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Africa must do its bit

The West can do much more, but developing countries must also help themselves, argues World Bank president James Wolfensohn.

SINCE the first world Education for All Conference in Jomtien, Thailand, in 1990, the number of children at school in developing countries has increased from 600 to 700 million. Yet, providing universal basic education has proved more difficult than we expected.

Ten years after Jomtien, as many as 14 countries have a minority of their primary-age pupils at school.

Reasons for this are many: lack of government commitment, resource constraints, fast population growth. The World Bank is strengthening its commitment to education by supporting those governments that are committed and ready.

Over the past five years, the Bank's commitment to education has increased in size, scope, and diversity.

The most dramatic shift has been from the focus on "hardware" (the proportion it lent for civil works and equipment fell from almost 100 per cent in the 1960s to 45 per cent in the late 1990s) to "software" (training, technical assistance, books, and system reforms).

There has also been a shift from a narrow "project" approach to a broader "sectoral" one, and an increase in lending for girls' schooling.

The Bank aims to work with the international community to help ensure that no country with a viable plan for universal primary schooling fails for lack of external resources.

But this goal will also requre a greater effort by the countries themselves.

We must remember that only around 3 per cent of the financing of education comes from external sources in developing countries. Governments provide 72 per cent and 25 per cent comes from the "private" sector in its broadest sense - that is communities, employers, entrepreneurs, charities and so on.

This suggests that real success will come from countries' own efforts. They will need to:

put education high on their government's agenda;

make efficient use of resources and solve funding problems for education;

introduce social safety nets to allow children to stay in school during national crises, or crises in the home that throw their families into poverty;

ensure a high quality of education, which is as important as quantity; and

have proper, transparent politics, essential in building institutions that can achieve education for all.

We must put education at the heart of development and scale up all our education operations. We must accelerate our efforts to help countries to identify and finance their education priorities, particularly through using debt relief wisely and well.

We need quality investment with clear outcomes. National plans should be matched by global initiatives.

We at the Bank have homework to do - but so do governments, donor countries and other stakeholders - to support reform and action that will achieve the Dakar goals.

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