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World Bank President Appeals to Rich Countries to Help Educate 100 Million Children Out-Of-School Worldwide

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Washington - Phil Hay (202) 473 1796

(202) 409-2909-cell

Abigail Spring  (202) 458-9491
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WASHINGTON April 17, 2005—World Bank President, James Wolfensohn, today appealed to rich countries to honor their overdue promises to help educate more than a hundred million children out-of-school in the world’s poorest countries, despite overwhelming evidence that teaching children how to read, write, and count, can blunt the spread of AIDS, boost economic growth, and break the cycle of poverty that haunts the lives of too many of the world’s children. 

Today, we see that the rich world is not even close to meeting its commitment to children in developing countries,” said World Bank President James Wolfensohn. “In a world tragically short of magic solutions, primary education remains one of the most dramatic development solutions available.  And progress on education—as with many other development challenges—is possible when political will and resources come together.”

Wolfensohn said girls in particular could greatly benefit from education, and yet millions of them continued to languish outside the school system. Girls make up almost 60 percent of the youngsters out of school, despite 2005 being the year the world agreed to remove the gender barriers preventing more girls going to primary and secondary school.

At the Millennium Summit in 2000, world leaders agreed to remove the gender barriers preventing more girls going to primary and secondary school by 2005, and said every boy and girl should have the chance to get a quality primary school education by 2015, as part of the Millennium Development Goals.  They later built on that promise by vowing at various international summits over the recent years that no country would be blunted in its achievement of universal primary education because of a lack of money and support.  

Progress is possible

According to Wolfensohn, the chances of getting every boy and girl into school by 2015 are more promising than for some time. For example, gross enrollments have jumped dramatically in Sub Saharan Africa from 78% in 1997 to 95% in 2002, an historically unprecedented surge that had resulted in 17 million more children in school in 2002. While the factors contributing to this trend vary from country to country, generally they include more economic growth, the hiring of more teachers, and better policies including the elimination of school fees.

Given the high repetition rates in this region, the gross enrollment rate would need to be well over 100% to indicate that all children are in school. While progress has been made in some countries, there is no room for complacency. Over 40 million primary school aged children in Sub-Saharan Africa and 36 million in South Asia, are not even enrolled in school.

Pledge to the World’s Children

However, what was especially frustrating, Wolfensohn said, was that the development community could do so much more to help poor countries educate their children by 2015
if world leaders were to make good on the very public pledges they had to finance the credible education expansion plans of developing countries seriously committed to achieving universal primary education by 2015.

Wolfensohn said it was essential that the additional education aid that donor countries had long promised had to be provided in a coordinated and predictable manner to avoid
“kids being in school one year and then being thrown out the next.” 

While poor countries themselves must make a firm commitment to education and develop credible education plans, he said, rich countries had to do more to help reach this goal.

The Bank’s President said that the development community had a tried and tested means for helping poor countries speed up efforts to get their children into school, called the Fast Track Initiative,
which the world’s finance and development ministers asked the Bank set up in 2002, and which already has been showing results. But financial and political support to FTI needs to be stepped up substantially.

The Education for All – Fast Track Initiative

The World Bank, along with other leading donors, launched the Fast Track Initiative (FTI) in 2002 to help an initial handful of countries get more primary school-aged children into classrooms. Currently there are 13 countries in FTI; Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guyana, Honduras, Mauritania, Mozambique, Nicaragua, Niger, Vietnam and Yemen.

Built on a new-style development compact, the FTI required donor countries to provide increased aid in a coordinated and predictable manner, while poor countries agreed to make primary education a national priority and draw up educations plans that would get them to the 2015 target of primary education for all children. This global compact for education is now open to all low-income countries endeavoring to accelerate progress toward universal primary education.

Established in 2002, Fast Track Initiative has been recognized for having played a significant role in promoting better donor coordination and faster results. It has put into place two funds including the Catalytic Fund, which provides short term financial help to close the education financing gaps for poor countries with too few donors, and the Education Program Development Fund, which provides technical support enabling countries to develop sound education strategies.

“The Fast Track Initiative has already been recognized for promoting better donor coordination and getting more kids into school, so why is this tried and true program still being starved of the large-scale money and support it needs to reach its achievable goal of helping every child to go to school by 2015?” Wolfensohn asked. “
Looking at the millions of children standing outside of the classroom, it is clear that bold action is urgently needed.”

Donor Commitments

President Wolfensohn said a number of donors should be recognized for their efforts to increase ODA for education, particularly the Netherlands, Norway, and France. The Netherlands has demonstrated both political leadership and financial commitment as the largest donor to the Fast Track Initiative, having pledged $243 million through 2007.  Moreover, there are countries poised to make new contributions including Norway, Sweden and Canada. And Spain has recently become the 7th donor to the FTI’s Catalytic Fund, pledging $6.5 million dollars.

But the Catalytic Fund commitments total only about US$300 million over 2004-2007, with $28.5 disbursed to date. Pledges, for this period, have been made by the following seven donors: Belgium (US$ 5.2 million) , Italy (US$ 5million), the Netherlands (US$ 243 million), Norway (US$ 20 million), Sweden (US$ 5.3 million), the UK (US$ 16 million) and Spain (US$ 6.5 million).

The upcoming G8 meeting provides an opportunity for the donors to keep their promises to encourage countries to invest in education,”
Wolfensohn said. “I’m worried that if we don’t get the extra financing at the G-8 meeting in the early summer and then the UN Millennial Summit in September, we’re just not going to achieve the Millennium Development Goals by 2015.”           

Financing Needs

External aid for the countries within the Fast Track Initiative increased from about $300 to $350 million in 2004, closed the financing gap in Mauritania, Guyana, Gambia, Honduras and Nicaragua.  But more country financing gaps could be closed in 2006 and beyond with additional continuing commitments from donors. If the compact expands to help as many as 25 new countries, including large countries such as Ethiopia, Madagascar and Pakistan, over the next year, bringing the total countries receiving support to 38, there will be a need for ODA of $2.3 billion a year for many years to help these countries achieve the goal of universal primary education.

Wolfensohn said that aid spent effectively does have real impact. In Nicaragua, $3.5 million from the Fast Track Initiative, enabled an additional 70,000 six year olds go to school, improvement of teacher facilities and the number of children receiving a daily meal in school rose from 200,000 in 2004 to 800,000 in 2005. In Gambia, $4 million enabled the government to purchase thousands of text books for grades 1-4 resulting in a better quality of education in poor rural areas. In Yemen, $10 million is being used to increase the quality of education and the enrollment of girls in rural areas, where only 30% attend school. Already, 14,000 teachers have been trained, 86 new schools are being built and female teachers are being hired.

For more on the ‘Education For   All’ Fast Track Initiative, click here:

For more on the World Bank’s work in education, click here:

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