Centre de presse
To the World Education Forum
Dakar, Senegal, 27 April 2000
Mr. President, Distinguished Delegates:
I am very pleased to join you for this vitally important gathering.
Ten years ago, in Jomtien, the international community proclaimed its commitment to a broad and forward-looking vision: a world where Education for All was no longer a cherished dream -- but a living reality.
A decade later, we have moved some steps closer to that world. But we are still far from fulfilling the promise of Jomtien -- and we face new and daunting obstacles, especially the devastation of the HIV/AIDS pandemic.
The cost of delay is already unconscionably high.
Too many young children are denied the good care that they need to prepare their minds and bodies to learn.
Too many school-age children are still excluded from education, while others are consigned to environments that discourage real learning -- environments that are unhealthy, unsafe, ineffective, and unfriendly to girls.
And too many young people and adults are still denied access to the knowledge and development of skills they need to build a better future.
Mr. President, education is the right of all children -- and the obligation of all governments, its primacy proclaimed by agreements ranging from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Jomtien Declaration on Education for All.
Education is a key to the fulfilment of other human rights. It is the heart of all development. And it is the essential prerequisite for equality, dignity, and lasting peace.
As the late President Julius Nyerere of Tanzania reminded us, education is not a way to escape poverty -- it is a way of fighting it.
Ensuring the right of education is a matter of morality and of justice. It is also a matter of economic common sense, for in this new and information-driven century, the world simply cannot afford the loss of so much human potential.
But unless we act now, more and more children will grow up uneducated, illiterate, without skills, without hope.
Mr. President, delay is no longer acceptable. The commitments made at Jomtien must be kept.
Yet quality basic education for all will not happen without strong measures: strong national leadership, strong political commitment, generous financial support -- and an all-out attack on poverty, inequality, discrimination and exclusion.
It is an effort that cannot succeed without the active support of all sectors and levels of society -- families and communities, governments and funding agencies, service providers of all sectors, the media, the private sector, and civil society.
That is the universal commitment we seek here in Dakar. A commitment which we believe is achievable and will be achieved. Our confidence is based on the strong partnership of our colleague agencies (UNESCO, UNDP, UNFPA and the World Bank), the critical and stimulating support of the NGOs, and the positive response of the governments.
UNICEF has been mandated by the Secretary-General to develop a series of Future Actions for Children, actions that will be presented for endorsement at a Special Session of the General Assembly late next year.
A major part of these actions relate to the educational needs of children at all age levels, from birth through adolescence. What can we do -- what must we do -- to ensure that these needs are met, and that the promise of Jomtien is finally fulfilled?
There are five essential actions:
The first is to ensure that all young children are ready for school and for life -- that from birth they are nurtured in safe, caring, and gender-sensitive environments -- in families and communities, child care programmes and pre-schools -- that help them become healthy, alert, secure, and able to learn.
We know so much more now than we did 10 years ago about the critical nature of the first few years of a child's life, when good care is crucial in promoting survival, growth, and later development.
That is why, Mr. President, we must promote national mobilisation campaigns and more comprehensive policies and programmes that meet the health, nutritional, and developmental needs of young children -- especially the poorest and most marginalised.
At the same time, we must ensure that there is good care not only for young children but for their mothers -- who often have no voice, limited access to resources, no legal protection and no respect.
We must also involve fathers in the care of young children.
And we must ensure that children are breast-fed and have access to unpolluted air, safe drinking water and uncontaminated food -- that they live where there are adequate sanitation facilities -- that girls and boys are treated equally -- that their environments are safe, healthy and protected -- and, above all, that they have time and space to play, to interact with others, to learn, and to be loved.
Distinguished Delegates, responsibility for good care lies not only with care-givers, families and communities, but with ministries of education.
At a minimum, ministries of education must ensure that early childhood education programmes are designed around principles of good care -- and that every education programme targeted at adolescents and young parents includes essential facts and skills needed for parenting.
The second essential action is to ensure that all children not only get into school, but stay there, at least to the age of 15, in order to acquire a basic education -- and provide good quality "second chance" education opportunities for adolescents and youth who have never been in school.
In doing this, we must focus on the needs of those most disadvantaged and excluded from learning, both in and out of school -- girls, working children, children of ethnic minorities, and children affected by violence and conflict, disabilities, and HIV/AIDS.
We can achieve this in part through social mobilisation campaigns, national enrolment days, and parent education programmes.
We must also ensure that every school and community has a mechanism in place to seek out and find excluded and at-risk children and get them into school. Where needed, we must develop more flexible, "non-formal," targeted approaches to education for these children.
And we must recognise that getting the last 5 to 30 per cent of children into school is likely to require more innovative approaches -- and be more expensive -- than the first 70 to 95 per cent.
Above all, we must stop labeling excluded children and their families as the problem when the capacity and quality of schools and education systems are also a factor.
Mr. President, Education for All will remain a dream until we address the deep poverty that keeps children out of school and often makes child labour necessary.
Unless the 250 million children presently caught up in child labour are provided with meaningful and affordable educational opportunities of quality equivalent to that provided their more fortunate peers, we are wasting strategic human resources and perpetuating poverty in the next generation.
The third essential action is to ensure that girls have full and equal access to, and achievement in, basic and secondary education.
It is a global scandal that the vast majority of the more than 110 million school-age children not in school are girls.
Mr. President, unless this problem is addressed forthrightly and across the board, the drive to achieve Education For All will surely fail.
