700,000 children in more than 100 countries lobbied their parliaments
last April to make greater efforts to provide basic education for more
than 100 million children left out of school. Participating in the
Education for All Big Lobby, thousands of children - from Chile to
Bangladesh, from Denmark to Mali - called on their legislators to do
more to give all children a chance to go to school.
This event comes exactly
four years since the international community undertook to guarantee
education for all (EFA) by 2015.
Since then a great deal
of progress has been made, if unevenly -- 670 million children are
receiving the first-level schooling they need to continue their
education, or find a job.
But more needs to be
done for the estimated 104 million left by the wayside, blighting
prospects for themselves and for the societies in which they live.
children are strongly concentrated in Sub-Saharan Africa and South
and West Asia, according to the latest Education for All Monitoring
Report, published by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and
Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
Many of the excluded
children -- about 60 percent of whom are girls -- are among
the rural poor. Others include street children, AIDS orphans, children
at work, members of minorities, children with disabilities and those
caught up in conflicts. Young people beyond elementary school age
who have missed out on an education also need help in order to enable
them to catch up.
Experience shows that
removing school fees can cause a dramatic leap in enrolment. So can
providing incentives to needy parents, as Brazil does by paying a
monthly stipend to 10 million poor families. Countries like Niger,
Guinea-Bissau and Bangladesh have markedly improved enrolment by the
simple expedient of offering school meals.
Such measures on their
own are not enough, however, and it is necessary to rethink the concept
of schooling in some circumstances. Children cannot get an
education where there are not enough teachers, either because it is too
expensive to train or pay them or because, as in some parts of Africa,
so many of them are dying of AIDS. Trained teachers are often
unwilling to work in rural areas, and the formal school system often
excludes large groups of children, such as those who work or who do not
speak the official language.
Several countries have
experimented with ways out of this dilemma, and invariably the solution
lies in involving the community.
The Indian state of
Rajasthan provides an example of innovative and flexible thinking.
With the help of the Swedish International Development Cooperation
Agency, regional and national authorities have established an extensive
project of barefoot teachers known as Shiksha Karmi, or educational
The project, launched in
1987, faced initial hostility - particularly from regular teachers, who
could not see how it could provide a quality education -- but has since
proved so successful that many parents prefer the community-based
The Shiksha Karmi
teachers, all of whom are recruited young and many of whom are women,
come from the community and are therefore well-placed to know which
children are left out of school. They undergo 37 days of intensive
training before facing their first class and receive frequent top-up
courses that make them the equal of professional teachers within eight
To ensure high academic
standards, each group of about 15 Shiksha Karmi teachers is supported by
three professional teachers. The schools are tailored to the needs of
the children. To give an example, they offer classes at night for
children who work during the day, and the textbooks are printed in large
type so that they can be read under feeble lighting, while women from
the community provide escorts for girls and help in the schoolrooms.
international organizations, donors and non-governmental organizations
should consider this: all options for learning are apt provided
the quality of education is not compromised, and unorthodox approaches
are worthy of dignity and recognition.
Educating the young -
ALL the young -- today will ensure social and economic development
tomorrow by reducing illiteracy affecting an estimated 860 million
adults. Educating girls, in particular, will have a measurable effect on
health and demography.