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Press centre


To the 8th meeting of Ministers of Education in Africa


Dar es Salaam - 3 December 2002

Mr. Chairman, Excellencies, Esteemed Ministers of Education, Fellow Agency Heads, Ladies and Gentlemen:

Let me begin by thanking our Chairman, President Amani Abeid Karuma, for his generosity and hard work as both chair and host of this 8th Meeting of Ministers of Education in Africa. I also want to extend deep appreciation to the UNESCO Director-General, Koichiro Matsuura, for his agency's role in sustaining this annual event, which, over the course of eight years, has emerged as a leading forum for education policy makers from all over the African continent.

Mr. Chairman, the international community's commitment to fulfilling the right of Education for All is strong and it is clear. From the World Education Forum at Jomtien 12 years ago to the Millennium Summit and the General Assembly Special Session on Children, governments have pledged to ensure that every girl and boy not only has access to, but completes, a primary education that is free, compulsory and of good quality. And they have vowed to eliminate gender disparities at both the primary and secondary school level.

Yet a newly published Global Monitoring Report concludes that that we are still far from fulfilling the promise of Jomtien - at a time when educational systems are reeling under the combined effects of HIV/AIDS and armed conflict.

The report found that 28 countries, most of them in Africa, have little prospect of meeting any of the goals relating to school enrolment, gender parity and adult literacy. And some 43 other countries, many African, will likely fail to achieve one or more of these goals.

However, there is some good news. The Report estimates that a total of 83 countries, some in Africa, have either achieved these three goals already or have a good chance of doing so by 2015.

But the Report declared that "almost one-third of the world's population live in countries where achieving the EFA goals will remain a dream unless a strong and concerted effort is made."

An example of what strong and concerted efforts can accomplish is in Afghanistan, where UNICEF and partners like UNESCO and the World Bank have helped the Interim Government put three million children back in school in less than a year. Mr. Chairman, if we can achieve such results amid the political and economic instability of a country like Afghanistan, the question arises: what is stopping us from helping to launch similarly ambitious projects doing the same thing everywhere - especially for countries in Africa?

The lynchpin of all our efforts to achieve Education for All, from Jomtien to Dakar to the Millennium Assembly and beyond, is the UN Girls' Education Initiative, which the Secretary-General launched in Dakar in April 2000 - and which UNICEF is privileged to serve as lead agency.

For as the Secretary-General reminded us in We the Peoples, his groundbreaking Report to the Millennium Assembly, there can be no significant or sustainable transformation in societies - and no substantial or lasting reduction in global poverty - until girls receive the quality basic education that they need - and that is their fundamental right.

Mr. Chairman, we must move now to dismantle the peculiar and deep-rooted barriers that keep girls out of school, or cause them to drop out, or inhibit their performance in school.

Ensuring the elimination of gender disparity in education by 2005 looms as a daunting challenge for many countries. But this is no reason for them and their development partners to ignore or sidestep the 2005 goal in the hope of focusing instead on all-encompassing target year of 2015. The cost of delay is already unconscionably high.

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.

Too many young children are denied the good care that they need to prepare their minds and bodies to learn.

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.

The complexity of the task makes it imperative that the effort be stepped up. For it is increasingly clear that to eliminate gender disparities in education, we must not only address education issues, but issues of early childhood development, nutrition, health, water and sanitation, and child protection.

Eliminating gender disparities in education also means addressing the problem in the context of humanitarian crises as well as development. The instability growing out the HIV/AIDS pandemic, armed conflict and economic deterioration have made humanitarian emergencies in Africa more frequent, more complex and more long-term. But education is vital in addressing the needs of children, whatever their situation. And we cannot ask them to wait for normalcy to return before their right to quality basic education can be fulfilled.

Mr. Chairman, UNICEF is ready to mobilise an across-the-board effort to meet the 2005 goal of eliminating gender disparities in education. It is, after all, the first test of our drive to meet the goals of Education for All and the Millennium Development Goals, and there should be no doubt of our determination.

Moreover, it is a feasible goal. Educators everywhere collectively know what works and how to tackle the difficult problems of providing quality basic education for girls and boys alike. I believe that almost every Minister present here can point to a success story in girls' education, perhaps in small rural communities or in a number of districts or even in a whole province. We need to harvest and build on these gains in the way that Tanzania now plans to do with the innovative programme that some of us visited on Saturday.

For example, the Complementary Basic Education in Tanzania (COBET) programme seeks to provide education for an estimated three million over-aged children and adolescents who are out of school. It was designed and piloted in two districts by UNICEF in partnership with the communities and local government.

I understand that the Government of Tanzania now intends to mainstream this innovation as a means of catering for all over-aged children and adolescents who will not be eligible to enter the school system under the new rules that stipulate age as a condition for entry.

Harvesting and mainstreaming what has worked on a small scale requires major resources as well as the accompanying expertise and experience. This is why we support the fast-track initiative that seeks to make major resources available to some countries. It is welcome news from Brussels that seven countries on the fast track list are to be assisted in this way.

However, we also believe that countries need to be accompanied rather than simply judged in report cards. All agencies need to work with countries as they develop EFA plans, do their PRSPs and, in some cases, prepare their Fast Track proposals.

Most of all, we need to accompany countries in the business of implementation. It is only in this way that we can be true partners, sharing in the credit for success as well as accepting part of the blame for failure. You can count on UNICEF to be there with you at all stages of the process helping get girls and boys a good quality basic education, whether in school or out.

To this end, I am pleased to announce that UNICEF will launch a drive to help 25 of the most at-risk countries eliminate gender disparities in primary and secondary education by 2005. This list of 25 includes 15 countries in Africa - and I have already met with the Education Ministers from those countries over breakfast this morning to discuss the practical steps involved in accelerating progress on girls' education.

This strategy is not just about what UNICEF does in these countries. It is about creating partnerships to accelerate progress on girls' education as a means of achieving the MDGs and EFA goals. To that end, UNICEF has already taken the first steps in joining hands with other multilateral agencies, civil society, the private sector and a strong coalition of like-minded bilateral donors to help these countries eliminate gender disparities in education by 2005.

Mr. Chairman, the children of Africa are the future of Africa - a future in which education can help girls make the most of their abilities; that can provide a means for changing attitudes about violence while promoting equality; and that can put young women on a path to economic and social empowerment.

I ask all of you to join in this effort. By acting now, we can help ensure that girls receive the quality basic education they need to take their rightful place as equal partners in development.

My Friends, let this be the week that all of us, as partners in the movement toward Education For All, took a giant step toward creating a world fit for children - where every girl and boy can develop in health, peace and dignity.

Thank you.



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