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World Education Forum To Boost Drive For Education For All
 
  Paris, April 11 - Several countries have proved in the last 10 years that strong political will can make the dream of Education for All a reality. This message is key to the World Education Forum to be held in Dakar, Senegal, on 26-28 April 2000, which will attract some 1,000 national educational leaders.
 
 The World Education Forum is expected to provide the Education for All movement with a new momentum needed to resolve the glaring inequalities in educational provision. A global synthesis report, giving the most accurate and comprehensive picture ever of the state of basic education in the world, will be released at the Forum. "The present situation in education is unacceptable," says Svein Osttveit, Executive Secretary of the Education for All Forum1, an inter-agency body established in 1990 by UNDP, UNESCO, UNFPA, UNICEF and the World Bank. "Governments must tackle education with a new sense of urgency, it is a simple question of getting priorities right."
 
  United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan and the heads of several UN agencies will also attend the conference, along with national and international education policy-makers, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), business leaders, donors and education workers from over 145 countries.
 
 The biggest stocktaking of education in history
  More than 180 countries have prepared for the Forum by participating in the EFA 2000 Assessment, a massive and detailed review of the state of basic education in the world. They reported their findings at six regional meetings in late 1999 and early 2000. The national assessments have been complemented by fourteen thematic studies on educational issues of global concern, sample surveys on learning achievement and the conditions of teaching and learning and twenty case studies. Based on the assessment, the Forum will redefine education strategies, set clear goals and draw up a Framework for Action to meet the basic learning needs for all by 2015.
 
Sharp contrasts

  Although education remains an unfulfilled promise for too many people, some countries have made considerable headway in the last ten years:

  • The number of children in school has risen significantly from 599 million in 1990 to 681 million in 1998.
  • Since 1990, some 10 million more children go to school every year, which is nearly double the 1980-90 average.
  • East Asia, the Pacific, Latin America and the Caribbean are now close to achieving universal primary education.
  • The number of out-of-school children has decreased from 127 million in 1990 to 113 million in 1998.
 
   In Latin America and the Caribbean, for example, the number of out-of-school children has been halved, from 11.4 million in 1990 to 4.8 million in 1998. Countries such as Bangladesh, Brazil and Egypt are leading the way by allocating close to 6 per cent of their gross national product (GNP) to education.
 
  Education, particularly that of girls and women, has proven its effectiveness in China and India, which have made impressive progress towards achieving universal primary education. The same countries, along with Bangladesh, register the strongest decrease in population growth rates, which has facilitated progress.
 
  The number of literate adults more than doubled from 1970 to 1998 from 1.5 billion to 3.3 billion. But while the overall adult literacy rate has risen to 85 per cent for men and 74 per cent for women, illiteracy rates remain too high, especially female illiteracy. At least 875 million adults remain illiterate, two-thirds of them women - exactly the same proportion as 10 years ago.
 
Gender Gap
  The gender gap is a continuing obstacle to Education for All. Some 60 per cent of the world's out-of-school children are girls - a figure which mirrors the two-thirds of adult illiterates who are women. Recognizing the urgency of the problem, the United Nations will launch a new global initiative in Dakar to educate girls. According to UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, "the first step is for societies to recognize that educating girls is not an option; it is a necessity... We need all those with the power to change things to come together in an alliance for girls' education: governments, voluntary progressive groups and above all, local communities, schools and families."
 
Thanks in part to NGOs and community efforts, the number of children in pre-school education has risen by 5 per cent in the past decade, indicating that the idea that education begins at birth has taken root in many societies.
 
Africa and South Asia are the two regions with the longest way to go to achieve Education for All. Persistent poverty, conflicts and the HIV/AIDS pandemic have had profound effects on their education systems. Some African countries devote one third of their national budget to education but several others spend as much on debt repayment as they do on health and basic education combined.
Areas for Action
Although education systems have grown almost everywhere, the results show that quality does not automatically follow quantity. Disparities in educational quality remain considerable, between and within regions. The positive trends in primary education also mask disparity of access within many of the larger countries. People in poor, rural and remote communities, as well as ethnic minorities and indigenous populations register little or no progress. In South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, fewer than three out of four pupils reach grade 5. In the least developed countries, a little over half reach this level and many drop out after the first or second grade.
The situation of teachers needs particular attention, as their status, salaries, conditions of service and training opportunities have seen little improvement in the past decade. However, there can be no Education for All without motivated, competent and committed teachers.
Excluded children and youth need urgent attention. "Reaching children on the fringes of society is a difficult and costly task," according to Osttveit. "Providing them with education is an enormous challenge which needs to be tackled with imagination."
New challenges
New challenges to education emerged in the 1990s: the collapse of Communism in Europe, the revolution in communication and information technologies and growing globalization. Many global trends were not foreseen at the World Conference for Education for All in Jomtien, especially the rapid spread of HIV/AIDS and the proliferation of ethnic conflicts. Priorities must include reaching out with education to HIV/AIDS orphans; offering education to the increasing number of refugees and displaced people; motivating teachers and helping them acquire a new understanding of their role and harnessing the new technologies to benefit the poor. The major challenge for the years ahead will be to provide quality education for all. New partnerships with parents, teachers and community groups will be needed to achieve this goal.
Poverty is the single most important factor explaining the inability to meet target goals set by governments. In a world with 700 million people living in 42 highly indebted countries, the primary goal of education must be to help overcome poverty. It is the most daunting challenge of all.
"National leaders and development agencies must prepare themselves for the fact that attaining the goals of Education for All will require increased financial commitments," warns Osttveit. "They also need to take seriously the fact that existing resources are not being used well."
The new Framework for Action expected to be adopted at the Dakar meeting will call for increased financial commitment to education, with special attention given to sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. "Without renewed political commitment to basic education, Education for All will always be out of reach," says Osttveit. "No country with a vision, a sound education plan and a commitment to Education for All, should be prevented from carrying out its strategy by lack of funds."
 
1The World Education Forum is organized by the International Consultative Forum on Education for All (the EFA Forum) and will be preceded by an international consultation of non-governmental organizations, 24-25 April, also in Dakar. The Forum takes place ten years after the World Conference for Education for All, in Jomtien, Thailand, when 155 governments and 150 organizations set the goal of getting all children into primary school by the year 2000 and reducing adult illiteracy by half.
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