Prime Minister, Pop Star Push for Global School Aid

By Kathleen Kennedy Manzo — April 22, 2008 3 min read

For more than 72 million children around the globe, school is not yet an option. Advocates of universal schooling are in Washington this week hoping to persuade federal lawmakers to increase the United States’ contribution for an international effort to make basic education available for all the world’s primary-age children.

U.S. officials would have to double the nation’s pledge to the undertaking over the next year—to $1 billion—and boost it to $3 billion annually over the next five years to meet what is deemed to be its share of the cost of reaching the Education for All goal by 2015. Bills to do so were introduced in Congress last May. Measures introduced in previous years have not made it out of committee.

“The fact that the United States is giving one-fifteenth or one-sixteenth as much compared to our population and income as other countries is something we find very unsettling,” said Gene Sperling, who chairs the U.S. chapter of the Global Campaign for Education, an organization that promotes education as a human right. While the U.S. contribution has increased over the past several years, “we think the American people would support far more,” added Mr. Sperling, who served as national economic adviser to President Clinton.

Although the effort is part of a long-term initiative begun in 1990—when more than 150 countries pledged to contribute—it is now complicated by a growing food shortage in many parts of the world, said Robert B. Zoellick, the president of the World Bank. The annual request for the United States to contribute what is deemed its share of the cost of reaching the goal also comes at a time when the country is in the midst of a deepening economic crisis. And international aid groups are also asking for additional money to help the United Nation’s World Food Program tackle food shortages in Haiti, Ethiopia, and other places.

See Also

Listen to a recorded phone conference (mp3) featuring U.K. Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Grammy-award winning singer Shakira, and World Bank President Robert Zoellick, April 21, 2008, sponsored by the Campaign for Education.

Shakira, a Grammy-award-winning singer from Colombia, is among those lobbying members of Congress for increased funding. She sponsors several schools in her native country, serving more than 4,000 poor children. The schools provide daily meals for the children, an incentive, she said, for parents to send them each day.

“I grew up in the developing world, and the children in my country beg for an education,” Shakira said in a conference call with reporters. “Where I come from, because of the lack of educational opportunities, people who are born poor will die poor.”

‘Passport to a Better Life’

The United Kingdom has surpassed its share of funding for the program, which is led by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, or UNESCO. Last year, British officials pledged $1.5 billion a year for 10 years to the Education for All campaign.

U.K. Prime Minister Gordon Brown told reporters that he will meet with world leaders at several upcoming international summits to urge them to give more to the Education for All venture.

“We believe that education can be the passport to a better life” for people in developing nations, he said during the conference call.

Mr. Zoellick noted the relative prosperity of the United States and many European nations in the 20th century following the introduction of universal schooling. In the poorest countries, improved schooling is credited with lower infant- and maternal-mortality rates, lower rates of disease, and improved wages.

The World Bank is giving $2.2 billion to the program in fiscal 2008. Education for All—which promotes reduced school fees, gender equity, and teacher training—has been credited with helping to reduce the out-of-school population by more than 20 million since 1999.

Many countries are not on track to reach the goal of universal primary education by 2015, but greater political will and more help from wealthy nations could turn the situation around, a 2007 report by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences concluded. (“Worldwide Education Achievable, Study Says,” Jan. 24, 2007.)

A version of this article appeared in the April 30, 2008 edition of Education Week as U.K.’s Prime Minister, Shakira Urge U.S. to Give More Money for Universal Education Push