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close this bookMeeting Basic Learning Needs: A Vision for the 1990s (UNICEF - UNDP - UNESCO - WB - WCEFA, 1990, 170 p.)
close this folder2. The Context and Effects of Basic Learning in the World
close this folderB. Indicators of the Context and Effects of Basic Education
View the document(introduction...)
View the document(i) Background characteristics
View the document(ii) Financial capacity
View the document(iii) Educational effort
View the document(iv) Educational effects
View the document(v) Social impacts

(i) Background characteristics

A review of the background characteristics of the world’s nations reveals a startling convergence of disadvantage. The lowest-income economies not only are poor but also suffer from a variety of other developmental disadvantages. Their populations are the least educated, are increasing in number at the most rapid rates, are the most dependent on subsistence agriculture, have the least access to clean drinking water and health services, and most often lack the communication benefits of radio and television. This convergence of disadvantage has resulted in only twelve of the thirty-seven lowest-income nations (for which data are available) reporting positive growth rates during the 1980-87 period. However, the more positive growth forecasts for 1987-1995 found in Table 2 reinforce the belief that the present period offers a special opportunity for dealing with the world’s basic learning needs.

During the 1970s it became conventional to refer to the world’s poorest nations as “developing” rather than underdeveloped. However, over the last decade, the term “developing” became a misnomer for the majority of the poorest nations. The economic gap between the advantaged and disadvantaged nations widened not simply because the poorer countries were growing at a slower rate but because some were not growing at all in per capita terms and other economies were actually contracting. The joint effects of economic stagnation and continued high population growth made the already severe situation of these nations even worse.

The problem of nondevelopment has not been confined to the low-income economies. It also appeared among the lower-middle-income countries where only fifteen of the thirty-four nations report positive per capita GNP growth rates for 1980-87. Only seven of these countries have reduced their annual population growth rates to below 2 percent while eight have rates still above 3 percent; thus, the pressure in these countries to promote economic growth sufficient to offset population increases is intense. Table 3 indicates how small differences in the rate of annual population growth can result in significant differences in the absolute growth of population.

Table 2 - Growth of Real GD


GDP denotes average annual growth of real GDP, 1973 to 1995.
GDP per capita denotes average annual growth of real GDP per capita, 1973 to 1995.
All growth rates for developing countries are based on a sample of ninety countries.

Source: The World Bank.

In the upper-middle-income and industrial market economies the situation has differed dramatically from that described above. Only seven of the former and four of the latter had negative growth rates for per capita GNP during 1980-87. In these economies, population growth rates are consistently lower, access to safe drinking water and health services is high, and possession of radios and televisions is common. Although this international pattern blurs the differences that exist within all countries in the ability of disadvantaged groups to benefit from economic prosperity, they do make it abundantly clear that the condition of disadvantaged nations has worsened in both a relative and an absolute sense over the most recent decade.

Table 3 - Population increase and Growth (...)

Development problems are not just a phenomenon of the least developed economies, however. For the most prosperous nations, the major issue has been the continued marginalization of their disadvantaged populations. Aggregate prosperity does not automatically generate benefits for these groups. Thus, programmes specifically directed to the needs of these groups are required if gains in equity are to parallel aggregate growth. In the middle-income countries, a major issue is the potential for economic stagnation. As countries become less able to maintain real per capita growth, they may find it more difficult to maintain the gains in social development of the last thirty years. These countries need to renew growth, beyond that fueled by inflation and required to offset population increases, to maintain and improve the social condition of all, especially the most disadvantaged. The major aggregate issue in the low-income economies is economic decline. Many of these nations already are losing the battle to keep up with inflation, and some cannot maintain positive growth rates even in the aggregate, let alone in per capita measures. In these societies, both marginal and central population groups suffer, although marginal groups to a greater degree. In such conditions, the tendency is for the privileged minority to sustain itself while increasing numbers of the population become economically disadvantaged and face reduced access to basic social services.

Change is occurring within the three categories of economies. Some of the more prosperous countries are threatened by economic stagnation; within the middle-income economies, stagnation is moving toward decline for some; and within the low-income economies, decline is accelerating for the most disadvantaged countries. The reversal of these trends will not solve all of the economic and social problems, but it will begin the process of reclaiming the positive effects of development. Marginalization, stagnation, and decline are simply degrees of failure in the ability of nations to produce economic growth and to share it equitably among their populations.