Top United Nations officials have stressed education as the key to progress towards achieving global social and development targets such as reducing poverty, enhancing gender equality and combating disease.
The agency pointed to new data that shows that investing in education is vital to reaching all the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the global anti-poverty targets with a 2015 deadline.
Data from the Education for All Global Monitoring Report, published by the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), shows that 171 million people could be lifted out of poverty if all students in low-income countries left school with basic reading skills.
Also, a child born to a mother who can read is 50 per cent more likely to survive past the age of five, and in sub-Saharan Africa an estimated 1.8 million children’s lives could have been saved in 2008 if their mothers had a secondary education at least.
The agencies noted that commendable progress has been made since the MDGs were set in 2000. For example, today nearly all children in Tanzania attend primary school, compared to less than half at the beginning of the decade. India, with about 5.6 million children out of school in 2008, is expected to bring down this number to about 750,000 by 2015.
At the same time, around 69 million children – among them the most marginalized – are currently unable to go to school every year, they added.
“The international community is still not on track to deliver the promise of quality basic education for all by 2015,” stated UNICEF. “In most cases, progress in enrolment has been made at the expense of education quality, while other education targets have been neglected, such as early childhood care and education, literacy, youth and adult education and life skills.”
To tackle these issues, UNICEF, along with UNESCO, Qatar and the non-governmental organization (NGO) Save the Children, held an event on Wednesday on the margins of the UN summit to review progress on the MDGs.
“If we want to make development sustainable, we have to invest in education,” UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova told participants at the event, which examined how to mobilize support to accelerate progress towards MDG 2 on the provision of universal primary education.
Participants agreed that support for education must be sustainable and predictable, and be mobilized from a wide range of national and international sources. They also stressed the importance of giving special focus to meeting the needs of the most marginalized, particularly those living in countries affected by conflict.
Meanwhile, the new UN Special Rapporteur on the right to education has warned of a decline in government expenditure and international aid for education, as well as the impact that will have on progress on all of the MDGs.
“Reduced financial support to education will have very serious effects on the poorest countries,” said Kishore Singh. “This not only jeopardizes the achievement of the goal of universal primary education, but may result in denial of the human right to education.”
He stressed the need for governments to ensure additional support for education. “Investing in education is investing in all MDGs,” he said, adding that additional resources must be provided to essential tasks such as teacher training and recruitment.