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12 May, 2005: Launch of Progress for Children, Istanbul

Maria Calivis, UNICEF Regional Director, launches Progress for Children.
Istanbul, Thursday, 12 May 2005

Minister, ladies and gentlemen

I am so pleased to be here in this marvelous city, Istanbul – a city that has been a bridge between east and west for many centuries, a city that can take pride in being multi-cultural, in being a cradle of civilization. It has long been a centre of philosophy and learning, so it is fitting that we are here to launch a report, Progress for Children, that focuses on education – and particularly the education of girls.

The benefits of girls’ education are beyond dispute. No other investment yields a better return. What other single investment can reduce child and maternal mortality, boost economic productivity, improve health and nutrition and protect girls from abuse, exploitation and HIV/AIDS? Girls’ education is the most tangible and affordable step towards gender equality and, in turn, to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals – the MDGs
This is why I am delighted to share with you this report. Progress for Children looks at how the world is doing on MDG 2 -- universal primary education by 2015 – and MDG 3 – gender equality, including gender parity in education by the end of this year.

The report goes beyond the numbers to look at how we can accelerate progress in education at the regional, national, and especially at the local level. And if there is one country where we are seeing action at all of these levels, it is Turkey. That is why we have decided to have the regional launch of this report for Central and Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States here in Istanbul today.

Progress in Turkey

Poised as it is on the threshold of entry into the European Union, Turkey recognizes the importance of having a well-educated, literate population ready to grasp the opportunities presented by EU membership. The Turkish Government is tackling the issue of girls’ education head on. It recognizes that no other single investment can produce better returns and has shifted its focus and policies to get hundreds of thousands of girls into the classroom.
UNICEF has been working closely with the Government to push for gender equality in primary enrolment by the end of 2005 through the national Girls’ Education Campaign.

It is working. As a result of the campaign, launched in 2003, there are 113,000 more girls in the classrooms of Turkey than there were two years ago. The Government has introduced free text books for all primary school children and cash incentives for the poorest families – with a higher amount paid for girls – on condition that they send their children to school. 

Turkey has come a long way in a very short period of time. But despite the streams of girls going to school for the first time, there are still almost 570,000 Turkish girls missing out on education. The goal is to get another 300,000 girls into school this year, focusing on the 53 Turkish provinces where their enrolment is lowest.

If this can be done, Turkey will be on track to reach the Millennium Development Goal of universal primary education by 2015 That goal is realistic. It is affordable, it is achievable and what’s more, it is our children’s birthright.

Minister Celik, you have been the pillar, the rock, the cornerstone of this campaign, and we thank you. Such leadership is the key to universal primary education.  The challenge before us is to sustain the progress achieved and accelerate efforts in the lagging 53 provinces.  On behalf of UNICEF, I would like to thank you once again Mr. Minister for joining us today and the members of the media, here presents, for keeping the issue alive in your reporting.

Progress in the region

Looking at the rest of this region Progress for Children finds that most countries in the region on track to achieve gender parity in primary education in 2005.

But if we look closer, we find discrepancies. Across this region, the poorest children are 1.6 times more likely to be out of school, and five times more likely to be out of school in Moldova and Kazakhstan. And in Serbia and Montenegro, girls who are poor – particularly Roma girls – have drop out rates that are 80 per cent higher than for boys in the same situation.

There has never been a better time for education investment  and reform, as the region enjoys economic growth and the number of school-aged children declines as populations fall. And UNICEF advocates at the highest level for education reform to meet the needs of children.

Meanwhile, our programmes transform theory into practice on the ground. We support Child-Friendly Schools, for example, in such countries as Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Romania and, of course, here in Turkey. Our aim is to make education exciting, attractive and relevant throughout Central and Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States, so that once children are in class, they stay in class, and they do well.

Progress worldwide

Looking at the global picture, Progress for Children finds that the world has made great strides in primary enrolment. We estimate that 86 per cent of primary-school-age children worldwide are actually in school this year, up from 82 per cent in 2001. It is safe to say that the number of children out of school may have dropped below the 100 million mark for the first time.

At the current rate of progress most countries in the Middle East, North Africa, East Asia, the Pacific, Latin America and the Caribbean are on track to achieve universal primary education by 2015.

But the report also stresses that the rate of progress is too slow. Most countries in sub-Saharan Africa and many in South Asia won’t come close unless they speed up. Without dramatic progress in these countries, it will be impossible to reach the Millennium Development Goal of universal primary education by 2015.

Progress depends on leadership. In every country where progress has been strong, as here in Turkey, it is because leaders have committed energy, creativity, and resources to getting children into school. They know that investing in the education of their populations is a sure road to economic development, better public health, and more capable, active, engaged citizens.

With this report, we call on all countries to treat education as a fundamental human right, not as an optional extra to be added on as and when budgets allow. And we call for more international aid for education. The UN estimates that an extra USD 5.6 billion per year will be required to achieve universal primary education.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the discrimination that keeps girls out of school is not only a threat to national development. It is also a threat to our chances of achieving the Millennium Development Goals. But, as Turkey is demonstrating, this problem can be overcome if the will is there to do so.

Thank you.

For more information:

Angela Hawke, Communication Officer: (+4122) 909 5433, ahawke@unicef.org

 

 

 

 

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