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Press Briefing: Education For All Fast Track Initiative

With Paul Wolfowitz, World Bank President

Gordon Brown, UK Chancellor of the Exchequer

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Nigerian Finance Minister

Jan Willem Van Der Kaaij, World Bank Executive Director, The Netherlands

 

Friday, April 21, 2006, 12:25 p.m.

 

MR. HAY:  Hello, and welcome to our press conference on Education for All, for all the world's children.  As we all know, 100 million youngsters worldwide do not get the chance to go to school.  This press conference is going to look into some of the issues about how we do get them into school by 2015.

 

Let me welcome our panelists this morning. On my immediate left, the UK Chancellor, Gordon Brown.  Welcome, Mr. Brown.

 

MR. BROWN:  Thank you.

 

MR. HAY:  On his immediate left are Paul Wolfowitz, President of the World Bank Group; the Nigerian Finance Minister, Minister Ngozi, welcome; and on her immediate left is Jan Willem Van Der Kaaij, the Executive Director here at the World Bank Group for the Dutch Government.

 

So let me ask Mr. Wolfowitz to start us off with a couple of minutes of broad overview, and then we'll go to the Minister.

 

So, Mr. Wolfowitz, over to you.

 

MR. WOLFOWITZ:  Thank you, and let me begin by thanking my colleagues for the significant contributions of their governments.  The Netherlands has been a leading donor for basic education, providing both resources and political leadership, and the UK has recently made an historic announcement of $15 billion over 10 years for support for education.  And I am very pleased to be joined by Nigerian Finance Minister Ngozi today.  She knows better than anyone, I think, the daunting challenges on the ground.  I'm told that in Nigeria today, there are nearly 8 million children--

 

MINISTER OKONJO-IWEALA:  Seven million

 

MR. WOLFOWITZ:  --7 million--you're getting the numbers down, as so many other things; that's great--who are out of school.

 

We know that investment in education, particularly for girls, can help slow the spread of AIDS, contribute economic growth, and break the cycle of poverty but around the world, there are still 100 million children--100 million--out of school, 58 million of which are girls.  The urgency is clear when you consider that in Sub-Saharan Africa alone, more than 40 million children don't go to school.

                       

Two weeks ago, I visited Timor-Leste, where the reconstruction of the education system after the devastation in 1999 is one of that country's major achievements.  About 90 percent of schools and educational facilities were destroyed at the time of independence, but since then, around 3,000 classrooms and more than 600 schools have been built, and enrollments have been steadily increasing.

                       

I saw first-hand what it means to lose the opportunity for education.  I say 15-year-olds in third grade classrooms struggling, although eager, to make up for lost time.  Having to make up for an education that is missing is a serious obstacle to overcome.  It's even more serious when you meet adults who are still trying to learn to read.

                       

So it is absolutely critical to invest in education in the early ages when it makes the biggest difference.

                       

The principle of investing in education I think is clear.  It is an investment that brings returns for decades afterward.  The principle of why we need to support sound country policies is also clear, and so too  is the need for countries to be able to have long-term plans that we can count on to do things like hiring teachers, which can't be done hand-to-mouth, year-to-year.

                       

So in coordination with other donors, the Bank launched in 2002 the first global compact on education, the Fast Track Initiative, to accelerate progress toward universal primary education.  The FTI, if I may use the abbreviation, is about coordinating the efforts of donors, partner countries and civil society around the common goal of quality primary education.

                       

The FTI partnership is starting to provide a glimpse of what development could look like across all sectors.  Mauritania, Burkina Faso and Ghana have collectively added one million children to their primary school enrollment since joining FTI.  In The Gambia, part of the $4 million enabled the government to purchase thousands of textbooks for grades 1 through 4, resulting in a better quality of education in poor, rural areas.

                       

Today there are 20 developing countries receiving support from the Fast Track Initiative  that will go toward helping 16 million children who are not yet attending school.

                       

There are another 40 countries that are preparing education plans and putting policies in place with the goal of joining FTI by the year 2008.  But to get there, we need funding.  This year alone, the total external financing need for these 20 countries--the first 20--is $1.1 billion.  Donors so far are providing $490 million through regular financing and another $115 million through the FTI Catalytic Fund.  But that still leaves just for those first 20 countries a financing gap of $510 million.

