Foreign Aid To Education in Sub-Saharan Africa Slows

The recent UNESCO report, the Education for All Global Monitoring Report, released late last month, finds a disturbing drop in foreign aid made to education, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. According to the report, “In sub-Saharan Africa, home to over half the world’s out-of-school population, aid to basic education declined by 7 per cent in 2011.” This decline represents a cut of more than $134 million that could have provided a place in school for more than a million students.

Overall education aid peaked in 2010, and fell by 7 per cent to $5.8 billion in 2011. Aid to low-income countries fell by $1.86 billion, to $16 per child. Nine major international donors reduced aid to education in favor of creating strong democratic institutions through foreign aid.

Water for cooking, Niger floods, Sept 2012

Because of the cuts, most sub-Saharan African countries will not be able to meet the UN Millennium Development Goal that all children should have a primary education by 2015. The problem is especially intense in sub-Saharan Africa, a region ranking lowest in primary education in the world. Niger, for instance, with a primary school enrollment of only 8 per cent, is not expected to be able to meet that goal until 2090 for boys in rural areas, and 2120 for girls in rural areas. “Today, there are 250 million children around the world who aren’t learning the basics. This is primarily the responsibility of national governments, but donors need to step up to the mark in supporting states that are committed to improving their education systems,” said Pauline Rose, director of the EFA Global Monitoring Report.

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UNESCO Report Highlights Global Education Crisis

School Time, PeruUNESCO released the report Teaching and Learning: Achieving Quality for All evaluating the progress being made towards the 2015 Education for All goals. The world will fall short of the goal to provide universal primary education to all children by 2015. Approximately 57 million children fail to attend school, and  250 million more attend schools  but fail to learn basic reading and math skills due to low quality education.

Approximately 10% of the money governments spend on primary education goes to waste because it is spent on substandard education that does little to benefit students. This equates to nearly $129 billion a year being squandered. Under these conditions, one-quarter of the world’s children (175 million)  are unable to read even a sentence after four years of primary education.

Children in poor and developing nations suffer the most from the failure of educational systems to deliver quality teaching. These countries have vastly improved attendance rates in primary schools, yet children are not getting the full benefit of the educational opportunities being provided.

This crisis in global education is largely due to severe shortages of teachers and a lack of proper training for those that are actively working in schools. There are not nearly enough qualified teachers available to staff schools and give children the attention they need. As a result, many schools struggle with high student to teacher ratios that make it impossible for teachers to give all students adequate attention.

Additionally, according to the UNESCO report “in a third of countries, less than 75% of primary school teachers are trained.” Many teachers lack appropriate formal training to national standards and are never adequately tested on their abilities to provide instruction before being placed in classrooms.

“Teachers have the future of this generation in their hands. We need 5.2 million teachers to be recruited by 2015, and we need to work harder to support them in providing children with their right to a universal, free and quality education. We must also make sure that there is an explicit commitment to equity in new global education goals…so that no one is left behind” explained Irina Bokova, UNESCO Director-General.

The UNESCO report recommended that governments focus upon four actions to improve the situation. Governments need to implement reforms to ensure teachers are properly trained and capable of supporting the neediest students. They must also select teachers who represent the same diversity as the children they teach, and ensure that underprivileged areas are being served by high quality teachers. Finally, the report called for governments to improve working conditions and provide incentives in order to attract and retain qualified teachers.

The Education for All Goals were established in 2000 as part of an effort to  provide all children, youth and adults with worldwide with a quality education. These goals focus on six goals which include: early childhood care and education, universal primary education, youth and adult skills, adult literacy, gender parity and equality, and quality of education. Although improvements have occurred, this report indicated that none of these global goals will be met by the initial target date of 2015.

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UNESCO to spend $7 Million for Girls’ Education in Pakistan

This month, UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova and Pakistan’s State Minister for Education, Muhammad Baleeghur Rehman, signed  the Malala Funds-in-Trust agreement, which commits $7 million to improving access to and quality of girls’ education in Pakistan’s remote rural areas. “Education in today’s world is not a choice but a fundamental right of every child. Government is responsible morally, ethically and constitutionally to provide education for every child regardless of creed or gender,” said Minister of State baligh ur-Rehman.

Girls in school in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, PakistanThere are more than 3.8 girls in Pakistan who are out of school, and those in school are more likely to drop out than boys. The program’s goal is to reduce the gender gap between girls and boys—which currently stands at 10 per cent—down to five per cent within three years. A 2002 study, the Pakistan Integrated Household Survey, found that a huge disparity in access to education between boys and girls: 34 percent of sampled rural areas reported no access to a girls’ primary school, compared to 15 per cent for boys.

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Ceasefire in South Sudan Leaves Room for Education Discussion

A ceasefire agreement signed between the government of South Sudan and rebel fighters has put the armed conflict on hold, at least for now. The conflict has displaced an estimated 500,000 people from their homes, and left the nation’s infrastructure in disarray. While there have been some creative solutions to the loss of an educational infrastructure—like allowing students to take exams in UN compounds—the country is still unable to adequately educate too many of its citizens. The break in hostilities may allow the government to start rebuilding lost facilities, and restoring families to their homes and schools.

