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Dakar meeting will reinforce commitment to education for all

Tuesday, 18 April 2000: The world's failure to achieve education for all can no longer be tolerated, UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy said today, ahead of the World Education Forum in Dakar, Senegal,
April 26-28 -- the biggest global meeting on education in a decade.

Copyright© Educational International 2000 United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan and UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy (in beige jacket) at the Global March Children's Rally.

"As we enter the third millennium, more than 110 million children -- almost two-thirds of them girls -- are excluded from schooling," Ms. Bellamy said. "Given that we now have a global economy of $30 trillion annually, this is indefensible."

All children must have access to and complete a basic education of good quality, she emphasized. "Decent quality education is a fundamental human right. If we are to reach the goal of education for all, we must address the underlying causes that exclude massive numbers of children from school and from learning."

Ms. Bellamy urged that five key areas be embraced by the 1,000 representatives of governments, funding agencies, and education and civil society organizations who will agree a framework for action at the Dakar Forum.

  • Enrich early development and learning -- ensure that young children are ready for learning and for life -- they must be nurtured from birth in safe, caring and gender-sensitive environments that enable them to become healthy, well-nourished and secure.
  • Reach excluded children -- get all children into school and help them stay there, including the most disadvantaged -- girls, working children, children of ethnic minorities, children affected by violence and conflict, disabilities and HIV/AIDS.
  • Enhance girls' education -- girls must have full and equal access to, and achievement in, basic education, and all forms of gender discrimination in education must be eliminated.
  • Improve the quality of education -- ensure that schools are ready for children and that children learn what they need to learn for a healthy and productive life. This requires quality teaching, physically and emotionally healthy environments, and relevant curricula.
  • Restore education in conditions of crisis and emergency -- ensure that all children have access to safe, child-friendly spaces for learning -- spaces which can help them return to a sense of stability in their lives. Children affected by HIV/AIDS deserve special effort in this regard.

"If I had only one wish for Dakar," Ms. Bellamy said, "girls' education would become the global action priority of the coming decade. Investment in the education of girls is the foundation of equality between men and women, boys and girls."

Educated girls are less likely to be exploited by their family or social situation, the UNICEF chief noted. "Educated girls tend to marry later and have fewer children. They are more likely to be able to understand important health messages. And children of educated mothers are better nourished and suffer less illness." According to the World Bank, each year of schooling girls receive reduces the under-five mortality rate by up to 10 per cent.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan will deliver the keynote speech at Dakar to launch the UN's system-wide initiative on Education for Girls. Equal access to education is one of the main recommendations of his Millennium Report issued on 3 April, which he hopes will be endorsed by Member States at a Millennium Summit in September. The Millennium Summit is also expected to approve the objective of achieving universal completion of primary school by 2015.

Ms. Bellamy said she hoped the Dakar meeting would re-ignite commitment and action for education that was severely challenged during the 1990s by the HIV/AIDS pandemic, the expansion of armed conflict and unprecedented natural disasters. Growing poverty in many regions of the world has thrust more children into paid and unpaid labour, and development assistance for education has not kept up with urgent demands.

A clear context for UNICEF's goals, according to Sheldon Shaeffer, the agency's chief of education, is the 250 million children presently caught up in child labour.

"Education for all will be a pipe dream until we address the deep poverty which makes child labour necessary," Mr. Shaeffer said. UNICEF is currently involved in a multi-nation effort to provide educational opportunities for children who work. Lessons learned today will be crucial to eventual wide-scale replication of programmes that prove most effective.

UNICEF is involved in hands-on education projects across the developing world. Among current projects:

  • In Chad, the number of girls enrolled in first grade in targeted areas quadrupled between 1997 and 1998. The drop out rate in the same period fell from 22 per cent to 9 per cent.
  • In India gender awareness and improved teacher training are being advanced in 149 districts in 14 states.
  • In northern Iraq, UNICEF has helped renovate more than 300 schools since the beginning of the Oil-for-Food Programme. Throughout the country, the agency is grappling with run-down facilities, a lack of textbooks, a shortage of desks, and an absence of modern teaching methods and adequate teacher training.
  • In Liberia, a UNICEF-assisted project helps 15,000-20,000 over-age war-affected children to gain learning skills in an accelerated fashion.
  • In Mauritania, a "girl friendly" model school has been developed in villages in Guidimagha, a rural region with the lowest girls' enrolment rates in the country. The school is affordable, and has a canteen that provides lunch to the students, sanitation facilities and water, especially for the girls, and gardens to promote learning about agriculture.
  • In Mexico City, the 'Tree House' provides a creative, participatory space for children to learn about their rights and to seek support if their rights are violated. Every day the "Tree House" receives more than 500 children from 3,140 primary schools in Mexico City and the neighbouring State of Mexico.
  • In Zambia, advocacy efforts led to the Ministry of Education allocating 25 per cent of all bursaries to female students at the university level, with the remaining 75 per cent awarded based on equal competition between girls and boys.

The Dakar meeting is a follow-up to the World Conference on Education for All held in Jomtien, Thailand, in 1990. It is convened by five UN agencies -- the UN Development Programme (UNDP), the UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the UN Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA), the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), and the World Bank.

According to Mr. Shaeffer, some progress has been made since Jomtien, but many challenges remain and new obstacles have arisen.

"Too many children are failing to learn in unhealthy, unsafe, and ineffective environments," said Mr. Shaeffer. "Too many young people and adults are still denied access to the skills and knowledge they need to face their future. The cost of such failures in a rapidly changing world is immense and cannot be tolerated any further. The promises made at Jomtien 10 years ago simply must be kept."

"The continuing imperative to achieve education for all is a clear and compelling reason for Dakar," Mr. Shaeffer said.

See also:
World Education Forum: Dakar 2000

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