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The State of the World's Children 2004

The right thing to do

© 2003/Progida

Investing in girls’ education is critical to development. Far from depriving other social development sectors, financing girls’ education adds value to their work. It eases the strain on health-care systems by reducing child and maternal mortality, by keeping children healthier and by reducing the incidence of HIV/AIDS. It increases women’s productivity, strengthening the economy in the long term. Supplying safe water and sanitation to schools brings more girls into the classroom and improves the health and hygiene of the community.

The cost is surmountable. The estimated $9.1 billion to $38 billion cost to achieve universal education will be borne mostly by developing countries themselves. By World Bank estimates, the external aid needed between now and 2015 is around $60 billion. This is a considerable sum, but substantially less than the price of large-scale military operations for which, it seems, money can always be found.

The barriers are surmountable. The solutions are tried and tested. What works, however, cannot simply be grafted to existing educational programmes. Girls’ education projects must be designed as such from the start.

There are three clear goals of girls’ education programmes: reducing the number of girls out of school; improving the quality of education for all children; and ensuring progress in learning achievements for all students.

A new paradigm for education

To get and keep girls in school, integrated strategies are required at all levels: family, community, and local and national government. The challenge lies with all government ministers – not just the minister of education.

Seven steps forward

Governments, aid agencies and international institutions must take action to rescue 65 million girls who are out of school. There are seven critical steps:

  1. Include girls’ education as an essential component of development efforts. Core human rights principles must govern economic development and poverty- reduction programmes.
  2. Create a national ethos for girls’ education. Communities must be as scandalized about girls being kept out of school as they are about children being involved in hazardous work.
  3. Allow no school fees of any kind. Primary school must be free, universal and compulsory.
  4. Think outside and inside the ‘education box’. Education in general – and girls’ education in particular – must be completely integrated into each country’s poverty reduction strategy.
  5. Establish schools as centres of community development. Schools and less-formal learning spaces should become centres for education and skills-building as well as for community participation and development.
  6. Integrate strategies. Confronting the multifaceted barriers to girls’ education must occur on three levels: investments, policies and institutions; service delivery; and conceptual frameworks, namely those of the economic and human rights approaches.
  7. Increase international funding for education. All industrialized countries should direct 10 per cent of official aid to basic education and make good on their commitment to move swiftly towards giving at least 0.7 per cent of gross national product in aid, and at least 0.15 per cent to least developed countries. The Fast-Track Initiative led by the World Bank must be extended to cover more nations and guarantee swift funding for their needs.

An unfinished piece of 20th century business

The world must focus its attention on the 2005 target date for girls’ education or the Millennium Development Goals will go unrealized. It is the 21st century; time to finish last century’s business.

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