16 April 2002 - In a world where global economic prosperity is increasing, about 113 million primary age children are not in school, nearly 60 per cent of them girls. Some 24 million of those enrolled drop out before completing 5 years of primary education, a level essential for basic literacy and numeracy. Children of previous generations who never entered or completed school are today's 850 million illiterate adults. Here, too, the majority are females. Denying this many people access to knowledge and the benefits of the global economy is a great danger to world peace and prosperity
New obstacles confront us. In Africa for instance there are about 13 million AIDS orphans for whom the prospects of receiving any kind of education are dim, unless they can benefit from targeted interventions. The disease is also killing off teachers, leading to widespread absenteeism and debilitating entire education systems. Some countries are losing more teachers every year to AIDS than the number they are gaining in new recruits. In the absence of a cure, education remains the best defense against the pandemic.
Today, out of 155 developing countries, 36 have achieved universal primary education and 31 are likely to reach this goal by 2015. At current trends, some 88 countries are unlikely to guarantee five years of primary education for all children by 2015.
Yet there is growing consensus that the goal set in Dakar two years ago - that of providing quality basic education for all by 2015 - is both feasible and affordable . The commitment taken in Dakar was reaffirmed at the Millennium Summit, which was signed by 147 heads of State and Government. Education for All is a core objective of the Millennium Development Goals. We are committed to achieving that goal. Our approach consists of helping countries close four gaps: the policy gap, the financing gap, the information gap and the capacity gap.
Governments have the responsibility of providing basic education for all. Access to basic education is a fundamental human right. Millions of people legitimately expect to have access to quality education, but public investments and policy reforms have not always been adequate or appropriate. This policy gap is unacceptable, for we know that political commitment is the key. Countries like Brazil, Eritrea, the Gambia, Guatemala, Malawi, Nicaragua and Uganda have registered improvements of 20 percentage points or more in primary completion rates in less than a decade. Uganda has set 2003 as the deadline for putting all primary school-age children in school. Improving the lives of tens of millions of children is now within reach if only the collective political will can be mustered. Countries will need to make suitable policy reforms such as, adopting longer and more flexible school years, making teacher recruitment and management more responsive to communities, expanding the use of local languages, investing more in textbooks and other learning materials, and, last but not least, eliminating school fees.
Such reforms have a price. Estimates of additional external financing for primary schooling alone run from just under $5 billion to over $10 billion annually. But these figures assume that countries will direct more of their own resources to education and use them effectively. Nevertheless, a financing gap will persist for cash-strapped nations. As the cost of filling this gap becomes clearer, the donor community will have to face up to its responsibility. Pledges have been made. These promises must now be translated into significant additional support to EFA.
The two years since Dakar have provided invaluable insights into what works in education. But an information gap still persists at all levels. While new technologies are creating the age of world networks, ushering in unprecedented opportunities, many countries are still excluded from these networks. In some countries, lack of good data on learning achievement or on workable policies is weakening planning efforts. Roughly 70 per cent of developing countries are reported to lack the management and statistical information required to plan their EFA agendas effectively.
We are committed to help countries build national capacity to meet the education for all challenge. Planning for EFA offers the opportunity to facilitate more inclusive and participative processes that engage civil society and local communities. Improving the learning environment and making a difference in the classroom calls for better training, deployment and working conditions for teachers.
Of the challenges facing education for all, achieving gender equality is one of the most acute. Girls tend to meet more hurdles on the road to education than boys, and are often doubly disadvantaged when they belong to poor families or ethnic minorities, or live in rural areas or conflict zones. Yet, educating girls is a most effective way of achieving economic growth and social well-being. Governments must step up their efforts to overcome the various obstacles which keep girls out of school. We are committed to promoting gender equality and will make this a particular focus, in line with the goals set for 2005, to ensure that structural barriers are removed, appropriate policies put in place and real reforms take root.
Let us never forget the central role education plays in promoting equitable and sustainable development. Basic education provides young people with the skills they need to make the right choices and live responsible and healthy lives. Governments must commit themselves to ensure that learning promotes positive human values, celebrates diversity and enhances inter-cultural dialogue.
We pledge to continue to work together to help close these gaps and to assist developing countries in formulating and funding their EFA strategies. Experience since Dakar suggests that only by working together concretely can we successfully support poor nations in their struggle to achieve education for all. Examples such as the United Nations Girls' Education Initiative (UNGEI) and the UNAIDS education programme for HIV-prevention lead the way.
We are all enormously encouraged by the outcomes of recent meetings of international financing institutions. There now seems to be a new international concensus around enchanced and well-coordinated financing for EFA this year. In response, we are determined to work with countries on practical strategies and measures to make EFA a reality. Together, we pledge to do whatever it takes and toexplore or create any new avenues required to ensure that this happens. Partnership remains the key to education for all.