Eastern/Southern Africa improved its NE/AR by an average 0.9 per cent a year between 1980 and 2001 – the second highest rate in the world. But it will require a massive rate of increase of 2.75 per cent per year if universal primary education is to be realized by 2015. In 2001, the region had only 62 per cent of primary-school-age children in school and, despite its relatively small population, accounted for 19 per cent of the world's total number of children out of primary school.
The region includes countries that are within touching distance of universal primary education, such as Mauritius, Seychelles and South Africa (all well over 90 per cent in NE/AR). At the other pole though, are Eritrea (42.9 per cent of children in school), Ethiopia (30.6 per cent) and Somalia (an unimaginable 10.8 per cent).
In many countries of the region, progress towards the goal of education for all has been massively disrupted by HIV/AIDS.
Yet some countries in the region have showed strong political will and made universal primary education an absolute priority – most notably by abolishing school fees and other charges.
Malawi's abolition of fees for primary education in 1994 stimulated enormous demand from children. In the United Republic of Tanzania in 2002 the abolition of school fees caused primary school enrolment to jump from 1.4 million to 3 million; in Kenya in 2003 it boosted numbers by 22 per cent in the first week alone. Uganda's offer of free primary education to the first four children in each family has also proved popular and successful.
Countries making such bold policy decisions deserve the extra encouragement and funds that debt relief and increased aid can provide. They have demonstrated to the rest of the developing world what is possible in the push towards universal primary completion.
Gender parity remains a vital issue in the region, despite UNICEF projections for 2005 showing the net attendance of girls and boys to be level at 65 per cent. Girls' participation in school increased by an average of 0.5 percentage points a year over boys' during the period from 1980 to 2001.