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Governments in Asia and the Pacific urged to act on promises
 
  Bangkok, 20 January 2000 (EFA Forum) - Greater political priority and funding for basic education in the Asia-Pacific should be the bedrock for a regional basic education strategy for the 21st century, said an education review conference of these countries that ended here today.
 
  The 17-20 January Asia-Pacific Conference on EFA (Education for All) 2000 Assessment wound up with 41 nations from Iran to the Pacific adopting a draft framework for regional action to ensure quality learning to every child, youth and adult without discriminating between boys and girls, men and women, rich and poor, towns and villages.
 
  The draft action plan adopted today will be debated at the national level before being finalized as a regional EFA strategy, which will feed into global framework for action expected to be adopted at the World Education Forum due to take place in Dakar, Senegal, 26 to 28 April.
 
  While calling on national governments and international donors to demonstrate greater political support for basic education by increased funding, the conference emphasized the need to create a "new space" for civil society. Communities, non-governmental organizations, media, business too must play a key role.
 
  "The lack of resources is often a matter of political will, both within national governments and among international funding agencies,'' said the draft document that advised "both partners" to step up national budgets, development assistance and expedite debt relief for poor nations.
 
  The Director-General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Mr Koichiro Matsuura, who closed the conference, urged Asia-Pacific nations to learn from the review of regional educational progress that preceded the Bangkok conference and show the "political commitment to follow up."
 
  "I am convinced that with this sound policy basis and with renewed vision and commitment, the way is now open for us to shape an educational landscape that meets the needs of the twenty-first century,'' he told the nearly 500 participants. Mr Matsuura was in Bangkok on his first visit to Asia since taking over as the head of UNESCO in November last year.
 
 Non-governmental organizations, which held a parallel forum at the conference too urged governments to hike education spending to at least seven percent of their Gross National Product (GNP). They also urged international donors to "write off debts" of Asia-Pacific nations if regional governments "are willing" to spend a quarter of the debt relief for improving the reach and quality of basic education.
 
  The conference noted the gains and obstacles to the goals set by the landmark World Conference on Education for All held in Jomtien, Thailand in 1990. Mr Matsuura noted that these goals remained valid for the new millennium and asserted that he was "determined to make basic education an absolute priority during my term as the head of UNESCO."
 
  The national progress report cards tabled at the Bangkok conference show that while most children are now in school, a high proportion of them drop out without completing a basic schooling. Girls, especially in rural areas tend to be denied access to schools.
 
  The UNESCO chief, however, added that EFA goals could not be achieved by relying on the traditional school system alone as this leaves out a large chunk of people. "An education system that caters to the most marginalized, that is pro-active on gender issue, that successfully balances the demand for both quantity and quality of provision, is the most reliable signal of a flourishing society," he said.
 
  Echoing a proposal in the draft regional framework action plan, Mr Matsuura said that information technology held the key to taking education farther and wider in the new century. "We can use these technologies to ensure that education does not remain a once-only opportunity. We can use them to forge multiple links needed between formal and non-formal education structures," he said.
 
  The Bangkok conference was jointly organised by UNESCO, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the World Bank, the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) and the Asian Development Bank (ADB). It was one of six regional conferences taking place around the world in the run up to the World Education Forum next April.
 
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