GPE Head Visits South SudanBefore becoming independent in 2011, South Sudan engaged in a huge reconstruction program. Between 2006 and 2009, the number of primary school children in South Sudan increased from 700,000 to 1.6 million, according to a UNESCO study. UNESCO did report some promising results, like a slowly narrowing gender gap, but they still cite unsettling numbers. 40 per cent of girls are not receiving any kind of education, and high migration rates within the country make it difficult to track how many students are returning to school, or being promoted between grades.

Allowing students to take primary school exams in refugee compounds is a necessity in a country where less than 10 per cent of the population has finished primary school. Additionally, South Sudan’s literacy rate stands at just 27 per cent for all citizens over 15 years old. “There’re not enough schools. There’re certainly not enough teachers. Most of the teachers in South Sudan are primary school leavers,” said Jessica Hjarrand, education specialist at UNESCO. Headmaster of Lomuku Primary School in Yei, Michael Adier Kuol, added, “In the school where I’m teaching now, there are around 16 teachers, and all of them are untrained.”

While the recent ceasefire is not guaranteed to be lasting (or even effective, as light skirmishing has continued despite the treaty), it may yet provide an opportunity for South Sudan to address some of its underlying problems. One of their greatest challenges is updating and reforming an inadequate and underfunded school system.

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10 Years After Invasion, Iraq’s Education Still Suffering

10 years after the destructive US invasion, Iraq’s Education infrastructure has yet to recover. A recent UNESCO report reveals that a mere nine per cent of Iraqi adults have finished secondary school. The report lists extensive challenges still facing the country’s educational system: low enrollment, a lack of usable facilities, and a growing illiteracy rate.

iraqIraq’s education infrastructure was badly damaged during the years of the US occupation. Between 2003 and 2008, Iraq saw 31,598 attacks against educational institutions, and an estimated 259 academics assassinated, according to the Ministry of Education. Between 2005 and 2007, over four hundred university students were killed, as well as a reported 340 professors. Even more academics were forced to flee the country during and after the invasion. Primary School enrollments have yet to reach their pre-war levels.

The report’s proposed solutions include a new literacy initiative, public sector modernization, and a new focus on vocational schools and training to meet the needs of Iraq’s developing economy.

The need to rebuild Iraq’s infrastructure comes at a critical time for the country. Reports of corruption are widespread. The United States alone has given over $60 billion in aid to Iraq, and there are claims that some $8 billion has gone to waste. The World Bank also threatened to cut off funding to Iraq for failure to put aid dollars to use.

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UNESCO Still Struggling From Lack of Funding

UNESCO headquarters in Paris UNESCO, the cultural agency most known for its promotion and protection of world heritage sites, has suspended American membership after the US has withheld funds from the agency for three successive years. Having provided 22  of the UNESCO budget prior to the cuts, America’s decision to withhold funding has led to the slashing of key components of UNESCO programs, including initiatives to increase education for young women around the world.

The decision to withhold funds was in protest to UNESCO’s recognition of Palestine as a country in 2011. Now entering its third year without US funding, which approximated an annual 70 million dollars, the agency has been forced to cut costs and frantically look for ways to make up for the loss by freezing hiring, cancelling new programs, and renegotiating contracts.

UNESCO sponsors key education initiatives, including Education for All and UNESCO’s Literacy Initiative for Empowerment, programs that promote early childhood education in countries including Iraq and Pakistan as well as 35 other countries with low literacy rates. Education for All, which goals include achieving gender equality in education and improving adult literacy rates by 50 % by the year 2015, has urgently called for more funding as the deadline approaches.

Though some countries, such as Norway, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia, have pledged to increase their annual contributions to make up for the lack of US funding, the agency’s budget continues to suffer. This has prompted UNESCO to turn to the private sector for additional funding. UNESCO’s education programs have suffered the most from budget cuts partly due to the meagre private donations that education programs receive in comparison to other fields; only 8% f US foundations’ grants are allocated to education compared to the 53 per cent of US foundations’ grants that are allocated to health.

In 2012, UNESCO claimed to be in its “worst financial situation ever”.  The Education for All website claims that an additional 16 billion dollars will need to be raised annually in order to achieve some of its goals in low-income countries by the 2015 deadline.

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Human Rights Watch Argues to End Child Marriage in Yemen

Young girl waiting in line at Oxfam's cash distributionHuman Rights Watch (HRW) released a video that documents the psychological and physical damage child marriage causes to the young girls of Yemen. The video underscores HRW’s proposal to include a minimum age of marriage at 18 years in the drafting of Yemen’s new constitution.

The HRW video records experiences of Yemeni child brides, a father who remorses over offering his daughters for marriage, reports of a local gynecologist, and many other accounts contributing to a wide series of powerful perspectives.

