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Education for All- Is The World On Track?


A Statement by Kailash Satyarthi, Chair, Global March Against Child Labour and Chair, Global Campaign on Education issued at the IMF - World Bank Annual Meeting, Washington D.C., September 27, 2002


Today, when thousands of anti-globalisation demonstrators are protesting outside the World Bank Head Quarters in Washington D.C., there is a need for a serious introspection to identify the impeding factors that limits globalisation from being just, equitable and ultimately pro-poor. Several reasons come to my mind, the most significant being the lack of quality education in the low-income countries.


Kaushalya's plight was brought to our notice and finally she was liberated with the help of court of law. The innocent Kaushalya lost her childhood. She was traumatised and timid when she saw the other children marching and chanting for freedom and education. "

Globalisation has brought three powers to collude, namely the economy, state and knowledge. This power troika, which is controlled by the select few, determines the fate of the rest of the world. This could be broken only if the power of education is entrusted with the poor. Education, therefore, becomes the key to poverty eradication and to bring justice and equality.


Having any kind of a discussion on the topic such as 'Achieving Education for All by 2015 - Is the World on Track?' is a very tricky thing.


Let me begin with a real story. Few years back I was travelling in a train with a marriage party in my country India. The groom and his men were scheduled to reach by evening to their destination for a grand wedding ceremony. Unfortunately the train got miserably late and could cover only half of the distance till late evening. When the angry passengers complained to the Station Master, he replied coolly, half your work is already done. Don't worry you can see still the train is on track and will definitely reach some time! I promise.


The promises were also made to ensure education for all over fifty years ago when it was included as a fundamental human right in the UN Declaration, then more profoundly in Jomtien and Dakar the International Committee in Dakar pledged to wipe out the scourge of illiteracy. The most significant was the declaration made by 180 countries that no country seriously committed for education for all will be thwarted in the achievement of its goal for lack of resources. Since then world leaders repeated their promises in much more flowery words to give quality education for all the children and to halven adult illiteracy.


Over two years have passed in debate discussion and preaching. It was expected from the poor countries that they must show their commitments. But when some of them have come forward with concrete action plans what stops the donors to fill the financing gaps. How will the rich be held accountable if the judge, jury and the pay master is one and the same.


The present annual meeting of the Bank is crucial for the future of over hundred and twenty five million children who are denied their birth right of learning. Lots of hope and aspirations, encouragement and incentive were generated in the last World Bank/IMF spring meeting in April 2002. The agreement of an improvised donor consortium and to mobilise additional funding for countries seriously committed for EFA goals was a major breakthrough. A fast track initiative on education covering 18 countries was the first concrete step in the direction. The countries including Albania, Bolivia, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Ghana, Gambia, Guinea, Guyana, Honduras, Mauritania, Mozambique, Niger, Nicaragua, Tanzania, Yemen, Uganda, Vietnam and Zambia have been identified for immediate assistance.


Unfortunately, the program could not yet be launched in a single country although 12 of them have submitted their national action plans. Secondly, nothing significant seems to be happening for five high population countries -- India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Congo and Nigeria that were supposed to receive special assistance as the part of pilot phase. These countries represent half of the worlds' out of school children. Even the political leadership of these countries does not seem to be engaged in any high-level advocacy to mobilise additional resources to their advantage. Thirdly, the donor consortium on education is going to meet in November without any clear concrete financial commitment. The governments may wait but not the children.


More importantly one must not forget that the promises made by the world leaders are not just political they are much more moral because they were made for the most disadvantaged children of the world. These children were denied the childhood and freedom due to conspicuous absence of free and meaningful education and those who are trapped into slavery and flesh trade, sold and bought like animals, forced to spoil their organs while working in extremely hazardous conditions as child labourers. Their bodies, mind and soul is killed every moment. They cannot wait even for tomorrow.


It would be unfair on my part if I don't bring a strong demand for urgent action. It will be injustice to the children I live with and work for.


