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Overcoming hurdles to Education for All in Asia and the Pacific
  Bangkok, 18 January 2000 (EFA Forum) - More than 400 education ministers, experts and non-governmental organizations from 41 Asia-Pacific countries today looked at educational progress in the region and considered ways of moving faster towards the goals of Education For All in the 21st century.
  "The data we have should not just reside in a report. They must be used in planning," Ken Vine, education specialist and Asian Development Bank consultant told the second day of the Asia-Pacific Conference on EFA 2000 Assessment where subregional and national reports revealed the range of challenges before the region.
  The 17 to 20 January 2000 conference is jointly organized by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP).
East and South-east Asia
  Despite "remarkable" progress in education in the last decade, the challenge now is to find ways to reach the unreached, the participants said.
  The region must look at the gender and geographical disparities exposed in country reports and use them to pinpoint other priorities. "The priority seems to be ensuring access for the excluded, especially in primary education," said Lourdes de Veyra of the Philippines.
  Another priority is slashing dropouts and repetition rates. "We're getting children into school but they're not staying in school," Mr Vine said.
  The immediate challenge for Thailand and Indonesia is to repair some of the damage caused by the economic crisis in recent years, officials from these countries said. "Maybe one generation will be lost because of the crisis," Dr Indra Djati of the Department of National Education in Indonesia said. She empasized the role of "social safety nets" such as scholarships for poor students.
South and West Asia
  Home to half of the world's illiterate population, the education scene here presents a grim picture. The biggest problem areas are the overpopulated nations of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh where high levels of female illiteracy, low incomes, geography and social biases continue to hobble efforts towards reducing disparities -- urban and rural, boys and girls, rich and poor.
  South and West Asia has the lowest net enrolment ratio and the largest number of children not completing Grade 5. "The situation may appear depressing'', said Prof. J. Tilak of India's National Institute of Educational Planning and Administration. However, there is a glimmer of hope in the "educational resurgence" being witnessed everywhere; in the "wholehearted concern'' countries have been showing for education, but most of all, in the growing public demand for education, he pointed out.
  Economic constraints, population growth, ensuring quality and tackling inequalities within and among countries continue to be the major challenges for the region, which he described as "an anti-education society in the midst of a pro-education culture."
Central Asia
  Dramatic changes in the region in the 1990s have challenged education systems here which made the EFA 2000 review "a painful exercise", according to Jorge Sequeira, Director of UNESCO's office in Almaty. "There is a growing recognition of the decline in education services due to the economic crunch in Central Asia," he said.
  Public expenditures on education and health in the region's nine countries have plunged to as low as one-fourth of Soviet era levels. Pre-school enrolment has halved. Although the region universalized primary education long before the World Conference on Education for All in Jomtien in 1990, the quality of schooling has been hit by dwindling budgets. "Today, less money is available for maintenance, in-service training of teachers and learning materials," he said, pointing out that in many countries, teachers are paid late or even not at all.
  The session highlighted the need for management reforms and effective evaluation measures. For example, there is little information on primary school attendance.
The Pacific
  Scattered across millions of square kilometres of ocean, Pacific nations will have to use information technology to take education to every household in the remote islands, education ministers and officials said at the sub-regional roundtable.
  "We need to harness the new technology because classrooms are very expensive and the cost of the new technology appears to be declining," the Education Minister of Papua New Guinea, Professor John Waiko. "It is very important that we should not be inhibited by the new technology," he emphasised, asserting that new communication tools like the Internet can make "absolutely certain" that no one in the Pacific is deprived of an education.
  A review of regional achievements shows that while the Pacific nations are spending a much higher proportion of their national incomes on education compared to Asian and African nations, much more needs to be done. Retention levels are still not satisfactory with many students still not staying the full course. "In countries where enrolments rise steeply, survival rates tend to drop," said an expert.
  Coming in for praise was the "huge" role of communities and non-governmental organizations in basic education, specially in Fiji. Creating "new space for civil society engagement in education" is one of the goals that are expected to be set by the World Education Forum to be held in Dakar in Senegal, from 26 to 28 April. The Bangkok conference is one of six regional conferences taking place across the world in the run up to the Dakar conference that is expected to agree on the agenda for basic education in the 21st century.
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