SOUTHERN AFRICAN NEWS FEATURES
EDUCATION FOR ALL: STILL AN UNMET GOAL IN AFRICAby Nina Monsen
In Sub-Saharan Africa, 39 percent of primary school-age boys and 45 percent of primary school age-girls are out of school, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) states in the State of the World's Children 1999 report.
Nearly a billion people in the world, about 20 percent of humanity, are already classified as functionally illiterate, two-thirds of them being women, the recently launched report says.
UNICEF produces annual reports on the State of the World's Children, which is based on worldwide analysis of trends and events affecting children. The report is released simultaneously all over the world in December. This year the report was released on 8 December and it is reviewing strides made in education since 1990 and the World Conference on Education For All.
As the report reveals, the goal of education for all is still far from reached, especially for the girl child. Not only do fewer girls than boys ever enroll in school; more girls than boys drop out, repeat grades or do not finish school, says the report.
In Zimbabwe, the Secretary for Education Sport and Culture, Stephen Chifunyise, launched the report in the capital city, Harare. Speaking at the launch, he said there is need to look at the teaching methods used in the classrooms. "Teachers should move from a "talk and chalk" method of teaching to participatory education methods which include drama and play," he said, adding that teachers should transform from dictators to guides.
Zimbabwe has one of the better adult literacy rates in the region, but 30 percent of the students drop out after grade seven. The highest number of dropouts are girls. Chifunyise said it is important to make the classrooms more "girl-friendly". One way to improve the situation is to encourage teachers to give the same attention to boys and girls, and rooting out gender insensitivity from textbooks.
In Africa, the Forum for African Women Educationalists (FAWE) has worked since 1992 to promote Education For All through advocacy, concrete actions and policy reforms. In the mid-nineties, they successfully lobbied the ministers of education in several African countries to change policies that excluded pregnant girls from re-entering school. In Malawi, pregnant girls have been allowed to continue their education during pregnancy since 1995.
The quality of education is an important issue in the campaign for education for all, says the report. According to UNICEF, millions of children languish in sub-standard learning situations where little learning takes place.
UNICEF -- Facts and Figures 1998, gave the following example of school experience in Zambia: "The average pupil walks seven kilometres every morning in order to get to school, has not eaten, is tired, undernourished, suffers from intestinal worms, and is sweating and lacks concentration on arrival. He or she sits with 50 other pupils in a similarly poor condition. Their receptivity is minimal. The teacher is poorly educated, badly motivated and underpaid. He speaks bad English but still tries to teach in that language. He does not know his subjects well and uses poor teaching methods during lessons."
The powerful benefits of education are many, as the single most critical element in combating poverty, empowering women, protecting children from hazardous and exploitative labour and sexual exploitation, and promoting human rights and democracy. Research has shown that educated women are less likely to be oppressed or exploited and more likely to participate in political processes. In addition, they are likely to have smaller families, and healthier and better-educated children.
All the countries in the world, except Somalia and the United States, have ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which includes the right to a high-quality education. Still, at the Lome IV aid agreement, only 14 out of 70 countries in Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific ranked education a high priority, 45 saw it as a low priority and 6 had no education or training projects at all.
"The political will is lacking," explains UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy, in The State of the World's Children 1999.
Another explanation given is the heavy debt burden for many developing countries. It is hard to see how governments with large debts can advance towards Education For All, says the report. Many of the world’s poorest countries spend more on debt servicing. Tanzania is not untypical in spending six times more on debt repayments than on education.
The report shows how education is low-priority in the world economy, where defence expenditures total approximately US$ 781 billion a year. By spending US$ 7 billion more each year for the next 10 years - less than the amount people in the US pay annually for cosmetics and Europeans for ice cream - the dream of educating all children could become a reality, it says. (SARDC)