Go for it now

The target year of 2015 that was fixed to achieve universal primary education will not be met, the United Nations said at the recently held second Global Partnership for Education Replenishment Pledging Conference in Brussels. An estimated 58 million children, a large proportion of them from sub-Saharan Africa, are still out of school. The announcement merely confirms Unesco’s own admission last year on the odds ahead in the task of realising this Millennium Development Goal. That admission was based on its finding that the top six donors had substantially cut back on their aid commitments since 2011. Two of the donor countries slashed their allocations in this sector by 30 per cent; reductions made by the European Union were to a similar extent. Unesco observed that the momentum with respect to achieving this target was lost since 2007, implying that as in the case of several other basic human development indicators, the global economic meltdown may have contributed to the situation. But the movement to improve rates of retention in schools and to enhance quality of teaching seems to be gathering steam again, as most of the donor states promised at the Brussels conference to step up spending. But more significant, as many as 60 developing countries that were present in Brussels — India was not among them — agreed to boost allocations in their domestic budgets for primary education.

Abolition of tuition fees, cash transfers, teaching in the local language, increased financial outlays and appropriate curriculum are among measures that have helped developing countries reduce the out-of-school population among children, according to the Education For All report. Clearly, then, there are diverse ways and means to realise the goal of universal education. Governments found wanting in the requisite will to invest in the future of their youngsters may be complicit in allowing children to be weaned away by armed militias that have already wreaked much economic havoc and caused political instability in many regions. A welcome new dimension to the Replenishment Pledging Conference is the focus on the needs of disabled children. Addressing this segment is both a moral and practical imperative, considering that 15 per cent of the world’s population has some form of disability, as per figures from a 2011 report on disability brought out jointly by the World Health Organization and the World Bank. Around the world, about a third of those that are not in school have a disability, says the Global Campaign for Education UK. Given such a large proportion of such children, the relevant goal cannot be accomplished without special provision being made to achieve it. Thus, there is a case to set separate targets factoring in disability in the post-2015 development agenda.