Last year my organisation had an intensive campaign to sensitise the Parliament members on the long pending constitutional amendment seeking education as a fundamental right. This was followed by a 15000 km's public awareness march. 13 year old Kaushalya was one of the campaigners. The girl was born in slavery because her illiterate parents pledged themselves as bonded labourers to a stone quarry owner by putting thumb impression on a blank paper. The family lost freedom forever since then. Kaushalya could not forget those days when she was four five and used to see children of her age wearing the same uniform, carrying books going in passing by buses on the road. She asked her mother who was also unable to explain her about schooling. Eventually she started her childhood breaking stones and was never allowed to go out of the quarry premises. She had the first exposure of the outside world being forcibly taken by her master for sexual abuse.


Kaushalya's plight was brought to our notice and finally she was liberated with the help of court of law. The innocent Kaushalya lost her childhood. She was traumatised and timid when she saw the other children marching and chanting for freedom and education. One day she asked to me and others that whether she is still a child. We convinced her that she was. Next day I saw her joined with the rest of children chanting. "we want education". It is our birthright. Now she is in school.


Candida from Nicaragua and Khoza from South Africa were among those children who travelled with me to Washington and had a meeting with several Executive Directors from the Bank during May, 2000, in this very building. The children narrated their life stories, which were not different from Kaushalya. Candida who sells flowers for her master after leaving her school in early age asked, "What is the sin of poor children, why can't we get education". We want to be children. Khoza who worked as domestic child labour when sexually abused had a dream to become an astronaut. But asked how could I get good schooling?


Mr. Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, President Bush and O Neill, Prime Minister Jean Chretien and other leaders of G-8 must respond to these innocent and sacred voices of millions of out of school children.


I observe three major impediments in the path. The most important is the lack of sense of urgency. The second is delay in filling the financing gap on the part of donors. Thirdly lack of comprehensive understanding that denial of education is a gross violation of fundamental human rights.


If the present trend goes on over seventy five million children will remain out of school and at least 88 countries can not achieve Universal Primary Education goal, I am afraid how the world will achieve the gender equity goal by 2005?


We ask for very simple things


Is the estimated figure of $ 1.8 Billion to fill the financing gap for 18 Fast Track countries too astronomical? Is it not frightening that none except Netherlands has put $ 120 Million on the table. Similarly why can't an additional $ 10 billion be made available to shape the future of the world by imparting good, quality education, if we spend around $ 900 Billion annually on defence. It is ironical that only $ 700 Million for basic education are currently given by major bilateral donors, which is about two cents of every dollar of aid.


When we know that mass illiteracy is responsible for the perpetuation of poverty and lack of people's participation in democracy, then why not making special efforts for education in those countries to enable them move forward in preparing the ground. Even if the strong demand does not emerge from the government, one must not forget that in many of the countries, people have started demanding education as a fundamental right. A strong emergence of the Global Campaign for education (GCE), which has, during the past three years, successfully brought together all the major teachers' unions and civil society actors at a single platform, is a clear indication in this direction. Millions of people in over 100 countries, last April, came down on to the streets demanding Education for All at the behest of the campaign.


Similarly how the countries that have only recently emerged out of conflict situation will be considered as special cases. If 47 low-income countries have been identified off-track, why and how long we should remain confined to 18.


What concrete efforts are being made on the agreed principle of debt swap on education? We wish to draw your attention to those 20 countries, which are bound to pay 4-5 times their education budget as international debt services, India being one of them.


We must not ignore the importance and necessity of the civil society participation in designing, implementation and monitoring the EFA national action plans. What are the complimenting efforts being made. The general scepticism raised by the donors on the genuine spending on basic education can only be clarified by this measure. The civil society involvement brings in larger accountability and transparency in spending, besides promoting financial decentralisation and community participation.


Finally how serious are we to make quality education really free of charge for our children. One should not forget that education should be free, quality and meaningful. Many children drop out for reasons such as education being costly, degraded and meaningless. Not only should we waive the tuition fee but also provide free uniform, books and mid-day meals to the children attending schools. The curriculum should be made more meaningful keeping in mind their local needs and demands. There is also an urgent need to enhance the quality of education by providing good training material. This also means improving the quality of teachers, which could be ensured only by training and an adequate salary.


I do not see any reason to be pessimistic but on the other hand stronger global and national political will has to be generated. All the stakeholders on education are accountable for the generations to come so we should bear in mind that our children will not remember that their forefather's had the legacy of broken promises only, if we fail now.

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