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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
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentA. Basic Education Data
Open this folder and view contentsB. Indicators of the Context and Effects of Basic Education
View the documentC. The State of Adult Basic Education
View the documentD. The State of Early Child Development
View the documentE. Progress and Prospects


Since human development determines how well individuals and nations will meet the current global challenges, it is important to understand the present context and effects of basic learning in the world. This chapter assesses how basic learning needs are now being met, how national efforts have evolved in recent decades, and what the current opportunities are for improving the quantity, effectiveness, and equity of education.

A. Basic Education Data

National data sets on the state of basic learning have four significant limitations. First, data are more commonly available for the formal education system and are incomplete to nonexistent for the wide range of out-of-school programmes for youth and adults. Second, the data predominantly include learning inputs, sometimes outputs, but rarely indicators of the learning process. Third, the data are highly aggregated and do not always reflect the internal diversity of nations, systems, or even institutions. And fourth, the data rarely reveal qualitative dimensions of the quantitative measures.

Given these data limitations, it should be recognized that more is known about basic learning than can be validated with available data and techniques. Thus, when data or statistical results appear illogical or even counterintuitive, one should be prepared to reexamine the situation carefully before abandoning one’s original conception of the learning relationships. In the discussions that follow, the aggregate data currently available on primary and adult education will be supplemented with case studies, country-specific examples, and logical inferences.


It is useful and appropriate to organize the national data on basic education around five concepts:

· The economic and demographic background of the nation

· The specific financial characteristics that constrain or facilitate the nation’s capacity to support social services (including basic education)

· The actual effort being made (funds expended, resources used, or program-mes operated) to support basic education activities

· The direct effects of these efforts as measured by access to educational services, continuing participation of students, and graduation (pupil achievement data are not generally available)

· The social impacts of basic education activities as measured by indicators of literacy, health, nutrition, fertility, and income equality.

There are no simple cause-and-effect relationships between the determinants and results of basic education; rather, the relationship is interactive. Education facilitates development and development further facilitates future education activities. Thus, the current indicators of the effects of basic education become part of the general background and financial determinants of a nation’s future capacity to progress toward meeting the basic learning needs of all.

Tables 1 to 6 in Annex 1 (Basic Data) provide selected comparable statistics most recently available for each nation. The countries are listed in the order of their per capita gross national product (GNP). The per capita GNP figure is presented not as an acceptable indicator of social or even economic development but only as a basis for organizing the data. Per capita GNP is a useful indicator of a nation’s total measured economic production and thus of the economic resources potentially available to meet social needs. Therefore, when per capita GNP is compared with other national characteristics, other measures of financial capacity, and indicators of educational effort and its direct and social effects, the analysis of the state of basic education is structured in a logical and effective form.

With per capita GNP in 1987 (in U.S. dollars) as a standard, the nations are divided into three categories: the low-income economies (less than $480 per capita GNP), the middle-income economies ($481 to $5,999), and the industrial market economies ($6,000 and above). The low- and middle-income economies are categorized as developing economies and the middle-income category itself is divisible into lower-middle-income economies ($481 to $2,000) and upper-middle-income economies ($2,001 to $5,999). The “other economies” category represents those nations for which data are unavailable for most of the indicators used in the analysis. The data in the main tables are supplemented elsewhere by other categorizations (e.g., geographic regions) and variables (for example, gross domestic product, rather than GNP, is used for some analyses1).

1 Refer to Technical Notes for definitions and information on data sources, comparability and interpretations.

(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.

(ii) Financial capacity

A nation’s specific economic conditions will either facilitate or constrain its financial ability to support social investment. Among these specific conditions are the role of government in the economy, the relative status of the agriculture sector, the structure of international trade, the balance of international payments, the debt burden, and the receipt of development assistance. With the exception of the last condition, the low- and lower-middle-income economies again present a pattern of disadvantage.

The expansion of public sector involvement is not inherently a constraint on development. In fact, average levels of reported government expenditure as a percentage of gross domestic product are higher in the industrial market economies than in the developing economies (approximately 17 percent to 13 percent - see Chart 2A), and there does not appear to be a systematic relationship between government involvement in the economy and national growth (see Chart 2B).

The least developed nations are expected to continue to depend on agriculture as a major source of aggregate employment and growth in the near future. They also will continue to depend on commodity exports and imports of manufactured goods. Supply and demand conditions in these two categories of trade often leave the developing nations in a less favourable market position than the more developed nations. Without improvement in their terms of trade, developing countries will operate under an ongoing disadvantage in attempting to promote aggregate growth by increasing foreign trade.

