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Press releases > Dakar 26/04/2000
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  Dakar, Senegal, 26 April - United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan launched a 10-year initiative on girl's education at the opening today of the World Education Forum, the largest education conference in the past decade committing more than 180 participating countries to ensure that universal access to quality basic education is achieved and sustained by 2015.
  "Educating girls is a social development policy that works (…) It has immediate benefits for nutrition, health, savings and reinvestment at the family, community and ultimately country level," said Kofi Annan. " It is a long-term investment that yields an exceptionally high return. It is also, I would venture, a tool for preventing conflict and building peace. From generation to generation, women have passed on the culture of peace."
  Statistics released at the conference confirmed that sixty percent of the world's 113 million out-of-school children are girls. "These millions of children are not only being denied something many of us take for granted; they are being denied a fundamental human right spelt out (in) the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child," Mr Annan said.
  In his welcoming remarks to the some 1,500 delegates to the Forum, President Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal noted that "just 0.3% of the delegates to the conference are women (….) women should participate in decision-making." He stressed that "education is about making men and women citizens of their times. We need to prepare men and women who can live in this century. No African child must feel like an outsider in this global village." "There is too much waste and delay on the part of international organizations while we are under pressure by our populations who are expressing their needs in no uncertain terms" said the Senegalese President. He then called for "less reports and more tangible achievements."
   The World Education Forum will, among other things, synthesize the results of the largest, most comprehensive and statistically rigorous stocktaking of education in history. More than 180 countries took part in this two-year Education for All 2000 Assessment, carried out by national teams working together with ten regional advisory groups comprising UNDP, UNESCO, UNFPA, UNICEF, the World Bank, bilateral donor agencies, development banks and inter-governmental organizations.
   The Forum will assess the lessons, achievements and failures in the decade following the 1990 World Conference on Education for All (Jomtien, Thailand). Since the Jomtien Conference -- which brought together education ministers and policy-makers from more than 150 countries -- the number of children in school has risen from 599 million to 681 million from 1990 to 1998, while the number of out-of-school children has correspondingly decreased from 127 million to 113 milllion in that time. However, organizers stress, the quality of education and teacher training has in many cases declined dramatically. Moreover, the proportion of women illiterates - more than 60 per cent of the estimated 880 million adult illiterates - is the same number as 10 years ago. In addition, little progress has been made worldwide to assure basic education for millions of ethnic and linguistic minorities, the disabled, remote and rural dwellers, street children and orphans, particularly post-conflict and HIV/AIDS orphans.
   "AIDS constitutes one of the biggest threats to the global education agenda. What HIV/AIDS does to the human body, it also does to institutions. It undermines those institutions that protect us," said Peter Piot, Executive Director of UNAIDS. He noted that in Zambia, two-thirds of newly trained teachers die of AIDS each year, and that in Côte d'Ivoire five teachers die per week on average, mostly from AIDS. "It is no exageration to say that in the age of AIDS, life skills education is far from a luxury -- it will literally save millions of lives." He said that half of new infections are among young people between the ages of 15 and 24, while pointing to evidence that sex education is an effective preventive tool rather than causing increased sexual promiscuity.
  The Dakar Forum will conclude Friday with the adoption of a Framework for Action obliging the more than 180 participating countries to ensure universal access to quality basic education. The draft Framework puts forward eleven practical and sustainable strategies informed by the experiences of the past and the changing global context of the twenty-first century, which have already been committed to by the international community as a result of six major preparatory regional EFA conferences convened in late 1999 and early 2000. These include a new and greater focus on improving the quality of education, as well as early childhood care, girls education, reaching all others who continue to be excluded from education, as well as assuring that new technologies do not widen disparities in education.
  "Education is too vital to be left alone to governments or states," warned Graca Machel, chairperson of the opening plenary and former Minister of Education in Mozambique. "We must go beyond mandates of one government (….) by 2015 many governments will have changed but education must remain the priority, with the need for mechanisms to monitor progress." She said the major themes of the Forum must be quality, equity as well as education for democracy, along with the need to assure an effective follow-up mechanism.
   Heads of State, education ministers and key decision makers from more than 180 countries are taking part in the Dakar Forum, along with representatives from more than 100 international and grassroots NGOs. Participants representing the United Nations family include Kofi Annan, UN Secretary-General; Peter Piot, Executive Director of UNAIDS; Mark Malloch Brown, Administrator of the United Nations Development Fund (UNDP); Koichiro Matsuura, Director-General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO); Carol Bellamy, Executive Director of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF); Nafis Sadik, Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA); and James D. Wolfensohn, President of the World Bank. The Forum was organized and convened jointly by UNDP, UNESCO, UNFPA, UNICEF and the World Bank, with UNESCO providing the Forum Secretariat.
   At the close of today's opening plenary, more than 1,000 Senegalese school children --organized by the non-governmental coalition Global Campaign for Education-- greeted the UN Secretary-General and called on the Forum to assure universal, quality education for all children around the world.
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