African education ministers call for solidarity and actionDar-es-Salaam - The Eighth Conference of Ministers of Education of African Member States (MINEDAF VIII) has appealed to both the international community and African governments themselves to make education one of the pillars of development in Africa.
Organized by UNESCO, the United Republic of Tanzania and the African Union, the five-day meeting, which ended here today, brought together representatives from a total of 49 countries, including 29 ministers, other UN agencies, intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations.
"The Conference launches an appeal to the international community to accompany Africa in its strategy to achieve educational renewal and cultural renaissance for the building of the new Africa," says the Declaration of Commitment adopted today. Convinced that the objectives set by the World Education Forum in Dakar, Senegal (April, 2000), can be achieved, the Declaration also made "a solemn appeal for a continent-wide kick-start", based on the meetings results and recommendations.
Recognizing the efforts being made by countries to reach the Education for All (EFA) goals, the Declaration noted that "progress remains limited and below expectations." It points out that the rate of enrolment in the sixth year of primary school, which stands at 56 percent, increased by only four percentage points over the ten years between 1990 and 2000. Over the same period, the girls/boys enrolment ratio improved by just five points and the literacy rate by only ten points.
According to a report prepared for MINEDAF VIII, some 40 million school age children across Africa are still out of school. Contrary to trends in other regions, the teacher/pupil ratio is increasing and in certain countries classes of up to 100 children are not uncommon. Some 40 percent of adults are illiterate. At present rates of progress, 20 sub-Saharan African countries will not achieve the Dakar goal of Universal Primary Education (UPE) by the deadline of 2015.
The Conference stressed the need for bilateral and multilateral partners to pursue and reinforce their support. According to the 2002 EFA Global Monitoring Report*, bilateral aide to education fell by 16 percent over the decade from 1990 to 2000. The report also concluded that likely aid requirements have fallen short by about 50 percent, and that an extra US$5.6 billion will be needed annually to achieve the UPE and gender parity goals alone.
"There is a need for sizeable external assistance with a broader field of intervention, using accelerated procedures," states the MINEDAF Declaration, which proposes the cancellation of external debt "whose yearly service in some countries exceeds the annual resources needed to achieve education for all."
However, the participants clearly recognized that the improvement of education systems in Africa also requires a more rational use of human and financial resources by African governments themselves, "undertaking numerous innovative initiatives, and above all working hand in hand." They stressed the determination of Africans "to be the artisans of their own development and future" and reaffirmed their "commitment to an alliance for the rebirth of Africa." To this end, they agreed to reinforce regional cooperation.
They committed themselves to finalizing their EFA plans by December 2003 and proposed a series of concrete measures. These include devoting at least 20 percent of state budgets to education, and 50 percent of the education budget to primary education. The proportion of non-salary teaching expenses should be increased to provide pupils with proper teaching materials, and teacher training and salaries must be improved. A pupil/teacher ratio of about 40:1 should be aimed for, repeat rates reduced and the private sector encouraged to take in a high percentage of pupils.
While giving priority to quality basic education, MINEDAF VIII insisted on the need for a global education strategy, creating a synergy within the education system and between the education system and other economic, social and cultural sectors. The strategy should emphasize the education of girls and women; the teaching of science and technology; fighting the impact of HIV/AIDS on education; the use of national languages; and education for peace and tolerance.
* 2002 Education for All Global Monitoring Report: Is the World on Track? Published by UNESCO, available online
Jasmina Sopova, Bureau of Public Information, Editorial Section
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