                       

If those additional 40 countries are able to join by the end of 2008, the total external financing needs will be $3.7 billion, and the gap will be that much larger.

                       

We have to do more to secure long-term and predictable financing to support effective country education plans. That will send a positive signal to the next round of countries that their engagement in FTI is worth the investment and that developing strong country plans will make it possible to recruit trained teachers to provide quality education.  The recent announcement by the UK is a very important step forward, for which we are very grateful.

                       

Around the world, even the poorest parents--I might say particularly the poorest parents--understand how important education is for their children.  In Pakistan, attendance is high where schools are good; where schools are bad, attendance is poor.  Parents know.  In Burkina Faso, I saw a school that is so good that poor families pay some of their meager incomes in order for their children to go to school.

                       

Poor families know how important education is for their children's future.  We need to recognize how important education is for the future of the world and for the dream of a world free of poverty.  I am fully committed to ensuring that the World Bank Group invests our full energy on both the global and the country level to help poor countries improve their education systems and to send more boys and girls to quality classrooms.

                       

Thank you.

                       

MR. HAY:  Mr. Wolfowitz, thanks very much indeed.

                       

Let me bring in Chancellor Brown at this stage.

                       

CHANCELLOR BROWN:  Can I say first of all that it's a great pleasure for me to be here with Paul Wolfowitz, who has shown us that he is going to give a new impetus to the World Bank's commitment to education, with Ngozi, who is a great Finance Minister and who is organizing a conference in Nigeria in the next month to discuss these very issues, and with my Dutch colleague and the Dutch Government, who have led the way with their call for Ten-Year Plans for the future of education, as they have done on many other issues in development.

                       

Last week in Maputo, Hilary Benn and I were honored to join with President Gabuza [ph.], President Mandela, Grasciela Michel [ph.], Ngozi herself, and Trevor Manuel from South Africa to support the initiative that every child should have the greatest opportunity of all, and that is the right to schooling.

                       

The promise of the Millennium  Development Goals and the pledge of Gleneagles last year was that every one of the world's children should be able to go to school and that by 2015, there should be primary education available for all.  So it is one of the world's greatest scandals that must now be addressed that 100 million children are not going to school today, denied one of the most basic rights of all--the right to education--and most who lose out are girls, denied the most basic chance to realize their potential.

                       

We know, as Paul has just said, that education puts opportunity directly into people's hands.  It is not just the very best anti-poverty strategy; it is also the best positive economic development program; it is the most cost-effective investment in the future we can make.

                       

The benefits are in jobs and prosperity.  For every additional year of a mother's education in the poorest countries, childhood mortality itself is reduced by 8 percent.  The benefits are in health, education, preventable diseases, and education is vital in preventing the further spread of HIV/AIDS.

                       

Now, in 2005, "Make Poverty History" was a campaign that asked and persuaded governments to make promises on aid.  Now, in 2006, we must keep our promises with a resolution that by delivering the promise on aid, we achieve the Millennium Development Goal on Education.

                       

For $10 billion extra a year, every child in every continent could have teachers, books, and classrooms.

                       

Last week in Mozambique, Hilary Benn set out our government's commitment.  For the first time, Britain will enter into Ten-Year Agreements with poor countries to finance ten-year education plans.  In total, Britain will commit at least $15 billion over the next 10 years, four times as much as the $3.5 billion of the previous decade.  We will work with developing countries to help them produce the ambitious Ten-Year Plans necessary to meet the Millennium Development Goals.

                       

In itself, our own funding can provide education for 15 million children, but our intention is to persuade other countries to join us.

                       

Without increased, predictable, long-term funding, poor countries will not be able to abolish fees or provide universal schooling.  The promise of a little more aid for a year or two will not allow countries to plan to meet the Millennium Development Goal, so we must encourage other donors to deliver on the promises made in 2005 and provide the necessary long-term predictable funding through ten-year agreements with developing countries.

                       

The Fast Track Initiative that Paul has just given new momentum to this morning must be the centerpiece of our effort.  Already through the leadership of the World Bank and donors such as the Netherlands, we have shown what can be achieved in delivering more schooling opportunities.

