- 2002-05-16 (Creation)
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This week millions of parents, teachers and children around the world have been calling on their governments to provide free, good quality, basic education for all the world's children. We add our voice to their call.
We know first hand what education can mean to a child: in our own lifetimes we have seen a generation of children armed with education lift up a nation. Neither of us would have been able to take part in the historic events of our countries — the liberation of our peoples from colonialism and apartheid — if we had not been able to draw on the strength of our educations. Education can be the difference between a life of grinding poverty and the potential to lead a full and secure one; the difference between a child dying from a preventable disease and families brought up in healthy environments; the difference between orphans growing up in isolation and the community having the means to protect them; the difference between countries ripped apart by poverty and conflict and access to secure and sustainable development. Education is one of the more effective tools we have to promote prevention of HIV/AIDS and stop the spread of the
In times of peace, education can offer children ways to protect themselves - in times of war it can literally save their lives.
Yet there is an education crisis in the world today. 120 million children — two-thirds of them girls — do not have access to basic schooling. That means one-out-every-5 children will never see the inside of a classroom. By allowing this we are condemning an entire generation to live in poverty and to be excluded from meaningful participation in society. We are allowing the gap between developed and developing countries to be widened and we are perpetuating a cycle of poverty and inequality.
In many developing countries school fees are the barrier to getting children in school. Even in countries where primary education is meant to be free, the cost of buying books, materials and uniforms means that many poor families simply cannot afford to educate their children. In Zambia, sending one child to primary school can cost a family one- fifth of their household income — not surprising then that more than half-a-million children in Zambia are not in school. Governments must do much more to make schooling accessible for all children. On our own continent, Africa, national budgets often do not prioritise the basic needs of children — access to school, health care and clean water. Yet when our priorities and commitments are clear, the response can be tremendous. In Malawi, primary school enrolment soared by 50 percent following the government's decision to eliminate school fees and mandatory uniforms in 1994. Malawi is now one of the few countries in the world with gender parity in primary school enrolment. After primary school was made free in Uganda in 1996, school enrolment increased by 70 per cent. Yet these achievements have highlighted the ongoing struggle for adequate resources to fund education.
Two years ago at the World Education Forum in Dakar, Senegal, governments, donors and funding agencies reaffirmed their commitment to achieving universal primary education by 2015. Developing countries promised to establish education for all (EFA) plans that would include provision for free schooling for primary school children. The international community promised that "no country seriously committed to education for all will be thwarted in their achievements of this goal by lack of resources." Two years on, the reality for many countries is that despite drawing up education plans, they are not receiving the support promised. Pakistan's education minister Zobeida Jalal cites a lack of resources as an "insurmountable barrier to EFA throughout the South Asia region."
The decision by the Netherlands government to commit 135- million euros to help finance education initiatives in developing countries is encouraging — but has been one of far too few attempts to truly implement the EFA commitment. The World Bank recently called for the elimination of school fees, immediate action to increase resources to countries which have education plans and an increase by 3- to 5-fold of donor funding for primary education. And we warmly welcome the Education Initiative announced at the G7 Finance Ministers meeting this month. These are encouraging steps, but we must ensure these policies are acted on — that they do not become the latest set of initiatives that were never implemented.
We live in a $30-trillion plus global economy — we have the resources. Last year the world spent almost twice as much on defence than education — in some regions 4 times as much. An estimated $1-billion is being spent each month on the military actions in Afghanistan alone. To meet global targets for universal access to education, a gap of $2.5 - $5 billion per year must be filled. If we are serious about fighting ignorance, disease, poverty — and building a world fit for our children — we must be as diligent about finding the resources to fund the educational, health and social well-being of our children as we are about finding resources to defend our nations in other ways.
In May 2002, world leaders will be gathering at the UN Special Session for Children. Soon after that eight industrialised countries will meet at the G8 Summit in Canada. Both these events are opportunities to act on commitments already made. We must not let another moment pass by without taking swift and clear action. We must not allow our promises to ring empty.
If we do not achieve the goals for universal education, we are not only failing to meet our commitments as governments, communities and citizens, we are also failing our children. All children — regardless of where they live — have the right to learn.
We must all play our part. Citizens of industrialised countries can hold their governments and donor institutions accountable for their promises to provide the necessary resources to fund universal education. Citizens in developing countries must ensure that their governments have created and put in place strong education plans. Members of civil society groups and the private sector can form partnerships with governments to pump resources into education provision.
Working together we can make the power of education a reality for all the world's children.
Nelson Mandela and Graca Machel are renowned child right advocates. Mr Mandela is former President of South Africa, and founder of the Nelson Mandela Foundation and Nelson Mandela Children's Fund. Building schools is a key activity of the Foundation. Mrs. Machel is a former education minister in Mozambique and founder of FDC, a community- development foundation, a primary function of which is to provide educational support to girls. They are leading the Global Leadership Initiative, part of the Global Movement for Children.