Panel 6 - The education age, past due
The sights and sounds of learning are unmistakable and unforgettable. Children's voices swell and subside animatedly, as the teacher guides, encourages and supports the questioning and discussion, drawing everyone in and inviting their participation. Faces are intent, minds engaged, reticence overcome and equality encouraged. Ideas are shared and opinions and differences are respected.
A good school releases more energy than any laboratory with all its chemical and physical transformations. Education - more than any other single initiative - has the capacity to foster development, awaken talents, empower people and protect their rights. Investing in education is the surest, most direct way a country can promote its own economic and social welfare and lay the foundation for a democratic society.
Yet for far too few children is school as exciting and energizing as it could and should be. And millions more have no chance to attend any school at all: worldwide, more than 130 million school-age children are out of class. So while steam and atomic energy have lent their names to eras of human advance, the powerful age of education has yet to dawn in much of the world.
The best hope for garnering these benefits and ushering in the long-delayed age of education is child-friendly schools. Gaining momentum since the World Conference on Education for All, held in Jomtien (Thailand) in 1990, the child-friendly school movement is driven by the challenge of enrolling all children in primary school, matched by that of keeping them there. Improving the quality of education is crucial if the relentless economic, social and cultural pressures to drop out are to be resisted. This is particularly true for girls, who represent nearly 60 per cent of all children not enrolled in school, in violation of their right to education and a loss of talent and capacity that no society can long afford.