Magazine article UN Chronicle

Ending Poverty through Education: The Challenge of Education for All

Magazine article UN Chronicle

Ending Poverty through Education: The Challenge of Education for All

Article excerpt

The world made a determined statement when it adopted the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in 2000. These goals represent a common vision for dramatically reducing poverty by 2015 and provide clear objectives for significant improvement in the quality of people's lives.

Learning and education are at the heart of all development and, consequently, of this global agenda. MDG 2 aims to ensure that children everywhere--boys and girls--will be able to complete a full course of good quality primary schooling. MDG 3 targets to eliminate gender disparity in primary and secondary education, preferably by 2005, and at all levels by 2015. Indeed, learning is implicit in all the MDGs: improving maternal health, reducing child mortality and combating HIV/AIDS simply cannot be achieved without empowering individuals with knowledge and skills to better their lives. In addition, MDG 8 calls for "more generous official development assistance for countries committed to poverty reduction".

The MDGs on education echo the Education for All (EFA) goals, also adopted in 2000. However, the EFA agenda is much broader, encompassing not only universal primary education and gender equality, but also early childhood education, quality lifelong learning and literacy. This holistic approach is vital to ensuring full enjoyment of the human right to education and achieving sustainable and equitable development.

What progress have we made towards universal primary education? The EFA Global Monitoring Report 2008--Education for All by 2015: Will we make it?--presents an overall assessment of progress at the halfway point between 2000 and 2015. There is much encouraging news, including:

* Between 1999 and 2005, the number of children entering primary school for the first time grew by 4 per cent, from 130 million to 135 million, with a jump of 36 per cent in sub-Saharan Africa--a major achievement, given the strong demographic growth in the region.

* Overall participation in primary schooling worldwide grew by 6.4 per cent, with the fastest growth in the two regions farthest from achieving the goal on education--sub-Saharan Africa, and South and West Asia.

* Looking at the net enrolment ratio, which measures the share of children of primary school age who are enrolled, more than half the countries of North America, Western, Central and Eastern Europe, East Asia and the Pacific, and Latin America and the Caribbean have rates of over 90 per cent. Ratios are lower in the Arab States, Central Asia and South and West Asia, with lows of 33 per cent (Djibouti) and 68 per cent (Pakistan). The challenge is greatest in sub-Saharan Africa, where more than one third of countries have rates below 70 per cent.

* The number of children out of school has dropped sharply, from 96 million in 1999 to around 72 million by 2005, with the biggest change in sub-Saharan Africa and South and West Asia, which continue to harbour the largest percentages of children not in school. South and West Asia has the highest share of girls out of school.

The MDG on education specifies that both boys and girls should receive a full course of primary schooling. The gender parity goal set for 2005, however, has not been achieved by all. Still, many countries have made significant progress. In South and West Asia, one of the regions with the widest disparities, 93 girls for every 100 boys were in school in 2005--up from 82 in 1999. Yet, globally, 122 out of the 181 countries with data had not achieved gender parity in 2005. There is much more to be done, particularly in rural areas and urban slums, but there are strong trends in the right direction.

This overall assessment indicates that progress in achieving universal primary education is positive. Countries where enrolments rose sharply generally increased their education spending as a share of gross national product. Public expenditure on education has climbed by over 5 per cent annually in sub-Saharan Africa and South and West Asia. …

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