Free school is a tall order

23rd April 2004 at 01:00
"Six years ago, as a primary student in Ethiopia, I sat and learned with 100 pupils in my class," said Andebet Kassa, 17, a pupil at Lewisham college, south London.

"We had just a few broken chairs to sit on and a scratched blackboard we could hardly read. Our class was so big, our teachers couldn't remember our names or mark our work and they had to teach six classes in one shift.

"Many parents could not afford to buy writing materials for their children and some of us were forced to shine shoes and wash cars to support ourselves."

When he came to Langbourne primary school, south London, he couldn't believe pupils in his class of 15 had their own books.

Andebet was addressing an audience of 659 British pupils, one for every constituency, and Education Secretary Charles Clarke in Westminster. It was one of a series of events held worldwide by the Global Campaign for Education on Tuesday to support the UN aim to give every child a free, quality education by 2015.

The presence of two secretaries of state underlined the value placed by the Government on education in its aid programmes.

At the meeting, Development Secretary Hilary Benn said Britain was giving pound;12 million to an international fund to help developing countries such as Yemen, the Gambia and Guyana.

Owain James, UK co-ordinator of the Global Campaign for Education, said it welcomed the funds but urged Britain to match the Netherlands, which has offered pound;112m over three years. He also called on the Government to use its positions as chair of the G8 and holder of the European presidency next year to persuade rich countries to give more aid.

Mr Benn said the package should be seen in the context of overall spending on education aid, which will rise from pound;170m this year to pound;250m next.

He added: "We've committed pound;800m over the past seven years to education in a rapidly rising aid budget. In the past seven years, it has nearly doubled in size."

He cited the example of Kenya, which abolished school fees last year with international aid, including pound;10m from Britain. As a result more than 1 million extra children attend school. But he warned that Britain and others must do more if the 2015 target is to be reached.

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