Recession could cause 'lost generation', warns Unesco

22nd January 2010 at 00:00
Extra #163;9.8bn a year needed for universal primary education despite advances in poorer countries

At seven years old Nasra Hassan is too busy working to attend school. She had been enrolled at Basaa Primary School in northern Kenya. But when a severe drought hit the area, Nasra's parents no longer had money for her education and as members of a herding community, a drought means adults have to travel farther in search of water. With fewer people left at home, she now helps with the daily necessities of washing, cooking, fetching water and firewood.

Nasra's story is typical of the difficulties faced in securing a basic education in poorer countries. Kenya, which was ranked 96 out of 128 countries in the Education for All Development Index 2007, has made significant progress in the number of children attending primary school in the past decade. And it is not alone - a report out this week from Unesco says that despite numerous difficulties, there have been some spectacular advances in providing education in the world's poorest countries.

But now it fears that the aftershock of the global financial crisis could deprive millions of an education and warns a combination of slower economic growth, rising poverty and budget pressures could erode the gains of the past decade.

"We cannot afford to create a lost generation of children who have been deprived of their chance for an education that might lift them out of poverty," said Irina Bokova, Unesco's director-general.

Unesco calls for rich countries to do more - saying they have moved financial mountains to stabilize the banks, but provided an aid molehill for the world's most vulnerable people. It says a "smoke and mirrors" system has led to exaggerations of how much aid has been given.

It estimates that $4.6 billion (#163;2.8 billion) was given in 2007, but says it will cost an extra $16 billion (#163;9.8 billion) a year to achieve universal primary education - or 2 per cent of the amount used to rescue four banks in the UK and US.

In 2000, the international community adopted the six Education for All goals: expanding early childhood care; providing universal free and compulsory primary education by 2015; promoting learning and skills programmes for young people and adults; increasing adult literacy by 50 per cent; achieving gender equality by 2015; and improving the quality of education.

Unesco's 2010 Education for All global monitoring report, "Reaching the Marginalised", states: "Conditions for a concerted push towards the 2015 targets have deteriorated across the developing world ... It is easy to lose sight of what is at stake.

"The world economy will recover from recession, but the crisis could create a lost generation of children in the world's poorest countries whose life chances will have been irreparably damaged by a failure to protect their right to education."

It calls for inequalities in education to be addressed through improving accessibility and affordability - not just cutting school fees but providing targeted incentives for disadvantaged groups, ensuring children have access to highly skilled teachers and building entitlements into the system by enforcing laws against discrimination and providing cash.

Oxfam policy adviser Max Lawson said: "Unnecessary Word Bank restrictions and red tape have resulted in unacceptable delays in getting money out. Less than a third of the #163;292 million of aid Benin was set to receive has actually been delivered. The economic crisis is threatening to make a bad situation worse."


- On current trends, 56 million primary school-age children will still be out of school in 2015.

- In 28 countries there are nine or fewer girls in primary school for every 10 boys.

- In some countries in sub-Saharan Africa young adults with five years of primary school have a 40 per cent chance of being illiterate.

- Schools need to recruit 1.9 million additional primary teachers - including 1.2 million just in sub-Saharan Africa - by 2015 to create a good learning environment.


Benin in sub-Saharan Africa is among the world's fastest moving countries on primary enrolment and is due to hit the 2015 universal target. From 1999 to 2007, the number of children enrolled in primaries has risen from 50 per cent to 80 per cent. But there are marked inequalities. In one of the poorest regions, just a third of children enter the last grade of primary school, compared to two-thirds nationally.

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