Worldwide Education Achievable, Study Says

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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, maintains a report by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

In fact, the report asserts, increased efforts for expanding academic opportunities in developing nations—and a relatively modest amount of additional funding for universal education—could help more than 300 million additional children and youths worldwide attain an education through secondary school.

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“Universal, high-quality primary and secondary education is achievable by the middle of the 21st century,” the report says, “though probably not at the current rate of progress.”

The report, “Educating All Children: A Global Agenda,” released last week by the academy, a Cambridge, Mass.-based independent policy research center, outlines an ambitious plan for improving educational access that goes beyond the goals of existing international initiatives, which have long focused on primary education, to include secondary school.

Providing opportunities for secondary education, according to the report, is likely to make primary schooling more attractive and productive and provide the economic benefits that come with a better-educated and more highly skilled citizenry.

“Having a secondary education system increases the incentives for people to complete primary education,” said Joel E. Cohen, a professor of populations at Rockefeller and Columbia universities in New York City and an editor of the report. “If you want to participate in the global economy of today, you have got to have at least a good equivalent of secondary education.”

‘Not Ambitious Enough’

At the World Education Forum in Senegal in 2000, 150 nations promised to push for the goal of ensuring a primary education for all the world’s children by 2015.

Education for All

At the current rate of change, researchers project that the goal of universal primary education by 2015 will not be met—unless political and financial support increases. Two teams of researchers came up with varying sets of data, both of which are presented:

*Click image to see the full chart.

The 2007 Global Monitoring Report, released by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, or UNESCO, in October, suggests that progress is being made in many parts of the world, particularly sub-Saharan Africa, in improving school-going rates and opportunities for girls. Indeed, some 21 million fewer school-age children worldwide were out of school in 2004 than in 1999, UNESCO found. Greater educational attainment tends to correlate with economic improvement, lower fertility rates, and other social benefits.

But more than 75 million primary-school-age children worldwide are still not in school, according to UNESCO. And more than 200 million youths are not in secondary school. Dozens of countries, in fact, are not expected to meet the goal of universal education over the next decade if they continue on the current track.

Despite the bad news, the new report argues that some political and monetary improvements could fuel even greater expansion of school programs in developing countries. An increase in contributions by wealthy nations of about $70 billion annually—representing just three-tenths of 1 percent of the gross income of the world’s richest countries—would finance universal education, Mr. Cohen said.

“The Education for All effort, we think, is not nearly ambitious enough,” said David E. Bloom, a professor of economics and demography at the Harvard University’s school of public health and an editor of the report. “And there’s also a need to pay attention to educational quality.

Success in East Asia

Some international-development experts agree that universal education is feasible and will pay off for individual nations and the world at large.

“We’ve seen over the last 30 years a considerable increase in the number of children who are enrolled,” Nicholas Burnett said last fall when the annual UNESCO report, which he oversees, was released. “All the studies support the finding that there are enormous payoffs for such [efforts], and they have the greatest payoff for disadvantaged children.”

For an example of the difference universal schooling through high school can make, Mr. Bloom points to East Asia. Since the 1950s, he said, increased access to education has led, by some estimates, to nearly all primary-age children’s attendance at school. Improvements in the quality of schools and teaching are credited with helping Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, out of poverty to become economic stars.

“A deep and early commitment to education [in those countries] was very powerful,” Mr. Bloom said, “and key to equipping their kids with the skills they need to function in modern society.”

Vol. 26, Issue 20, Page 16

Published in Print: January 24, 2007, as Worldwide Education Achievable, Study Says
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