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World leaders and experts meet to raise the profile of education on the development agenda


NEW YORK, – A brainstorming session to examine ways to make the case for education by showing its powerful impact on all Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) will be held on 22 September, as world leaders gather in New York to review progress on the MDGs.

A special focus on education is critical, according to the organizers of the session, Save the Children, Qatar, UNESCO and UNICEF. Education is the key to sustained global progress towards all the millennium targets, but about 69 million children – among them the most marginalized – are currently unable to go to school every year.

“Education plays a central role in the achievement of all MDGs and needs to be given top priority across all regions, including those affected by natural disasters and conflicts. There can be no peace and prosperity without education,” said Her Highness Sheikha Mozah Bint Nasser Al-Missned, Chairperson of the Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development. “Conflicts are a major threat to human security and to hard-won Millennium Development Goals.”

The meeting, attended by Heads of State and world leaders, takes place amid fears that the momentum built up in education since the beginning of the decade is starting to wane. There has been less progress for the poorest children and those living in countries affected by conflict, in remote regions or those from minority groups, when compared to those whose families have greater resources.

“Ending the cycle of poverty for children, their families and their communities – begins with education,” says Anthony Lake, UNICEF Executive Director.

The session will take into account new data that firmly establishes that investing in education is crucial to reaching all the MDGs.

“From better health to increased wealth, education is the catalyst of a better future for millions of children, youth and adults,” says UNESCO’s Director-General, Irina Bokova. “No country has ever climbed the socioeconomic development ladder without steady investments in education.”

The data from the Education for All Global Monitoring Report shows that:

* 171 million people could be lifted out of poverty if all students in low-income countries left school with basic reading skills – that is equivalent to a 12 per cent drop in the number of people living on less than $1.25 a day. (MDG 1-Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger)
* In Kenya, if women farmers are given the same education opportunities as their male peers, their yields for maize, beans and cowpeas increase by up to 22 per cent. (MDG 3-Promote gender equality and empower women)
* A child born to a mother who can read is 50 per cent more likely to survive past the age of 5, and in sub-Saharan Africa an estimated 1.8 million children’s lives could have been saved in 2008 if their mothers had at least secondary education. (MDG 4-Reduce child mortality)
* In Burkina Faso, mothers with secondary education are twice as likely to give birth more safely in health facilities as those with no education. (MDG 5-Improve maternal health)
* In Malawi, the share of women who know that HIV transmission risks can be reduced by taking drugs during pregnancy is only 27 per cent for women without any education, but rises to 59 per cent for women with secondary education. (MDG 6-Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases)

Commendable progress has been made in achieving quality basic education for all since the MDGs were set in 2000.

In Tanzania, less than half of all primary school-aged children were in school at the beginning of the decade. Today nearly all children attend primary school. India, with about 5.6 million children out of school in 2008, is expected to bring down this number to about 750,000 by 2015.

Despite these notable achievements, the international community is still not on track to deliver on the promise of quality basic education for all by 2015. In many cases, progress in enrolment has been made at the expense of education quality, while other education targets have been neglected, such as early childhood care and education, literacy, youth and adult education and life-skills.

“Overall, progress has been made in achieving universal primary education. However, donors and States must now focus on the education of children living in conflict-affected and fragile states. This is a huge proportion of the 69 million and it’s not improving,” said Jasmine Whitbread, Chief Executive Officer of Save the Children. “That’s a huge waste of potential that can’t be allowed to continue.”

Large gaps still remain in access to education and the share of children who actually complete primary school. Significant inequalities based on gender, ethnicity, income, language or disabilities are still a major barrier to achieving universal primary education. If current trends continue, as many as 56 million children will be out of school in 2015. In 2008, 72 of 184 countries with data had not reached gender parity in primary education.

Nigeria, home to the largest number of children out of school (8.6 million in 2007) is expected to still have 8.3 million children not in school in 2015. In sub-Saharan Africa alone, about 38 million children drop out of school each year.

At the meeting, world leaders will be urged to consider greater investments in education by bridging the annual funding shortfall of about US $16 billion needed to achieve universal primary education. With only five years to go until the target date for the MDGs, there is an urgent need to translate words into action.

The striking evidence that education is vital to achieving all the millennium goals is presented in “Education Counts,” an exhibition by UNESCO on display at United Nations Headquarters until 20 November.


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