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Education a defense against economic crisis
 
  Bangkok, 17 January 2000 (United Nations Information Services) - The East Asian economic crisis has reminded the region of the vital role of basic education plays as a defense against such shocks in the future, top government leaders and experts told an Asia-Pacific education review conference that opened here today.
 
  The Prime Minister of Thailand, H.E. Mr Chuan Leekpai, in opening the 17 to 20 January Asia-Pacific Conference on Education for All (EFA) 2000 Assessment at the United Nations Conference Centre in ESCAP, said that his government was giving even more importance to education after the recent economic troubles of his country.
 
  The Prime Minister of Thailand, H.E. Mr. Chuan Leekpai will open the 17 to 20 January 2000 Asia-Pacific Conference on EFA 2000 Assessment at the UN Conference Center (UNCC) in the ESCAP building.
 
  The conference will review regional progress in the field of basic education since the landmark World Conference on Education For All, held in Jomtien, Thailand in March 1990. He cited the new education law enacted by Thailand's Parliament some months ago that entitles every Thai citizen to at least 12 years of basic education.
 
  "Due to the importance of our human resources, which is our country's most valuable asset, my Government has been working hard to continue to develop and reform our education system," he told the more than 400 participants from 41 Asia-Pacific nations from Central Asia to the Pacific.
 
  The Bangkok conference is one of six regional conferences taking place around the world in the run up to the global review of progress towards the Jomtien goals that will take place next April in Dakar, Senegal. These conferences will adopt regional action plans that will feed into the global framework for action expected to be adopted by the World Education Forum in Dakar.
 
  The EFA 2000 review for the Asia-Pacific is jointly organized by United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the Economic and Social Commission for the Asia Pacific (ESCAP).
 
  At Jomtien, more than 150 nations pledged to not only make every child complete an elementary education and halve the number of illiterate adults in the world by the year 2000, but to equip youth and adults with the knowledge and skills needed to better the human security of the poorest. The EFA 2000 reviews in Africa, the Asia-Pacific, Latin America, the Caribbean, North America and Europe and the Arab States have been preceded by two years of data collection using a set of 18 indicators and a uniform measurement procedure.
 
  The goals of Jomtien require nations to pay as much attention to quality as to quantity, which experts at the conference said was a basic condition for raising living standards in the region. They compared the fast growing economies of East Asia to low income South Asia to illustrate the point.
 
  Mr Adrianus Mooy, Executive Secretary of ESCAP reminded the meeting that ''many challenges still remain'' despite the gains in EFA in the region. ''The challenge of expanding access to quality basic education to include marginalized social groups, such as the poor, women and girls, and ethnic minorities, still continues to elude us,'' he said.
 
  Kul C. Gautam, Director of the UNICEF regional office in Bangkok commented: "The examples of the more successful countries in Southeast Asia - including Thailand - show that investment in basic education greatly facilitated their rapid economic development. By contrast, much of South Asia languishes in the vortex of poverty due to inadequate investment and poor progress in basic education."
 
  Mr Gautam also cautioned against rising military expenditures in the region since the Jomtien conference. ''But let me remind us of this fact -- since the end of the Cold War, precisely since the Jomtien Conference, military expenditures in the world fell by 30 percent from some US one trillion dollars in 1990 to $700 billion in 1998. But during that same period, military expenditures increased by 27 percent from $95 billion to $130 billion in Asia,'' he said.
 
  Ruth Kagia, Director of Strategy and Operations, the World Bank in Washington told the gathering that the East Asian economic crisis was a "wake up call to the world that development is fragile and that it can be undermined if all its key pillars are not fully integrated."
 
  "Out of this experience has emerged a fundamental rethinking of development which includes the importance of protecting education and health of the poor and vulnerable during a time of economic crisis," she pointed out.
 
  Mr Victor Ordonez, the Director of UNESCO Principal Regional office for Asia and the Pacific said that the nations of the region and international donors would have to spend more and wisely to protect and build on the gains in the Asia-Pacific since Jomtien.
 
  The "pluses and minuses" of post-Jomtien progress have seen the region "outdistancing the rest of the world" in putting more children in school and a dramatic surge in early childhood enrollment. But not enough attention has been paid to retention measure with an unacceptably large proportion of pupils failing to complete the first five years of schooling, specially in the overpopulated nations of South Asia.
 
  Pointing to the "road ahead", Mr Ordonez said that "the house built at Jomtien will collapse" unless it is firmly tethered on the three pillars of management reform of the educational system, improved information and increased financial support to basic education from governments, international donors and communities.
 
  At the same time new and better ways of delivering basic education will have to be found. "More of the same is not our objective, but to find new and better ways of doing the same thing," he said.
 
  Mr Sheldon Shaeffer, chief of education in UNICEF headquarters and member of the EFA Global Technical Advisory Group, said that the ''Jomtien goals stand the test of time'' and urged international donors to meet existing targets for development assistance, increase support for basic education, link debt relief to anti-poverty strategies and develop greater coherence across the education sector and cross-sectorally.
 
 
contact:
United Nations Information Services
Tel: 288 1868/66 * Fax: 288 1052 *
E-mail: unisbkk.unescap@un.org
Press Room of the Asia-Pacific EFA 2000 Conference
Imperial Queen's Park Hotel, Sukhumvit, Bangkok
Tel: 2619000 *
E-mail: efa2000@unesco-proap.org

For further information on the conference please visit our web sites:
http://www.education.unesco.org/efa
http://www.unescobkk.org
 
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