More children are attending school around the world than ever before, but most developing countries are far behind their goals for providing universal schooling and educational programs of good quality, concludes the latest monitoring report by UNESCO.
Too many students, the organization reports, are in overcrowded classes and have incompetent teachers and inadequate materials. As a result, many children drop out of school before grade 5 or fail to learn minimal skills.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization has been tracking the progress of 160 countries toward meeting six educational goals outlined at a summit in 2000 in Dakar, Senegal, as part of UNESCO’s Education for All initiative. The participating countries have promised to work toward achieving early-childhood education, universal primary education, skills development, adult literacy, educational quality, and gender equity by 2015.
“The message is that the world is making progress toward meeting the six educational goals, but the amount of progress has been too slow,” said Christopher Colclough, a research fellow at the Institute of Development Studies in London, who wrote the report. “And educational quality in some parts of the world, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, has been in decline.”
According to the data, 41 countries—primarily industrialized nations—are close to meeting those goals. Another 51—including Romania, Bulgaria, Costa Rica, many of the Arab states, and most Latin American countries—are on track for doing so over the next decade.
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But 35 countries are “very far from achieving the goals,” and they face “multiple challenges to tackle simultaneously if Education for All is to be assured,” the report says. More than 20 of those countries are in sub-Saharan Africa. Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan are also in that category.
Eleven countries, Brazil, Canada, Egypt, Finland, and South Africa among them, were studied closely to compare strategies among relatively wealthy and developing countries for improving educational access and quality.
More than 103.5 million children worldwide are out of school, although that number has been declining. And while more and more children are attending school, the report says, facilities and supplies have not expanded to accommodate them.
A version of this article appeared in the November 24, 2004 edition of Education Week as Developing Countries Lag Behind School Goals