Dakar is for all of us

28th April 2000 at 01:00
IN DAKAR this week the biggest educational conference in 10 years attempted to nail down commitments from rich and poor countries alike to ensure that no child in the world is denied primary education. An estimated 125 million children are deprived of that right at present. At the opening ceremony UN Secretary General Koffi Annan warned: "This conference is a test for all of us who call ourselves an international community."

Yet almost before it began Britain and the other rich countries were accused of failing that test for not sending their education ministers, giving a clear signal that they see the issues in Dakar as applying only to children in poor countries.

The drive for access to free quality education for all applies everywhere - the marginalised, disaffected and disadvantaged in our country too. With a million children truanting every year in Britain, and more than 100,000 excluded, we cannot afford to assume we have found the best possible way to provide quality education for all. With a higher number of women functionally illiterate compared to men and more boys struggling at school, we cannot claim to have conquered gender inequities.

The world around s is changing so quickly we can no longer assume that what worked educationally in the past can work in the future. Teachers, for instance, may have to change from being oases of knowledge in a desert of ignorance into pilots through the oceans of information now available through the new media.

As change is happening at ever increasing speed and developing countries bypass some stages of technological development altogether - when computers go wireless in five years time as one expert predicts and the cost of hardware plummets we will all be starting from scratch in an unforeseen educational world - our teachers and policy-makers need to be networking and exchanging ideas at conferences like Dakar just to keep up.

The common agreement at Dakar is that education is the key tool for reducing poverty, increasing economic development and stability and reducing the likelihood of civil conflicts and wider wars. In a world that is increasingly interdependent, all these things affect us too - witness the current rows over asylum-seekers.

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