Huge challenges remain in achieving education for all UNESCO chief warns

Even though the goal of achieving gender parity by 2005 has been missed, more girls are in school than ever before, UNESCO Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura told yesterday’s opening session in Beijing of the Fifth Meeting of the High Level Group on Education for All (EFA), the latest follow-up to the World Education Forum held in Dakar, Senegal in 2000.Some 20 million new students are attending classes in low-income countries in sub-Saharan Africa, South and West Asia, and national spending on basic education as well as external aid to EFA have also risen, he said.But unless current trends improve, gender parity “may not be achieved by 2015 in as many as 86 countries,” Mr. Matsuura said. Further, 18 per cent of the world’s adults are still illiterate, and “it is also clear that the quality of basic education remains low and will not lead to meaningful learning outcomes unless tackled with renewed vigour.” He welcomed the pledge by Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, who opened the meeting, to substantially increase China’s contribution to education development throughout the world so as to accelerate progress toward the EFA goals.Mr. Wen pledged to train 1,500 teachers from developing countries annually over the next three years, donate 100 experimental rural schools to developing countries over the same time, and increase the number and value of scholarships and university places for students from developing countries to 10,000 annually.He also promised to increase financial support for developing countries hit by natural disasters and to grant $1 million in aid to pertinent research and training projects undertaken by UNESCO’s International Institute for Capacity-Building in Africa and the UNESCO International Centre for Girls and Women’s Education in Africa.This year’s meeting, bringing together ministers of education, cooperation and development, the donor community and other intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations, will focus on the goal of halving adult illiteracy by 2015. It will also work on a Joint Action Plan to stimulate action on the EFA goals and to offer better and more concrete support at the national level to achieve them.At the Dakar Forum, UNESCO was charged with coordinating the work of the EFA partners and sustaining global momentum. read more