Published Online: January 20, 2010

U.N. Report: Crisis Will Keep Children Out of School

The world financial crisis not only hurt balance sheets but could sabotage poor countries' efforts to get more children into school, according to a report released Tuesday by the U.N. education agency.

UNESCO urges more funding and attention for those shut out of education systems such as ethnic minorities and rural girls, who make up a disproportionate part of the legions of school-age children who have never seen the inside of a classroom.

Some 72 million children were out of school in 2007, and the report estimates that 56 million will remain out of school in 2015.

"Rich countries have mobilized a financial mountain to stabilize their financial systems and protect vital social and economic infrastructure, but they have provided an aid molehill for the world's poor," the chief author of the Education for All Global Monitoring Report, Kevin Watkins, said in a statement.

As the global financial market crisis hit economies worldwide, wealthy countries cut back on their aid to poor countries, even as the developing countries themselves suffered budget shortfalls and slashed their own education spending, the report says.

Families in poor countries, meanwhile, have kept children home from school as unemployment rose and remittances diminished.

Rich countries, with their budgetary cushions and borrowing potential, were able to invest in public services and some, such as the United States, made domestic education a priority in their stimulus packages.

The report says poor countries will need $16 billion (€11.21 billion) more a year if they are to meet goals laid out in 2000, when 164 countries pledged to make free primary education available to all children, and to work toward eliminating adult illiteracy and ending gender disparities in education.

Even if the goals still seem elusive, the trend over the past decade has been positive. The number of children out of school has dropped by 33 million worldwide since 1999, even as global population rose.

The report praises countries such as Benin, which has made dramatic strides in getting more children in school, both boys and girls, urban and rural.

But 80 percent of girls in Yemen are not in school and may never get there. And the report's authors note that even in countries such as Kenya, seen as an economic model for some other African countries, 95 percent of rural girls get less than two years of schooling.

The report by the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization focuses in particular on the marginalized, those not reached by traditional government schooling efforts. It says governments must make more effort to extend education to those speaking minority languages, such as Turkey's Kurds.

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