Girls' education is a proven 'best investment' for human, social, and economic development. But most importantly, it is every girl's right -- and to forget this is to imperil our global future.
This is why the United Nations Initiative on Girls' Education that was launched by the Secretary-General on Wednesday is so important. There must be an all-out global effort to crack this major impediment to EFA -- and UNICEF is pleased to be playing a key leadership role in this effort.
This is also why the goal addressing gender issues in the Framework of Action we are now debating is so important. This Framework must single out girls' education as a priority.
We must aim for socialisation of girls and boys in a culture of non-violence and respect for each other's rights, inherent dignity, and equality.
We must strengthen accelerated basic education and additional education opportunities for adolescent girls.
And we must eliminate all forms of gender bias and discrimination in education systems and schools, in curricula and learning materials, in teaching and in learning processes. Given the experience of the last decade and more, we know how to do this. As one example, we must ensure that schools are located where girls can reach them safely and that every school has separate and functioning latrines for girls and boys.
For all these ends to be met, a fourth essential action must be taken. Just as children must be helped to be ready for school, we must make sure that schools are made ready for children.
Systems must provide relevant curricula and adequate learning materials for literacy, numeracy, and education on issues such as human rights, gender equality, health and nutrition, HIV/AIDS, and peace. These materials must be gender-sensitive and in languages that teachers and children can read and understand.
Teachers must be well-trained to use flexible classroom arrangements, child-centred methods, and life-skills approaches so that children can participate actively and think critically. In every school the best teachers should be put in the earliest grades so that children get the possible start.
Schools must have adequate hygiene and sanitation facilities, needed health and nutrition services, and school policies which guarantee physical and mental health, safety, and security.
And above all, children must end up learning what they are meant to, and need, to learn. Schools must have practical ways to assess these results and report on them for all to see: parents and communities, as well as national governments.
A further aspect of quality is important as we enter the new century. Every useful application of new technology must be harnessed for education, and government policies must ensure affordable access for all young learners.
Both new and old technologies, such as Internet connectivity and radio instruction, must be used more creatively to reduce, rather than increase, disparities in access to quality learning. We appeal to technology innovators to use their skills and financial gains to help us ensure education for all, not just for the privileged few in any country. Let us encourage "service providers" in the new technologies to join with us to ensure that real and affordable opportunities are provided for young learners in all countries.
The fifth essential part of education in the new century is that in a world more and more fraught with conflict, violence, and instability, we must ensure that in any context of crisis, learning gets going again -- and quickly.
In such a context, the school can be a sanctuary, a child-friendly place where children can find a zone of peace and a sense of normalcy that is so important for their well-being.
In many countries, most recently in Kosovo and East and West Timor, experience has shown that the restoration of education requires the rapid assessment of the educational and psycho-social needs of children, the provision of essential supplies and materials, the promotion of local governance and partnerships in restoring education, and the support of relevant and rapid curriculum and teacher development. Where necessary, the entire education system may sometimes need to be re-constructed -- and this demands the help of all of us.
Most urgently, children affected by HIV/AIDS deserve our immediate attention. We must ensure, with creative and dynamic life-skills programmes that both transmit information and change behavior, that education has an impact on the pandemic -- on decreasing the rate of the transmission of the virus.
But we must also act to decrease the impact of the pandemic on education -- on the demand for, supply of, and quality of education -- and on educational systems, schools, and learning.
Mr. President, we must come to grips with the calamitous effects that the AIDS virus is having on communities and institutions, including educational systems, and find ways to mitigate its impact as much as humanly possible.
In parts of Africa, it has been estimated that 30 per cent or more of teachers and teacher educators are HIV-positive and likely to die within the decade; that as many as 40 per cent of senior education managers may be ill and dying; and that vast numbers of children are becoming orphaned.
We must also once again acknowledge and act on the fact that HIV/AIDS is having an especially great impact on the education and well-being of girls.
Mr. President, Distinguished Delegates: There is no single solution to increasing access to education and improving its quality. Rather, there are thousands of proven local and national solutions. And that is why we must continue -- in tandem with governments and ministries, schools and communities -- to identify the gaps that remain in achieving Education for All, and to design concrete actions to achieve it.
In doing so, we must start with the absolute essentials -- children able to learn, teachers able to teach and knowing what to teach, and with schools available, affordable, and welcoming to children and to their parents.
We must ensure sustained and adequately funded programmes -- recognising that reaching the unreached with education of good quality is labour-intensive, time-consuming, and costly, but a good and necessary investment.
In this regard, UNICEF strongly endorses the statement in the draft Framework that states that "no country seriously committed to basic education will be thwarted in the achievement of this goal by lack of resources."
We and the whole of the international community must redouble our efforts to ensure that Education for All plans and programmes are never again without adequate support.
It is in this connection that UNICEF calls on donor countries, within the context of the HIPC initiative, to accelerate the forgiveness of debt. Such debt should be forgiven immediately for countries that have a viable Education for All plan that can be seen as a proxy for a Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper.
Mr. President, over the past decade we have learned many lessons about what works. We have put structures in place and achieved successful results in many countries. Now is the time to use these solid foundations to build for Education for All for the future.
Confirm our commitments, accelerate progress, achieve the goals -- these are the imperatives that we, as partners in the movement toward Education For All, must follow as this new century unfolds.
Ten years after Jomtien, let us see to it that the future begins here and now, in Dakar.