Magazine article UN Chronicle

Education for All: 'What Are You Doing to Provide Us with an Education?'

Magazine article UN Chronicle

Education for All: 'What Are You Doing to Provide Us with an Education?'

Article excerpt

Following their endorsement of an ambitious set of development goals at the turn of the century, over 170 countries will face their first call to account in 2005: have we eliminated gender disparities in primary and secondary education? The 2005 milestone features in the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), as well as in the Education for All (EFA) goals, which were adopted in 2000 by 164 countries at the World Education Forum in Dakar, Senegal.

Although progress varies greatly around the world, the trends are cause for concern and an impetus for bolder action. The Education for All Global Monitoring Report 2003/4 (Gender and Education for All--The Leap to Equality) finds that almost 60 per cent of the 128 countries for which data are available are likely to miss reaching gender parity at primary and/or secondary levels by 2005. Although gender disparities in enrolments are overwhelmingly in favour of boys, in some countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, Europe and the southern States in sub-Saharan Africa they favour girls.

Still, across sub-Saharan Africa, East Asia, the Pacific and Arab States, girls continue to face sharp discrimination. With present trends, two of the world's most populated countries will not reach these goals: India (for both levels) and China (for secondary). Resources to reach universal primary education and eliminate gender disparities fall far short of needs. According to the EFA Monitoring Report, an annual independent publication commissioned by the United Nations Educational. Scientific and Cultural Organization, aid to basic education must more than quadruple to provide an additional $5.6 billion annually to achieve the two goals alone.

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The right to education is accepted internationally and enshrined in major conventions. The Conventions on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (1979) and on the Rights of the Child (1990) contain the most comprehensive set of legally enforceable commitments concerning the rights to education and to gender equality.

When countries comply with these rights, they are also acting in their own economic and social interests. Study after study has demonstrated the positive impact of girls' education on economic growth, health, fertility rates and farm productivity. It is the single most effective preventive weapon against HIV/AIDS. Achieving all the MDG goals--reducing poverty, improving health, sanitation and environmental management--depends to a large extent on gaining the skills to shape the future.

Ensuring that equal numbers of girls and boys--gender parity-are enrolled in schools is only one side of the story. Achieving equality raises more profound questions. Do girls and boys have equal opportunities to attend school in the first place? Do they benefit from fair treatment and positive self-images throughout school? Do they enjoy equal job opportunities and earnings? The EFA Report, drawing on a wide range of international research, explores these multiple dimensions of inequality--at home, in school and society--and identifies policies fit for all children.

The decision to send a child to school is taken in the home. Traditions, poverty and power-sharing in the family can seal a girl's fate. In societies where women are confined to the home and patrilineal principles of inheritance prevail, discrimination against daughters begins early in life. Early marriage, whether to ease a family's burden or secure a daughter's future, most often cuts schooling short. For many households, schooling may simply be too expensive, and when choices are to be made, girls tend to lose out if they have male siblings.

In spite of human rights instruments that commit States to provide free and compulsory education at the primary level, school fees continue to be levied in at least 101 countries around the world. Other costs, such as books, uniforms, transport and community contributions, add to these. …

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