In part, the current account balances (the net amount of exports minus imports and of private and governmental unrequited transfers) for 1987 reflect these different trade structures. All but three of the low-income economies reported a negative balance for 1987; only nine of thirty-four lower-middle-income economies had a positive balance, whereas five of sixteen upper-middle-income and ten of twenty-five industrial economies had positive balances (see Chart 3).

Because of the debt incurred by developing nations in the 1970s, their access to foreign financing became so limited that current account balances were reduced dramatically after 1982. This reduction forced the seventeen most highly indebted nations to increase their trade surplus from $2 billion in 1982 to an annual average of $32 billion during 1983-87. This surplus resulted from lower relative imports, reduced investment, and constrained per capita consumption. These adjustments were doubly damaging because reduced consumption lowered economic welfare immediately while reduced investment threatened the long-term potential for growth. The debt burden problem (indicated by debt service as a percentage of exports) is a general constraint on development in all three categories of developing nations. Twenty-four of thirty-four low-income economies reported debt service levels for 1987 above 10 percent of exports, and nine of these had ratios above 25 percent. For the lower-middle-income economies, only two of thirty reported debt service ratios of less than 10 percent, and thirteen exceeded 25 percent. For upper-middle-income nations, only two countries (Panama and Gabon) had a debt service ratio below 10 percent, and nine of the twelve reporting nations had ratios above 25 percent. For the poorest nations these debt burdens aggravate the existing patterns of stagnation and decline. For the middle-income nations the debt burden is slowing - in some cases reversing - the progress that once was being made in national development.

Chart 2: Government Expenditure and growth in GDP

A. Central government spending as a share of GDP by region, 1975 to 1985.

Note: Figures represent group averages weighted by GDP. Because of the back of comparable data, China, Japan, Nigeria and several relatively small countries are excluded from the sample in this figure.

B. Relation between central government expenditure as a share of GDP and growth of GDP in developing countries (percent)

Source: The World Bank

Chart 3: External Balances of Developing Countries

Source: The World Bank

The long-term debt of developing countries has continued to increase since 1982; for the highly indebted countries, it rose from $390 billion in 1982 to $485 billion at the end of 1987. This increase in debt paralleled deterioration of creditworthiness through 1986, but since then conditions have been more stable and in some cases have improved. The compression of imports (for example, from 1980 to 1986, Latin America shifted from a $2 billion deficit to a $13 billion surplus in trade with the United States) brought on by the debt burden reduces exports from the developed nations and further jeopardizes global economic growth.

Box 2.01. Ghana: Improvement under Austerity

Until the mid-1970s, Ghana had one of the most developed and affective educational systems in Western Africa: the system consisted of six years of primary, four years of middle, and seven years of secondary education. However, the economic decline that began the 1970s caused educational expenditures to fall from 6.4 percent of GDP in 1976 to 1.7 percent in 1985. During this period the urban bias of the formal system was reinforced, school enrollment stagnated or declined, adult illiteracy rates increased, teacher attrition became scarce, and planing degenerated into solely a form of crisis management.

The Provisional National Recovery Council introduced an Economic Recovery Program (ERP) that began in 1983. The goals of the ERP were to support exports and domestic production, to restore fiscal and monetary discipline, to rehabilitate the economic and social infrastructure and the country's productive base, and to encourage private investment. The second phase to the ERP (1986-88) placed greater emphasis on the social sectors, including education, and attempted to improve allocation of operational and maintenance expenditures and increase the effectiveness of public investment planning.

In 1987 an education sector reform program was announced to:

· expand access to primary education, especially in low enrollments areas;
· improve educational quality, efficiency, and relevance;
· make financing of education more efficient and equitable; and
· strengthen system planning and administration.

The reforms was supported by a World Bank sector adjustment credit as well as by grants from UNDP, Switzerland, Great Britain, Norway and Canada, and concessional loans from the OPEC Fund.

While the ultimate success of the reform will not be certain for several years, the immediate goals of increased access, maintaining education's share of the budget, and decreasing unit costs have been realized. The reform has emphasized improving pedagogical efficiency (especially in the Junior Secondary Schools (JSS) curriculum which covers grades 7-9 in Ghana's new 12-year pre-tertiary system), promoting cost savings and cost recovery, encouraging community involvement, and rationalizing university operations. One result is that new enrollments in 1989 increased by 11.8 percent (compared to a plan goal of only 5 percent), while education's share of the budget has been kept at the pre-reform level of 3 percent of GDP.

