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Hope in Asia and challenge in Africa

THE most hopeful progress towards universal basic schooling has come in Asia, where primary enrolment has risen steadily in the past decade and rates of population increase have fallen.

But it is also a measure of public dissatisfaction with government programmes that in many cities such as Lahore more than 50 per cent of schools are now private. Pakistan has opted to achieve education for all by decentralising power but experts fear the lack of local management experience will lead to more inefficiency and corruption.

Bangladesh is investing heavily in hundreds of big grassroots organisations such as the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee, which runs thousands of schools. Their profile also helps keep education on the national agenda.

In Latin America, where most children are in school already, the concern is to bring on board children from poor or ethnic families.

In Bolivia, the government announced last week a pound;60 million plan to eradicate the worst forms of child labour in the hope of getting 800,000 child workers back into school. Most of it will be spent giving material assistance to families who need their children's wages. A similar scheme in Brazil has proved highly successful (see story, right).

In October the Guatemala government announced that pupils would have to teach five people to read to pass their high school diploma. But after protests this number was reduced to one an those doing military service are exempt even from this. Guatemala has the second-lowest literacy rate in Latin America - 64 per cent - after Haiti.

The biggest challenge remains sub-Saharan Africa, where conflict, poverty, population growth and ineffective government have combined to decrease primary enrolment rates among the region's 46 countries in the past decade.

In Senegal, which hosted the World Education Forum last year, the government has drawn up its national education plan and will present it for consultation with teachers' unions and ngos this weekend.

In the most significant development, at a meeting in Mali's capital last year, six low-enrolment countries - Burkina Faso, Chad, Guinea, Mali, Niger, and Senegal - pledged to increase the proportion of government spending on education to 4 per cent of GDP, with half going to basic education. The toughest nuts to crack will be countries riddled by conflict, such as Liberia, Congo and Sierra Leone.

But UNESCO remains optimistic that progress on national plans for education for all will be achieved by the time it holds its four-yearly pan-African conference in December 2002.

"A lot of countries already had a 10-year plan," said Armoogum Parsuramen, director of UNESCO's African office for education, in Dakar. "Now they are trying to see which of the Dakar goals, such as the inclusion of disadvantaged groups, are not covered."

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