Rich nations must share cash as well as advice
Education ministers from up to 64 Commonwealth states, territories and crown dependencies will meet in Edinburgh at the end of this month to discuss how they can improve access, inclusion and achievement.
Ben Phillips, an Oxfam education campaigner, said: "Most of the world's primary-age children out of school - 59 million of 115m - live in the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth ministers' meeting must address this crisis."
At the World Education Forum in Dakar, Senegal, in 2000, developing countries pledged to draw up plans to provide universal primary education, halve adult literacy by 2015 and eradicate bias in the proportion of girls and boys attending school by 2005.
At the same time, the world's richest countries promised to provide the aid needed to carry out the reforms, which the United Nations' education and science wing, Unesco, now estimates to be an additional $5.6bn a year.
A global mechanism, the fast-track initiative, was set up with the agreement of donor countries to channel the cash to countries in need. But so far only 18 countries, including six Commonwealth nations - the Gambia, Ghana, Mozambique, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia - have been judged by donors to have drawn up adequate plans, and only a trickle of cash has been forthcoming. Kenya, which abolished school fees in January, thus flooding its under-resourced schools with 2.5 million new pupils, has not been included on the FTI list.
Three of the richest Commonwealth countries - Britain, Australia and New Zealand - have so far made no contribution to the FTI, even though they all say they want it to succeed.
Oxfam said those three countries and Canada need at least to triple their aid for basic education if Unesco's target is to be met.
"There's a danger that (at Edinburgh) they will merely be sharing best practice, which is important, but we need the rich countries to share their money," said Mr Phillips.
The Commonwealth meeting, which is held every three years, will include a parallel symposium from which representatives of grassroots education and aid organisations will send recommendations to ministers.
There will also be a youth summit. Two youth delegates from every country are being sponsored to attend by local authorities, colleges and universities across the UK. They will discuss the same issues as the politicians and will present their findings from the point of view of learners for inclusion in the final communique of the ministers'
Teachers can join a virtual conference at www.15ccem.com