                       

But progress has not been fast enough.  We need to scale up the level of ambition.  We need to ensure that more countries are endorsed.  We must take immediate action to plug the current financing gap that Paul has just identified in the Fast Track Initiative, which is why the United Kingdom is announcing today that we will provide an extra $178 million to the Fast Track Initiative over two years, which represents a down payment to meet our share of the current financing gap.  We call on other donors now to come forward with their contributions.

                       

We look forward to discussing this under the Russian chairmanship at the G-8 Finance Ministers Meeting in St. Petersburg.  Heads of government will examine this issue when they meet as the G-8, chaired by President Putin.  Ten-Year Plans will be the subject of a meeting in African countries in Nigeria next month that I will attend on May 20 to May 21. 

                       

I am delighted that President Wolfowitz is committed to delivering education through a more ambitious Fast Track Initiative.  It is central to the World Bank's poverty agenda, and we will work with him to persuade other countries to give more finance.

                       

In the next few years, we want to meet our educational ambition and our anti-poverty goal, school by school, class by class, child by child--children freed from poverty, freed to grow, and freed to develop their potential.  That is our aim, and I believe, working together, delivering on our promises, we can achieve it.

                       

MR. HAY:  Chancellor, thanks very much indeed.

                       

Minister Ngozi, I'll give you the last word this afternoon, but let me go very quickly to Mr. Van Der Kaaij from the Netherlands.

                       

MR. VAN DER KAAIJ:  Thank you.

                       

What bring us here is the really unbearable fact about our role today, that 100 million children, mostly girls, are not getting the primary education they need to escape from poverty.

                       

Giving kids in poor countries the ability to read, to write, and to count is their passport to a better life and that of their parents.  And unless we step up and invest more generously in education, it may take another 30 years before Africa's children all get the chance to go to school and to get the education they need.

                       

Can we seriously tell them to be patient with us and wait another generation?

                       

We in the Netherlands have left just talking about the education gap behind us.  We will spend 700 million Euro on education in poor countries in 2007 alone, and that's a very steep rise as compared with the end of the 1990s.  In this respect, we strongly welcome the recent announcement by Chancellor Gordon Brown to increase British aid to education in the next 10 years hugely.  It is very, very welcome that an important G-8 member now takes serious steps to ensure more predictable money for education.

                       

We also look toward World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz, who has championed the Education for All Fast Track Initiative, and we are very confident that under his leadership, the Bank will continue to act on its belief in the power of education to improve development outcomes and even to strengthen them.

                       

But over and above the Netherlands and the UK, we have to call on more donor countries, G-8 members in particular, but not only them, to live up to the promises they made to educate these 100 million out-of-school kids by 2015.  This is one of the cornerstones of the Millennium Development Goals.

                       

This money has to buy results, and this will happen if donor money goes to developing countries with credible education plans to get all their children a complete primary education by 2015.  And therefore, donor countries should start filling as an emergency the financing needs of the Education for All Fast Track Initiative with more and longer-term funding for education in developing countries.   Mr. Wolfowitz just gave very staggering figures in this respect.

                       

Children need to rely on a stable environment and good-quality schooling, and therefore, donors must give predictable and long-term financing.  That is surely one of the best investments that rich countries can make in today's world.

                       

MR. HAY:  Mr. Van Der Kaaij, thanks very much.

                       

Minister Ngozi, I promised you the last word.

                       

MINISTER OKONJO-IWEALA:  Well, thank you.  I'll try to be brief.

                       

I really want to say that I am excited to be here with Paul Wolfowitz, Gordon Brown, and our colleague from the Netherlands to relaunch this initiative for the education of our children worldwide.

                       

We all know what an investment in education can give us.  We don't need to go over that, because all the research has been done, all the facts are on the table.  What we needed was leadership, and we are getting that leadership from two very important people around the table and a donor who has been persistently interested in this issue--the Netherlands.  We want to thank them for that.

                       

It was very exciting to be in Maputo with Gordon Brown and Hilary Benn and President Mandela and others to launch this initiative.  We have made a promise to Africa's children; we don't want donors to let us down.

                       

However, Africans recognize that they have to seize their problems and take their problems into their own hands.  And we are doing this.  We are not waiting for others to come and solve our education problems for us.  President Obasanjo has called a meeting on May 20-22 in Abuja of finance ministers of African countries along with education ministers and others to look at this problem and see what we on our own side can do.

