UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA - AFRICAN STUDIES CENTER
Education crisis poses vast threat, UNICEF says
Tuesday, 8 December 1998: Denied the right to quality basic education, hundreds of millions of children are growing up unequipped to make decent lives for themselves in the 21st Century. UNICEF warns in an annual survey ) The State of the World's Children 1999 ) that this situation has powder-keg implications for global peace and prosperity.
Nearly a billion people ) a sixth of humanity ) are already classified as functionally illiterate, UNICEF says, unable to read a book or sign their names, much less fill out a simple application form or operate a computer.
"The consequences of illiteracy are profound ) and even potentially life-threatening," said UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy. "This year's report shows graphically that for millions and millions of children education is literally a matter of life and death."
Citing findings gleaned from throughout the developing world, the UNICEF report shows that there is a direct correlation between years of schooling and child mortality rates.
The report says that children who grow up without basic education not only find it harder to sustain themselves and their families, but also to make their way as adults in society in a spirit of tolerance, understanding and equality.
At its most basic, education helps people learn how to achieve fundamental human rights ) such as health, nutrition and safe motherhood ) while improving the quality of life. But it also helps adults and children alike to learn to manage conflict, respect pluralism and diversity, and work with others toward common objectives ) including the healthy and harmonious family life that all children need.
"On a society-wide scale, the denial of education harms the cause of democracy and social progress ) and, by extension, international peace and security," the report says.
The denial of the right to education is especially egregious in the case of girls, whose gender often leads to subsistence chores instead of school, or who are marginalised in the classroom. The gravity of the situation can be summarised in the statistics: of the estimated 855 million adult functional illiterates throughout the world, two-thirds are female.
Education is the single most important intervention in ending child labour, and the education of girls is the single most important factor in providing education to
all children. For children traumatized by armed conflict and violence, including child soldiers and those dealing with the violence of sexual abuse, education is vital to both healing and rehabilitation.
The report stresses the vital importance not only of access to basic education but also of the quality of that education. For example, 150 million children in developing countries start school but do not reach grade five. They leave school without the literacy, numeracy and life skills that are the foundation for learning through life.
To achieve education for all children, the world would need to spend an additional $7 billion per year over the next ten years. This is less than is annually spent on cosmetics in the United States or on ice cream in Europe. It is less than a tenth of the world's annual military spending.
The crisis of basic education comes at a time when technology has triggered a quantum leap in the accessibility of information, making ideas and knowledge available to more people than ever before. The tragedy is that these same technological advances have further deepened the gulf between rich and poor ) between those sufficiently affluent and educated to benefit from the new learning technology, and those disqualified by poverty and illiteracy.
Yet, as the UNICEF report explains, education is a fundamental human right proclaimed in agreements ranging from the 50-year-old Universal Declaration of Human Rights to the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child, history's most universally embraced human rights instrument.
The obligation to ensure all children's right to education and to achieve education for all lies primarily with national governments, the report concludes. Indeed, in working to achieve sustainable human development, there is no more critical role for states than to guarantee that all their children enjoy the right to basic education.
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Date: Wed, 9 Dec 1998 13:02:19 +0300 (EAT) From: IRIN - Central and Eastern Africa <firstname.lastname@example.org> Subject: UNICEF: State Of The World's Children Report 1998.12.9
Editor: Ali B. Dinar, email@example.com