Press Releases

    15 February 2002


    NEW YORK, 14 February (UN Headquarters) -- At a round-table discussion held today, as part of preparations for this year’s high-level segment of the Economic and Social Council’s substantive session, it was agreed that education for all was the best investment a country could make for its development.

    The day-long event brought together leading education experts from the public and private sectors, education ministers and representatives to the Council to discuss education and development. The theme of the Council's high-level segment will be "The contribution of human resources development, including in the areas of health and education, to the process of development".

    Opening the discussion, Council President Ivan Simonovic (Croatia) pointed out that necessary for such an investment were strong national leadership, political commitment and financial support. More than 10 years after the international community set the goal of education for all, more than 100 million children do not attend school.

    During the session on education for all, including girls’ education, participants highlighted the link between education and poverty eradication and development. El Salvador’s Minister of Education, Evelyn Jacir de Lovo, stated that the cycle of poverty could not be broken without guaranteeing basic access to education. Disparities in development levels within countries could only be rectified through education.

    Ann Therese Ndong-Jatta, Gambia’s Secretary of State for Education, noted that the lack of progress in achieving the goal of education for all was not due to a lack of political will. The underlying factor was poverty, which contributed to high dropout rates, particularly among girls. Thus, it was not enough just to improve access.

    The international community was failing its girls, stated the representative of the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts. Numerous agreements on girls’ education still needed effective implementation. Girls were more likely than boys to be illiterate and live in poverty.

    In that regard, she highlighted the contribution of non-formal education to girls’ education. Non-formal education taught life skills, was values-based and emphasized learning by doing. Non-formal education, added the representative of the Division for the Advancement of Women, was an excellent way to reach girls in indigenous and disadvantaged groups.

    As had been stated by the Secretary-General, educating girls was a social development policy that worked, noted the Co-Chair of the United Nations Working Group on Girls. The social benefits of girls’ education included lower maternal mortality rates, increased family incomes, HIV/AIDS prevention and greater participation of women in economic and political decision-making. At the same time, as pointed out by Suriname’s representative, boys must not be left behind. In the Caribbean, for example, dropout rates were higher among boys than girls.

    To achieve the goal of education for all and to improve the quality of education, the teaching profession must be upgraded, the representative of the International Labour Organization (ILO) said. Despite the issue of value for money, teachers’ salaries must be improved. Teaching must be made a more viable career, and there was universal need to improve workplace conditions for teachers. Better facilities were also needed for teachers to participate in national policy discussion.

    Among the other issues raised were the quality of education, as well as the need for public-private partnerships, monitoring of policies and programmes, international cooperation, funding and positive role models for girls. Partnerships with parents, said Uganda’s Minister of Education and Sports, Edward Khiddu Makubuya, were especially vital as parents must be convinced of the need to send their children to school.

    Speakers also discussed the roles played by technical and vocational education, as well as distance-learning programmes alongside traditional, formal education. Technical and vocational education was important, said Germany’s representative, because it was a crucial link between primary education and the integration of young men and women into the workforce.

    Turning to higher education, speakers recognized that the developing countries, particularly the least developed, faced a number of challenges in meeting the needs of higher education, including a lack of financial resources to establish such institutions of higher learning and difficulties in attracting suitable faculty.

    As a result, said Bhutan’s representative, was the dependence of those countries for higher education on institutions in the developed countries. Therefore, he called on developed countries and the international community to provide concessions for higher education to those from developing countries. That, in turn, noted some speakers, had led to a "brain drain" from the developing countries, to the benefit of developed countries such as the United States.

    The Chairperson of the Commission for Social Development said that while she could understand the difficulties of small countries in maintaining universities, it was extremely important to do so. In the Caribbean, a regional university of the West Indies with branches on the larger islands had been established. The regional approach was one way to ensure that education was need-specific. Capacity-building, at least at the regional level, should be addressed.

    The discussion also included presentations of good practices in education and development featuring case studies from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the United Nations University, the World Food Programme (WFP) and the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO).

    Among the lessons learned from the UNFPA’s population education programmes in Iran and India was the importance of determining and using current government priorities; involving religious leaders, community organizations and the media; and collecting and using data to support policies and programmes.

    Also, the WFP’s School Feeding and Food for Education Initiatives had, among other things, contributed to a reduction in dropout rates, an increase in the number of girls attending school, as well as an increase in the learning capacity of students.

    Summing up the discussion, Mr. Simonovic stated that the current situation must be treated as an emergency, if the international community was to attain the 2005 goal of gender parity in primary and secondary education and the 2015 goal of education for all.

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