                       

Our first commitment is that we must make these Ten-Year Plans that will lay out fully-costed attempts to get our children into school.

                       

The other commitment is, to make sure that all the ancillary infrastructure that we need to make education work and to make it possible, that we also look at how we finance these so that we can make an appreciable move toward meeting the objectives of the MDGs.  And we are excited that we have Gordon and Paul, hopefully, and many others who have pledged to come to this conference to give us the kind of support we need.

                       

I know about the value of education first-hand.  My parents trained 19 people who didn't have a chance to go to secondary school--19 in addition to their own 7 children.  This made a vast difference in their lives today.

                       

I have just six months ago adopted a 17-year-old girl with a baby who didn't have a chance to go to school.  She lives with me now, and you can see the impact of not having education at a personal level.  Even taking care of her child was an issue.  But now she is being tutored privately, she is learning to read and write, and this has opened up a vast new world to her that would never have been there.

                       

So from a personal level to a continental level, we know that we have to act to get our 40 million children in Africa back into school.  We know in Nigeria that we have to act, to get our 7 million children back into school, and we are raising the resources to do this ourselves--we are not just waiting for the donors.

                       

But I want to say this, that you know we need these additional resources, and if we make these education plans, and we don't get the support we need, it will be a scandal, as Gordon said.  It will mean that we are condemning whole new generations of girls and boys from not having the basis to escape from poverty.  I don't think they deserve this.  I don't think the world should do this.

                       

I think it is a shame that the Fast Track Initiative was never fully funded.  We call on donors, if Africans make the effort, which they are doing, that you should fully support us, and we have pledged that we will do this.

                       

So I invite you all, donors, to put your money where your mouth is.  Make sure our children go back to school.

                       

Thank you.

                       

MR. HAY:  Minister, thanks very much indeed.

                       

Let's take some quick questions.  If you'd let us know which organization you are from, that will help us up here.

                       

So the floor is open.  The gentleman on the right.  Wait for the microphone, if you will.

                       

QUESTION:  Morty Putzinger, Associated Press.

                       

If I could ask Gordon Brown--you talked about the need to get other countries to support this.  Is this a topic of discussion for the G-7 meetings today, and how optimistic are you that you're going to be hearing announcements soon?

                       

CHANCELLOR BROWN:  Yes, there is a sequence of discussions starting, obviously, today, in which all countries will be asked both to contribute to the Fast Track Initiative and sign up to the Ten-Year Plans that will be developed by the countries that Ngozi will call together in Nigeria next month and countries in other continents of the world.

                       

Yes, we will discuss it today at the G-7. Then, there will be a meeting of the G-8 in St. Petersburg in which it is distinctively a major part of the agenda, and it will be on the agenda of President Putin's meeting of G-8 heads of government in Russia in a few weeks' time.

                       

So I hope that the G-8 will be able to move this forward.  It will then be on the agenda, obviously, of the Annual Meetings as we come through to September when we are in Singapore.  In the meantime, I believe this African meeting that has been organized by Ngozi is very important, because it will be a signal that all developing countries wish to see this move forward with speed.  And right throughout this process, we will be seeking to persuade our colleagues in Europe and elsewhere, as the Netherlands initiative has suggested, that they should make their contribution both to the Fast Track Initiative and to supporting the Ten-Year Plans.

                       

And I am confident from the response that we have had so far that there is a huge interest now in moving this forward.  I think there are distinctive initiatives on girls' education that will come forward over the next few months, and I believe that churches, charities, schools, universities, colleges, will also be involved in a grassroots initiative on this issue, and I can see schools in Britain and in other countries linking up with schools in Africa and elsewhere; I can see teachers linking up with teachers, churches with churches, community groups with community groups, and I think this is more than just a campaign that is going to be run by governments.  I can see from the response that NGOs have issued that they wish to lead this campaign, and we, I believe, have a duty to respond to what they are saying as well.

                       

MR. HAY:  Let's go to the gentleman just two back, and then I'll come to you, Madame, in the front.

                       

QUESTION:  Thank you.  My name is Arshad Mahmoud, and I am from Bangladesh.

                       

I have a question about this universal primary education.  You have made these figures here, which have been rising since this FTI was launched.  And Bangladesh is a country which is often cited as a success story in terms of putting kinds into primary school; the enrollment is about 90 percent or so. And I have some first-hand knowledge about the quality of education there.  I did some surveys personally, and to my horror, I discovered that the quality is appalling.

