25 April 2006
The United Nations Millennium Development Goals envision universal primary education in Africa within 10 years. Today, there are an estimated 40 million African children not in primary school. (This, according to a recent report by the South African Institute of International Affairs.)
Cream Wright is the global chief of education at UNICEF. He told Voice of America reporter Cole Mallard that it’s not likely Africa will meet the goals “unless something spectacular is done in the short term,” such as massive distribution of learning materials; massive, concentrated teacher training programs; and the reconstruction of facilities, which has been done in some areas.
Wright says there are several reasons for the delay: poverty and economic decline leave countries with little to spend on education. Many countries have a large school-age child population that taxes resources. Other problems include conflict, which interrupts school enrollments, and in some cases sets back gains made earlier. Drought drains resources for education. In fact Wright says survival needs in general make schooling a low priority for many African countries.
But he says despite the problems, progress has been made in increasing school enrollment. Many countries are now dropping fees and are making concerted efforts to reach girls and the rural poor. The UNICEF official says improving the quality of education is possible, although he says the challenges include helping orphaned children and those with HIV/AIDS and supplying school children meals and health care. If these challenges are met, Wright says there’s a good chance children can complete their schooling.