UNICEF Leads Campaign for 69 Million Out-of-School Children

  • by Thalif Deen (united nations)
  • Inter Press Service

'Ending the cycle of poverty for children, their families and their communities begins with education,' said UNICEF's recently-installed executive director, Anthony Lake.

A new report, titled 'Back to School?' by the Global Campaign for Education, says that two of the worst places to be a school child in 2010 are Somalia, long described as a failed state, and earthquake-devastated Haiti.

The countries with the most fragile educational systems are mostly in Africa. But the continent is making progress under trying circumstances, says UNICEF.

The oil-rich West African state of Nigeria, described as home to the largest number of children out of school (8.6 million), is expected to still have some 8.3 million out of school by 2015.

In sub-Saharan Africa alone, some 38 million children drop out of school every year due mostly to economic reasons.

Still, says UNICEF, there is 'commendable progress' in achieving basic quality education for children.

In Tanzania, less than half of all primary school-aged children were in school at the beginning of the decade. But today, nearly all children attend primary school.

India, which recorded about 5.6 million children out of school in 2008, is expected to bring down this number to 750,000 by 2015.

Kenya and Yemen, with about 1.0 million children out of school in 2008, are set to almost halve this number by 2015.

Jasmine Whitbread, chief executive officer of Save the Children, points out that overall, 'Progress has been made in achieving universal primary education.'

'However, donors and states must now focus on education of children living in conflict-affected and fragile states. This is a huge proportion of the 69 million and it's not improving,' she added.

And that's a huge waste of potential that cannot be allowed to continue, Whitbread warned.

'If current trends continue,' Maida Pasic, a UNICEF educational specialist, told IPS, 'as many as 56 million children will not be in school in 2015': the deadline for the U.N.'s Millennium Development Goals, which includes universal primary education.

At a high-level roundtable luncheon sponsored by UNICEF last week, Sheikha Mozah Bint Nasser Al-Missned, chair of the Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development, said what children need are chances.

'And what we need is to take a bold stand - and to ask ourselves hard questions,' she said.

'Are we ready to protect educators in Iraq who are being kidnapped and assassinated? Are we ready to ensure educational supplies are not blocked from students in Gaza? And are we ready to ensure that every child in Afghanistan - girls and boys - going to school are not turned away?' she asked.

'There can be no peace and prosperity without education,' she warned.

She also pointed out that last July, the General Assembly passed a resolution titled 'the Right to Education in Emergency Situations.'

As a result, and for the first time, governments of the world explicitly committed themselves to physically protect educators and educational facilities ('the indicators of our civilization as I see them') at all levels, in times of conflict and disaster.

Al-Missned said the international community must exercise authority under humanitarian and human rights laws to protect educational facilities and educators.

Former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, currently on the High Level Panel for the Global Campaign for Education, has warned that if education budgets are not protected from the ravages of the financial crisis, all the progress made so far could be jeopardised and generations will be condemned to poverty.

Across sub-Saharan Africa, according to UNICEF, government spending on primary education fell from 49 percent to 44 percent.

An estimated 16.0 billion in aid annually is needed to reach the 'Education for All' goals in poor countries. In 2008, poor countries received only 2.0 billion in aid for basic education.

And globally, an additional 10.3 million teachers are needed to meet universal primary education targets by 2015, says UNICEF.

Meanwhile, a joint UNICEF-World Bank School Fees Abolition Initiative (SFAI) is making significant progress in some of the world's poorest nations.

The scheme enables pioneer countries like Ethiopia, Malawi, Tanzania and Kenya, which had taken steps to eliminate fees and other costs, to share their experiences and best practices with countries considering a similar move.

The SFAI provides practical and financial support to these countries and targeted fee exemptions, subsidies and incentives for the poor, knowing that household costs of schooling are a major barrier preventing children from accessing basic education.

To date, over 20 predominantly sub-Saharan African countries, but also others like Haiti and Bangladesh, have their fee abolition efforts monitored and coordinated by SFAI.

Kenya's Free Primary Education (FPE) programme turned out to be one of the success stories in Africa.

In 2003, the Kenyan government scrapped school fees as well as levies that parents used to pay. The impact of the move was instantaneous. The number of pupils in public primary schools increased from 5.9 million in December 2002 to 7.1 million two years later. After having been absorbed into the SFAI framework, Kenya began to train school management personnel and encourage community involvement, significantly lowering drop-out rates.

*Additional reporting by Jennifer Leong.

© Inter Press Service (2010) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service