                       

What are you thinking in terms of improving that; otherwise, it would be a big disaster to happen in the future.

                       

Thank you.

                       

MR. HAY:  Ngozi, maybe you could talk to us just briefly about the importance of quality in education.  It's not just having kids in school, is it, in their seats?

                       

MINISTER OKONJO-IWEALA:  No.  When we talk about universal primary education or completion, the issue is not just the quantity--it's the quality--because when the quality is poor, you have high dropout rates; people are not motivated.  And as Paul Wolfowitz, you see in countries, including in my own, all parents really trying to scrape together resources to send their children to school where they feel the quality is better; the public school near them is not good enough.

                       

So in this initiative, we must aim not just at getting children into school, but giving them a quality education.  It's not just about enrolling, it's about their completing and being a whole human being who can benefit.  And I think that this depends a lot on the quality of the teachers that we put into these schools and also on the quality of the physical environment in which children learn.

                       

In my own country, we have a mixed record.  We have some primary schools that are very good, good environment, good teachers, and others where children learn sitting on the floor or under trees.

                       

So in order to improve the quality of those things, we are working on teacher training, putting more teachers into these schools, better-trained teachers, improving the physical environment.  In fact, in Nigeria, we're using resources from debt relief that we just got and putting that into education to improve the physical environment in which children learn, making sure that the teachers have the necessary equipment, that children have books in the schools.

                       

This takes a lot of doing and coordination, but I think that's the way we have to go--and of course, testing the children to make sure that their education is a quality one, and it is getting results.  That is also very important.

                       

So I think you have hit a good point, and this is one of the central things we have to work on.

                       

QUESTION:  A follow-up question for the President of the World Bank on this.

                       

MR. HAY:  Please go ahead.

                       

QUESTION:  That is precisely my point.  Do you have any specific mechanism that can be put in place to measure the progress every year?  Does the World Bank have any idea of doing this thing to monitor this progress and come up with, say, for next year or by 2015 when the MDGs--the threshold point that you can come up with, saying "Yes, we have done this," so that we can monitor.

                       

Thank you.

                       

MR. WOLFOWITZ:  That really is precisely the idea of the Fast Track Initiative is to have policies that are coherent and sustainable over the long term.  A key thing in quality of education, as Ngozi said, is quality of teachers.  It's very hard to have quality teachers unless you have a long-term policy for hiring them, for setting standards.

                       

I discovered in some of my trips a term that I hadn't heard before called "ghost teachers," which is what happens either when teachers aren't paid enough to turn up in the classroom, or they are paid, but they do something else anyway.

                       

So I guess you would call it a form of petty corruption, but its consequences are severe on children, and in the State of Lahore in Pakistan, the state government there has a very ambitious program to try to correct that problem.

                       

What impressed me--and again, this was actually in Pakistan--was hearing from a civil society representative that it was dramatic and noticeable that where the schools had quality, poor parents would send their kids to school even though there were opportunities to send them to work otherwise; and when the schools weren't good, the kids were put out to work--which is kind of a double tragedy where you end up with child labor instead of child learners.

                       

So it is a critical issue.  I don't think there is a single solution, and I don't think there is a single measure.  If I had to go to a single measure, I'd go to parents and not to any institutions.  It is something that we are going to work on, but to be able to work on it, you need long-term, sustainable plans, and that means long-term, sustainable funding.

                       

CHANCELLOR BROWN:  If I could just emphasize, the whole point of the Ten-Year Plan is to develop capacity in the education system by training teachers, by building schools, by providing the educational materials that are necessary.

                       

When I was in Mozambique last week, we visited a school with more than 4,000 pupils on four shifts, the youngest children sitting with no desks, educational materials that had to be shared, and a pupil-teacher ratio of about 90-to-1.  Now, that is what has got to change and be improved.

                       

So it's not simply a question of getting places in education; it is improving the system of education.  And at the same time, of course, as we have recognized, it is free primary education so that no child is debarred from an educational opportunity by simply the absence of parental income.

                       

MR. WOLFOWITZ:  By the way, it's also why you need a whole educational system.  You can't just do primary education.  You need to train teachers.

