Mr Blair gets a B, Mr Bush only an F

22nd April 2005 at 01:00
Rich nations are still not doing enough to help the world's poorest children get the basic education they desperately need, an authoritative new report says.

The Global Campaign for Education has released its annual report card on rich countries' contribution to the goal of universal primary education by 2015. Of 21 major donor countries, only two, Norway and the Netherlands, received A grades, while the world's richest nation, the United States scored an F - only Austria has a poorer record.

Britain, however, is doing comparatively well. Prime Minister Tony Blair was one of four donors to get an overall B grade this year, a considerable improvement from last year's D, and is ranked fifth in the league table of donors.

Teachers' remarks on the report card read: "Tony's record has definitely improved. He is providing more aid, a better share of aid to basic education and an improved focus on the poorest, while 100 per cent of his aid is untied."

However, it adds: "If he really wants to be top of the class, he should improve funding for primary education further and examine his consultancy budget."

Countries were assessed on meeting international aid targets, providing a fair share of funding needed for universal primary education, the focus on poor countries, co-ordinating for better results and providing quality aid to education. The UK performed best on the last two, scoring an A on each.

The report comes at a crucial time, with Mr Blair and the Chancellor, Gordon Brown, pledging that they will push for more aid to Africa at the G8 summit of wealthy nations in Edinburgh in July.

In addition, the UK has emerged this year as the second-largest donor to the World Bank. Max Lawson, of Oxfam said: "The UK is the key to unlocking World Bank aid and can ensure that the bank delivers on reducing poor country debt and conditions on aid."

The GCE believes it is crucial to maintain momentum as the current World Bank president, James Wolfensohn, hands over to his controversial successor, the US deputy defence secretary Paul Wolfowitz, whose commitment to untied aid is unknown. Some campaigners fear gains may be reversed.

Campaign groups say Mr Blair, who supported Mr Wolfowitz's appointment, must play a pivotal role to ensure the bank's emphasis on poverty eradication and education for all is maintained.

Mr Wolfensohn held his last meeting with campaign groups in the margin of the World Bank and IMF spring meetings in Washington this week. Lucia Fry of GCE said: "He regards education as one of his legacies."

Mr Wolfensohn is lauded for shifting the bank's emphasis from loans to grants, which has helped the poorest, and setting up the Fast Track Initiative (FTI) to channel aid for education. The FTI has been seen as a role model for aid distribution.

Ms Fry said: "The FTI is an engine that is tuned and ready to go but no one is putting any petrol in the tank. Mr Wolfowitz needs to run with the baton."

He must also ensure pressure on donors is kept up. "Rich countries have made commitments in the order of millions when the need is for billions," she said.

Global Campaign for Education: Missing the mark, a school report on rich countries' contribution to universal primary education, www.campaignforeducation.org

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