Hopes for poorest children dashed

Anger as leaders of rich countries fail to stump up cash to expand basic schooling, reports Brendan O'Malley

Anti-poverty groups have attacked G8 leaders for failing to give any more cash to help ensure the 100 million children not in school worldwide can get a basic education by 2015.

The crisis in the Middle East cast a shadow over this year's G8 summit in St Petersburg, Russia, which campaigners had hoped would pledge the funds needed to meet last year's promises to increase aid.

The G8 countries had pledged to give $50 billion extra aid per year to developing countries by 2010, cancel their debts, and give the World Bank a leading role in co-ordinating support for development.

While the leaders said they were working hard to fulfil the promises made on the back of public interest generated by the Make Poverty History campaign and Live 8 Concerts, campaigners said progress had been patchy and slow, particularly on education.

Britain has announced landmark rises in funding to education in the hope of persuading other G8 nations to follow suit. But there has been no stampede so far. It took pressure from the UK and France to ensure a review of progress on Africa next year.

Lucia Fry, co-ordinator of the Global Campaign for Education said: "The sand is slipping through the hour glass. All children have to be in school by 2009 to complete it by 2015. So it's clear that the G8 nations other than the UK are failing to grasp the urgency of the challenge."

Patrick Watt, ActionAid's UK policy co-ordinator, criticised the failure to put sufficient money behind the World Bank's Fast Track Initiative, a global mechanism for funding universal primary education.

He said: "Four years on from the establishment of the Fast Track Initiative, a financing gap of $400m this year is preventing some of the poorest countries from implementing plans while 100m children remain out of school. This summit has done nothing to address this crisis."

Since last year's summit 19 countries have had their debts to the World Bank, IMF and African Development fund cancelled, releasing about $1bn a year for education, health and other poverty reduction measures.

To achieve their promise of an extra $50bn of aid to Africa by 2010 G8 countries need to step up their commitments each year, ActionAid says, but Italy and Germany are not planning to do this and the rate of rise in funding from other countries is too slow to hit the target. The charity wants the debts of another 40 of the poorest countries to be cancelled.

Oliver Buston, European director of DATA, the Debt, Aids, Trade, Africa group founded by U2 frontman Bono and campaigner Bob Geldof, said: "The G8 has so far failed to follow up last year's historic commitments to Africa with time-bound, costed plans."

It would be up to German Chancellor Angela Merkel to deliver at the next G8 summit in Germany next year, he said.

* The World Bank has been told by an internal watchdog that it should focus less on enrolling children in primary school worldwide and pay more attention to whether they can read and write, reports Harry Dunphy.

Only 20 per cent of the primary education projects funded by the bank, an arm of the United Nations which has provided $12.5 bn for primary education to 100 countries, have an explicit objective to help children improve learning skills, according to the watchdog's Unfinished Agenda report published last week.

Vinod Thomas, who heads the bank's independent evaluation group, said:

"Countries and the World Bank have done well in making primary education more accessible to children, but there has not been nearly enough emphasis on whether children are improving their basic skills."

The study said one in five of the world's children do not attend school and tens of millions drop out before completing their primary years. Of those who do finish, fewer than half acquire satisfactory levels of knowledge and skills.

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