The video was released in lieu of recent controversial story of an eight year old Yemeni girl who allegedly married a 40 year old man and bled to death after intercourse. Yemeni local officials are currently denying the allegations despite an outcry from international media.

According to HRW, Yemen’s desperate economic situation pressures families to marry off daughters in exchange for a dowry; a wider age margin between the wife and husband often results in a larger dowry.

Long term effects of child marriage on young girls include an abrupt discontinuation of education leading to limited opportunities, detrimental harm on reproductive health, emotional trauma, domestic abuse and martial rape, and social isolation.

According to UNICEF’s 2006 Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey, 52 percent of Yemeni girls were married before they reached the age of 18 and 14 percent were married before 15 years old.

UNESCO reports that as of 2007, the adult literacy rate for Yemenis aged 15 and over was 59 percent; 77 percent for all males and 40 percent for all females. UNESCO’s 2005 global monitoring reports that primary school enrollment was 85 percent for boys and 65 percent for girls with an even wider margin in secondary school. Household responsibilities and low female teacher to female student ratio contributes to the discrepancies, yet child marriage is still said to be one of the main factors.

There is currently no legal minimum age for marriage in Yemen despite previous attempts from parliament. In 2009, a group of lawmakers abolished a proposal setting the legal minimum marriage age at 17 and argued that the minimum age was contrary to the Sharia, Islamic law. 

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Students Threaten To Shut Down Private University Activities in Nigeria

The university was in recess during our visit (hence few students on campus)

Nigerian university students have united under the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) and have protested in the streets of Ado Ekiti, Ekiti State’s capital, demanding that the federal government yield to the demands of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU).

The students displayed signs reprimanding the government for not honoring the agreement it entered into with the ASUU in 2009. They are also threatening to shut down activities in private universities if the crisis continues.

Speaking on behalf of his colleagues, Asafon Sunday, Director of Action and Mobilisation NANS, South-West, said there has been an increase in revenue from the sale of oil and yet the Federal Government did not budget a reasonable amount to the education sector. UNESCO’s recommended allocation is 26 percent, however, Nigeria has only budgeted 8.5 percent to their education sector.

Steven Adara, a student leader from Ekiti State University, stated, “We will mobilise and disrupt academic activities in the private universities because it is the sons and daughters of the rich that are in these schools.”

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New Somali Education Campaign to Reach One Million Children

somalia597-mogadishu-orphan-boy-taking-lessonsEducation authorities in Somalia have announced the launch of a new campaign entitled the Go 2 School Initiative. The new program will be led by Somali education officials, with the intent of providing access to education for one million out-of-school children.

As part of the legacy of decades of civil war, currently only 40% of Somali children are in school-one of the lowest school enrollment rates in the world. Many start school late and drop out early. Female student enrollment is particularly low.

The Go 2 School Initiative will attempt to boost enrolment rates by encouraging parents to bring their children to free government schools, building new schools, and training teachers. The campaign will cover basic education for students aged 6-13 years, and alternative education programs for displaced, nomadic, and pastoralist children.

The new campaign will also provide basic skills education for teenagers, in hopes of providing an alternative path to the criminal gangs and armed groups into which they are often at risk of being recruited.

“Giving children and young people an education is crucial for their own future and that of their family and community,” said Dr. Maryan Qasim, Minister for Human Development and Public Services. “But education is also crucial for maintaining peace and stability. Education can be Somalia’s true peace dividend.”

Go 2 School is estimated to cost $117 million over three years, and is being supported by international partners like UNICEF, UNESCO, and various NGOs. Local Somali politicians and religious leaders have expressed support for the initiative, as have prominent figures in the Somali diaspora.

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Nepalese Theater Group Performs for Girls’ Education

120910-F-CP197-235 A Local Nepalese theater group, Theatre Village, stages street plays highlighting the importance of educating young Nepalese women. The performances observed International Literacy Day; a day hosted by UNESCO to draw worldwide attention to literary needs, and Teej Festival; an annual Hindu festival celebrating the reunion of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati.

A play called “Dhukka Hunuhos” was performed by 14 actors in five Kathmandu locations celebrating the festivities. A father was portrayed reflecting on his intentions for his daughter to continue studies in the capital due to the lack of higher education institutions in villages. The audience was reported to nod, sigh, and chuckle in agreement to the drama.

Coordinator Jibesh Rayamajhi explained “this is an improvised play where everyone helped with the story.”

Theater Village collaborated their performances with Plan Nepal, a Nepalese organization working to lift children out of poverty, as a part of the ‘Because I am a girl’ campaign. This campaign reaches millions of girls in 50 developing countries to addresses barriers to female education.

In Nepal, about 44.55% of women above 15 years are literate, while 71.5% of males are literate. Attempts have been made by the Nepalese government to eradicate illiteracy, but education experts still call for more progressive campaigns to address the issue.

According to a UNESCO report, barriers to female education include strong traditions of early marriage, armed conflict, economic disparities that encourage child labor, poor teaching conditions, institutional barriers, school facilities that do not meet the needs of female students, and difficult long distance travel.

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