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Primary goal runs short of funding

The UN claims that wealthy countries are not donating enough cash for it to provide a basic education for all, reports Brendan O'Malley

The goal of giving every child in the world at least a primary schooling by 2015 will not be met unless wealthy countries are more generous, the director general of the United Nations educational organisation UNESCO has warned in an interview with The TES.

The donor countries will be meeting multilateral agencies such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund in Paris next week for a "critical review" of the funding needed to reach the Education For All goal set at the World Education Conference in Dakar last April.

But when asked if the international community is doing enough, Koichiro Matsuura, UNESCO's director general said: "No, not yet. I was amazed to discover that out of $50 billion of overseas development assistance to the developing world only $3.5bn goes to education and only $700 million to basic education. That's just over 1 per cent to basic education."

UNESCO, which is co-ordinating international action on the Dakar pledges, wants donors to double the $3.5bn aid to education by 2005, treble it by 2010 and quadruple it to $14bn by 2015. This would enable spending on basic education to be "drastically increased".

Donor countries reduced overseas aid by around a fifth during the 1990s. The World Bank cut lending for basic education from pound;413m in 1999 to pound;282m in 2000.

Every developing nation has been asked to draw up a national plan by 2002 for organising and funding education for all. This will probably require a commitment of $8bn a year globally, half from wealthy nations and half from the governments of developing countries.

Setting funding targets for individual donor countries is something he would like to "ponder over", Mr Matsuura sid, because in many of them the public is suffering from aid fatigue. "Take Japan, the number one donor. I was head of the aid service in the late 1980s when the atmosphere surrounding aid was very favourable and I increased the flow, year on year. But now even Japan is cutting it by 3 per cent - and there was a proposal to cut it by 30 per cent.

"That worries me. So I would like to focus on increasing the allocation to education.

"To provide basic education to poor people in poor countries is something that should appeal to the general public who might not necessarily favour increasing overall aid to developing countries."

Aid organisations are sceptical about the Dakar targets because similar 10-year goals set at the World Education Conference in Jomtien, Thailand, in 1990 achieved only a 4 per cent rise in primary school enrolment.

Mr Matsuura accepts that rapid population growth outstripped the efforts to increase school places but he remains optimistic for the future. This time it will be different, he says, and the emphasis will be on providing quality education as well as quantity.

Is that realistic? "Yes. This time developing countries and developing governments are definitely more serious about basic education."

Britain's international development secretary Clare Short believes our Government should respond on a case-by-case basis to countries that draw up detailed reform plans.

But is Britain giving enough money? As the graph (below) shows, we are more generous than we used to be but still donate less than Germany, France and Japan.

Mr Matsuura is enough of a diplomat not to point this out, but he is clearly hoping that the Chancellor's purse-strings can be loosened.

"I do hope Britain will give more money - in particular to social needs and education," he said.

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