Tuesday, January 02, 2007

The task ahead

The very poorest countries depend on foreign aid for their basic functioning. Major aid comes through the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the UN and donor countries. Because they hold the purse strings, these donors have a strong influence on African policy.

School enrollment rates in sub Saharan countries soared for two decades until 1980, when the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund demanded that African governments slash public spending to deal with a wave of economic crises. As spending stagnated, so did schools. During the 1980s, the region’s enrollment rates languished. In Mali, the spending cuts meant that all but three teacher training institutes were closed. No wonder education suffered.

You could say that the current education standards in Africa are a direct result of the actions of Western donor countries. Donors seem to have seen the error of their ways and they have reignited the push for basic education in the 1990s. Wealthy nations and global lenders like the World Bank increased contributions to basic education in sub-Saharan Africa by almost half in just four years, to an average of $723 million a year in 2003 and 2004, according to Unesco.

Yet even this will not enable the region to meet the United Nations’ millennium target of assuring all children a sixth-grade education by 2015. At current spending levels, the World Bank estimates, that will take sub-Saharan nations another 50 years. Achieving it within the next decade would require a ninefold increase in aid, Unesco’s experts say. They argue that donors should shift funds to Africa from other, less needy parts of the world and to primary schools from higher education.

Today’s development experts say that education is the region’s best hope. Only by educating children through at least the sixth grade, they say, can Africa attack the rise in poverty that has left it trailing the rest of the developing world. In sub-Saharan Africa, the average adult’s schooling ends at the third grade. Two in five are illiterate. No nation has ever achieved rapid and sustained economic growth with a population so poorly educated, the World Bank says.

There's a good article in the New York Times on this topic.

The School of St Jude provides quality education for 850 children from the poorest families around Arusha, Tanzania. It is a centre of excellence that is supported by private donors from Australia and other countries.

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