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Wednesday, 26 April, 2000, 07:31 GMT 08:31 UK
Conference seeks education for all
School pupils in Senegal
There has been progress in girls' school attendence (Photo: Unesco)
By Elizabeth Blunt in Dakar

A major international conference on education opens on Wednesday in the Senegalese capital, Dakar.

Representatives of 181 countries and about 100 non-governmental organisations will be reviewing the progress made since they pledged themselves to achieving basic education for all by the year 2000 at a similar conference 10 years ago.

In retrospect, that pledge looks to have been impossibly optimistic.

The Asian financial crisis had a sharp effect on the number of children going to school.

The collapse of communism slashed public provision in eastern Europe and central Asia.

Aids affects Africa

Potential gains in Africa have been more than cancelled out by civil war in parts of West Africa and the Congo, and by the ravages of Aids in the south.

Even where governments report rosy statistics, educationalists have learned to be cynical.

Good overall figures can hide pockets of extreme depravation. Although a lot of effort has gone into getting children into school, much less has gone into worrying about how long they stay or what they learn when they get there.

Many children have to work and earn money
But a lot of solid work has been done. East Asia and most of Latin America have high levels of literacy and most of their children are in school.

The number of girls going to school has crept steadily upwards, even in traditionally difficult areas like Pakistan and the Middle East.

Ten years on, all the pressure groups and many of the official delegates have come to Dakar determined to be more rigorous.

State funding

They want to force countries to set precise targets and timetables and to break down their statistics to show what exactly is going on.

However, although everyone agrees that education is a good thing, the stage is still set for disagreements on who should provide it and how it should be funded.

The non-governmental organisations are pressing hard for the conference to abandon current economic orthodoxy.

They want participants to accept that provision of basic education is a core state activity and that education will never be universal as long as individual families are expected to pay.

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See also:

20 Apr 00 | Education
Blair effigies march for education
03 Apr 00 | Education
Universal primary education by 2015
06 Dec 99 | Africa
African education in decline
23 Nov 99 | Education
Target for primary schooling for all
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