UN hears call for education to curb population growth, boost development

UN hears call for education to curb population growth, boost development

The United Nations Commission on Population and Development opened a week-long meeting at UN Headquarters in New York today with speakers stressing the vital role of education in confronting problems related to runaway population growth and lagging development.

Education is a classic crosscutting theme and a vital ingredient in reaching developmental goals, UN Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs Nitin Desai told the Commission at the start of its 36th session on the theme, "Population, Education and Development." It is being recognized more and more that education is crucial for development, especially that of women and girls, he said.

The Executive Director of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), Thoraya Obaid, highlighted school enrolment of all children, particularly girls, as not only a key goal of the 1994 Cairo International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD)'s Programme of Action but also a key Millennium Development Goal.

A report under consideration by the Commission stresses that primary education is crucial in improving economic and social conditions among the poorest segments of society, including girls, rural dwellers and minorities. Expanding educational opportunities is one of the most powerful tools governments have for promoting both income growth and equality.

But, the report adds, enormous growth in the numbers of school-age children, now about 2 billion, presents a formidable challenge to countries in less developed regions. In Africa alone, the school-age population numbers 330 million, almost quadruple that in 1950.

Moreover, the number of school-age children worldwide should rise by nearly 300 million between 2000 and 2050, with more than 90 per cent projected to occur in Africa, where the school-age population should double by mid-century. In contrast, the school-age population of more developed regions is expected to decline by more than 20 per cent - about 60 million - by 2050.

The Commission, set up in 1946 by the Economic and Social Council to study and advise it on population changes, comprises 47 members who are elected on the basis of equitable geographic distribution and serve a term of four years.