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Education for All - Not a Distant Dream, But a Reality within Reach

Press Release No:96/05HCD
Contact: Samuel Rachlin (202) 473-7229
David Theis (202) 473-1955

WASHINGTON, June 10, 1996 All regions of the world have experienced significant progress towards education for all in the past five years despite recession, debt burdens and continued population growth opening the prospect of the 1990s as the decade of educational recoveryin contrast to the 1980s, when educational decline was the prevailing trend.

The number of children in primary school in developing countries has gone up by 50 million in the past five years, from 496 million in 1990 to 545 million in 1995. Four out five children aged 6 to 11 go to school. At the same time, the number of school-age children who work in factories and fields or live on the streets is declining.

A statement cosigned by World Bank President James Wolfensohn and the directors of UNESCO, UNDP, UNICEF and UNFPA points out that this progress demonstrates that education for all is achievable and can become a reality within a few years. But despite the encouraging developments there is no room for complacency as long as more than 130 million children are still out of school. Some 77 million of these children are girls, and these numbers are expected to increase unless there is a coordinated international effort to ensure education for all children.

As a follow-up to the World Conference on Education for All that was held in Thailand in 1990, the World Bank and the UN agencies are convening a meeting of the 155 participating governments to review progress towards education for all in the past 5 years. The meeting takes place in Amman, Jordan from June 16 -19, 1996, under the guidance of the International Consultative Forum on Education for All and will examine the results of a worldwide review of progress in the education drive since the 1990 conference.

"The news about the progress is indeed encouraging, but we must all be aware that there is still a long way to go," says Armeane M. Choksi, Vice-President for Human Capital Development, who will be representing the World Bank at the Amman meeting. "We are on the right track, but we must continue to invest in peopleand especially in education of children if we want to preserve the momentum."

As the world's largest single provider of funding for education in developing countries, the World Bank comes to the Amman meeting with a firm commitment to continue its support for education. The Bank provides $2 billion a year for education and has given basic education the highest priority because it is so critical for economic growth and reduction of poverty. Education increases the productivity of the poor by providing them with the skills they need to participate in the labor market. A farmer with four years of basic education has a much higher productivity than one without education. Furthermore, in the poorest groups, people with basic education have reduced fertility rates and better health.

As part of its contribution, the Bank plans to increase lending for education by about 20 percent to $2.5 billion a year over the next five years with special attention to girls' education. Nearly half of all Bank education programs are targeted specifically to girls.

At the UN Conference on Women in Beijing in September 1995, Mr. Wolfensohn emphasized how education can eliminate gender inequalities particularly when special attention is given to girls' education. He defined a new goal: achieving universal primary education by year 2010 and having 60 percent of all girls and boys attending secondary school. To support girls' education, Mr. Wolfensohn committed the World Bank to allocate $900 million per year for girls' education.

According to World Bank estimates, per capita GDP levels would increase by one third to one half by 2035 if developing countries could ensure that all girls complete primary school by year 2010 and an equal number of boys and girls enter secondary school. It would cost about $3 billion annually to eliminate educational discrimination in the developing world. This is less than one quarter of one percent of developing countries' GDP.

The governments participating in the Amman meeting are facing serious challenges as they try to cope with problems in education.

  • The number of 6-11 year old children not in school is likely to increase to 145 million in 2000 and 162 million in 2015.
  • A large group of children, one third or more in many developing countries, do not complete primary education.
  • Many of these children will join the 885 million illiterate adults, most of whom are women.
  • Secondary education is accessible to only 17 percent of children in Sub-Saharan Africa.
  • More than 273 million 12-17 year olds are out of school, and 148 million of them are girls.

The joint statement by the sponsors of the Amman conference makes clear that a concerted effort is needed to expand and improve educational opportunities, especially for girls and women. The signatories of the Amman statement find it unacceptable that a world that spends about $800 billion a year on arms cannot find the money needed to put every child in school by year 2000. It would take an estimated $6 billion to accomplish that less than a one percent decrease in military expenditure worldwide.

In taking its education agenda to Amman the World Bank recommends governments to:

  • expand access to education
  • increase equity
  • improve the quality of education
  • speed up educational reform.

For more information on the World Banks work on education see theHuman Development Department

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