it does not have to widen since poorer countries can acquire the developed world's technologies at much lower costs than they used to be when they were devised.
 
  The stakes are high. The choices that countries make today about education could lead to sharply divergent outcomes in the decades ahead. Countries that respond astutely should experience extraordinary progress in education, with major social and economic benefits, including "catch-up" gains for the poor and marginalized. Countries that fail to recognize and respond risk stagnating or even slipping backwards, widening social and economic gaps and sowing the seeds of unrest.
 
  Unfortunately, many developing countries are failing to keep pace with external changes and many others are failing to harmonize internal changes. There is a lack of preparedness to face these new challenges and make use of the new opportunities in the field of education. Many, if not most, education systems are built on a nineteenth century model designed for a world then facing the industrial revolution, rather than on a twenty-first century model conceived for a world now in the middle of the knowledge revolution. Also, institutional capacity in many countries, at all levels of government, is too weak to sustain the kind of educational development that is needed to respond to the challenges ahead.
 
  This scenario is partly to be attributed to the socio-political and economic problems of the last decade. In the past few years, economic and financial instability, low prices for developing countries' export commodities, declining levels of development aid, widespread civil wars and steady population growth have multiplied the numbers of those living in poverty. Today, 1.3 billion people, over a quarter of the world's population, survive on less than US$1 a day, often without clean water and with little or no education and health services. Hundreds of millions more people face the constant risk of sinking below the poverty line.
 
  This situation endorses all the more the fact that education is particularly important for the poor, who have to rely on their human capital as the main, if not the only, means of escaping poverty. Education makes a significant contribution to reducing poverty. It confers skills, knowledge and attitudes that increase the productivity of the people which in turn changes their lives and also contributes to the nation's economic growth.
 
   For ten years the World Bank has been an active co-convenor of EFA. While there were some achievements in meeting the EFA goals proclaimed at Jomtien, much remains to be achieved, more so because of the changing demands of the time and socio-political imperatives. The World Bank is committed to working with all partners in ensuring basic education for all and better life free from poverty.
 
 
Maris O'Rourke is Director of Education in the World Bank.
 
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