                       

To illustrate, the World Bank currently does about $2 billion a year of support for education, and half of that is for primary education.  There is a lot of other work to be done at both the secondary and tertiary levels.  You have to have balanced programs.

                       

MR. HAY:  Thank you.

                       

The lady in the front.  You have been very patient.

                       

QUESTION:  Mr. Brown and your colleague from the Netherlands, we should congratulate you for this good initiative.  I hope that it will be going through to the main objective.

                       

I was wondering during your stay in Nigeria during the forthcoming meetings, are you going to meet with African schoolchildren to ask them what they need, what they want, to listen to them?  If that is the case, do you have any questions you want us to ask them before you get there?

                       

I was also wondering if you have any input on Mali, which is my country.  I am the first woman journalist, and I have been a journalist for only 20 years.

                       

MR. HAY:  Chancellor?

                       

CHANCELLOR BROWN:  Yes, we will listen to children.  And when Ngozi and I were in Mozambique last week, it was children who were asking the questions to us about whether the promises that have been made to children will be kept.  And it is children who are increasingly saying that they want--as I found out when I was in Tanzania--teenagers saying, "Why do we have to leave school?  We want to continue in our education."

                       

So there is no doubt that the voices of children will be heard, but it is pretty clear, I think, to everyone that if a child's potential is to be realized, that opportunity for education has got to be available in the first place, and this is an historic opportunity.  We would become the first generation in history that has delivered education to every child born in the world, and that itself would be a tremendous achievement for the world if we were able to do that.  But that is what the aim of this plan is.

                       

MR. HAY:  Thanks, Chancellor.

                       

The clock is very much against us.  Let us take this lady here in the second row.

                       

QUESTION:  Hi.  Celia Driver [ph.] with the New York Times.

                       

You all very eloquently made the case for donors giving more to education.  I want to ask if you could name who the laggards are among the G-7 and what you plan to do to whip them into shape.

                       

MR. HAY:  Yes--who will take that?

                       

[Laughter.]

                       

MR. WOLFOWITZ:  Well, we know who the leaders are, and they are sitting up here--the UK and the Netherlands have been really outstanding.

                       

Let me say as far as the United States is concerned, I think you could say on the one hand there has been a significant improvement from 2002 to 2004 from about $100 million to $260 million--if you stop and think about it, that's about $1 per capita whereas I think the UK number is now up to $20 per capita.  So the U.S. could do a lot more.  So could just about every G-7 country with the exception of the UK.

                       

What I would also like to emphasize is that this is not just charity.  The world will be a better place, we will all benefit when these kids are able to be productive, contributing members of society.  It's something they deserve, it's something we owe to them, but frankly, it's also something we owe to ourselves.

                       

MR. HAY: Chancellor Brown, one last thought on that.

                       

CHANCELLOR:  If I could just say on the question of Mali, Mali has increased its participation from 30 percent to 60 percent, and I believe it will join the Fast Track Initiative in the second half of 2006.  So I hope that we can see progress made possible by the additional money that is being provided today, and hopefully by other countries as well.

                       

I am encouraged by the response that there has been to the new proposals on the Fast Track Initiative from all countries in the G-7 and from the European Union as a whole and, I believe, from the countries that are coming to Ngozi's conference that President Obasanjo has organized in Africa.  So there is already a response, but of course, we need more than a response, and I do believe also that the campaigns that have been run by civil society, by NGOs here in America, NGOs in Europe, but also civil society groups around the world, particularly in the developing world, will have a huge impact on this as well.  And I think the interesting thing about this initiative is that it may be led by parents and by teachers and by children and by young people and by churches and by community groups, and we the politicians will have to respond to that over the next period of time.

                       

So I am not only optimistic about the general enthusiasm there has been and the responses to what has been said in the last few weeks, but I do believe that the whole of civil society--and American civil society, where there has been a huge interest in education--is ready to have a huge impact on this, and in the end, it will be as it was with debt relief and as it was with "Make Poverty History"--large numbers of people persuading governments that this is the right time to act.

                       

MR. HAY:  Mr. Brown, thanks very much.

                       

Let me also thank Paul Wolfowitz, Minister Ngozi, and Mr. Van Der Kaaij. 

                       

The clock is against us.  Thanks very much for coming, ladies and gentlemen.




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