Nine nations vow to end illiteracy by AD 2000

From Zubeida Mustafa

NEW DELHI, Dec 16: In a colourful ceremony held amidst tight security measures, the leaders from the nine high population countries pledged to ensure a place for every child in school by the year 2000 or at the earliest possile moment.

The Thursday morning session was devoted to policy statements in which the participats reaffirmed their commitment to the goal of Education for All (EFA). In the afternoon they adopted the declaration and framework for action.

Inaugurating the summit, Indian President Dr Shanker Dayal Sharma described the EFA as the most important endeavour being undertaken in the world which should accelerate the emergence of a higher level of civilisation in this planet and foster the spirit of humanism, peace and friendship between nations.He appealed for a holisitc approach to education incorporating improved nutrition, health care and social attitudes.

Appropriately, the Summit was held in the impressive 1500-seat auditorium of the Vigyan Bhavan (Science House). But of the heads of government of Bangladesh, Brazil, China, Egypt, Indonesia, Mexico, Nigeria and Pakistan who were invited, only President Suharto undertook the journey to New Delhi. The earlier failure of the G-15 summit to convene due to lack of quorum adversely affected the level of participation in the education moot.

The lamp which President Sharma lit was symbolic of the participants’ will to spread the glow of knowledge. But the thin size of the audience did not inspire much confidence in public involvement in education. Security considerations prevailed over the hosts’ need to make a good showing.

The presence of the heads of the three UN agencies which sponsored the moot, UNICEF, UNESCO and UNFPA, however, gave weight to the meeting. In the Declaration, the nine signatories also pledged to consolidate efforts towards the basic education of youth and adults. They also recognised that the content and methods of education must be developed to serve the basic learn learning needs of individuals to empower them to combat poverty and play their rightful role in building democratic societies and enriching cultural heritage.

Some of the guidelines stipulated in the Framework for Action were:

  • Make schools accountable to communities *Develop clear performance criteria for teachers
  • Provide for textbooks and other learning materials introduce small schools in sparsely populated areas
  • Offer initial instruction in the mother tongue
  • Draw teachers from the community introduce flexible annual calendars and daily hours
  • Have active community and parental invovlement Address the gender disparity in education
  • Have follow-up meetings and a summit before the end of the century to review progress.

The key issue of child labour which has a direct bearing on primary education was visibly missing from the three-day pre-summit deliberations and the document adopted on Thursday. This was taken note of by the South Asian Coalition on Child Servitude (SACCS) an umbrella organisation striving for the abolition of child labour in the region. There are 80 million children in servitude in South Asia alone.

In a letter to the heads of delegations, SACCS called on them to debate the issue since without eradicating child labour EFA was just a gimmick. It emphasised the need to link the eradication of child labour to free and compulsory primary education for all children.

At the Press conference which followed the signing ceremony, the ministers conceded that child labour was undesirable but they felt it was not possible to ban it outright. The Bangladesh leader said his government was trying to provide incentives in education such as the education-for-food programme to draw children away from work and into school.

Source: Dawn 17 Dec 1993