The initial success of the Ghanian educational reforms appears attributable to five key factors:

1. A core group of professionals (domestic and international) are committed to the reform;

2. International aid efforts have been well coordinated;

3. The reform was implemented nation-wide in a short period of time;

4. The reform standardized the JSS as the national form of middle school thus avoiding the stigmatization that occurred in the previous two-track system; and

5. Managers of the reform have heeded the constraints imposed by the present level of management capacity.

The Ghanian experience indicates how a properly structured education sector adjustment policy can promote educational improvement within the inherem constraints of an economic sector reform program.

The debt service problem is linked to the potential for social investment spending, but only indirectly. As a greater share of national resources must be used to service foreign debt, fewer funds are available for all investment and consumption activities. It does appear, however, that under heavy debt burdens, some governments tend to emphasize import substitution activities and the immediately productive sectors (to generate more funds in the short run) at the expense of social investments. Debt conditions also precipitate structural adjustments and reforms that often have an impact on expenditures within the social sectors.

Box 2.02. Private Primary Schools Enroll One out of Eight Pupils

A recent Unesco survey of 140 countries and territories representing 77 percent of the world's primary school enrolment found that over 29 million children were enrolled in private primary schools in 1985, i.e. nearly 12 percent of the combined total (public + private) enrolments in the 112 countries reporting some private education. This percent-age is nearly the same for developing and industrialized countries.

By major region, private primary enrolment accounted for 12.8 percent of total enrolment in Africa, 9.1 percent in Asia, 17.6 percent in Europe, 10.2 percent in North America, 14.1 percent in South America, and 24.1 percent in Oceania. Compared to the situation in 1975, the share of private enrolments decreased from 12.4 percent to 11.7 percent of the aggregate world total, but increased by two percentage points in Europe and Oceania, and slightly in South America.

But what is a private school? According to the international definition used in UNESCO questionnaires, a private school is a school not operated by a public authority, whether or not the school receives financial support from such authority. Thus, management is the decisive criterion for international statistical purposes. In other cases, however, other criteria may be used: for example, the ownership of a school, or its source of income. The stated purpose of a school and the clientele it serves may also indicate its nonpublic character, as in the case of religious and ethnic schools which generally aim to maintain a particular subculture. Each of these criteria is useful, but difficult to apply universally to distinguish private from public schools, because of local variations. Relatively few private schools operate without some financial support and administrative oversight by the public authorities; public schools in many countries receive partial support from less and other nonpublic sources, and some also cater to certain subcultures.

Another categorization of primary schools may be helpful:

· community schools that take all children in a given locality;
· schools that maintain a subculture (religious or ethnic);
· reform or free schools that apply a particular pedagogical or social philosophy;
· elite (academic or social) schools;
· private venture schools offering education or training that is in short supply.

Most public schools would fit into the first category, whereas most private schools would fit into one or more of the of the other four.

Where strong subcultures are embedded in society, private schools are defended as expressions of religious, cultural and ethnic diversity. Such private schools are intended to socialize children into the beliefs, values and traditions of the sponsoring group. This view contrasts with the widespread expectation that the public school, common to all children in a locality, promotes social cohesion, understanding and tolerance among diverse groups and social strata.

(iii) Educational effort

Despite the general economic and financial conditions described above, many nations have made impressive attempts to maintain their financial commitment to basic education. The pattern suggests that a willingness to support the meeting of basic learning needs is a necessary condition to offset the most harmful effects of financial restraints. Between 1980 and 1987, fourteen of the twenty-two low-income countries reporting expenditure data maintained or increased total education expenditure as a percentage of GNP. Fifteen of the twenty-four lower-middle-income countries and fourteen of the sixteen upper-middle-income countries did the same. A similar pattern exists for education as a percentage of total government expenditure. Some countries, despite their economic difficulties, have made the commitment to reallocate government expenditures in favour of, rather than away from, education. An appropriate inference from this data is that although choices concerning educational expenditures are constrained, it is still within a country’s own ability to choose education.

A large number of countries (especially in the poorest categories) have maintained or increased the share of primary education in the total education budget between 1980 and 1987. More than half of the low-income and lower-middle income nations reporting comparable data have managed to increase primary education’s share in their education budgets. However, in two-thirds of these countries this increase was coupled with a decline in the per pupil expenditure (in current dollars) during the same period, due to increasing enrollments. On the other hand, in the upper-middle-income economies, and notably in Latin America, primary education’s share in some countries’ education budgets has declined because of the relative expansion of secondary and tertiary education. Because total resources for education have increased in many of these nations, the relative decline of primary education’s share does not automatically imply a decline in per pupil expenditures on primary education. Even with increasing primary school populations, five of the six countries in this category that experienced a decline in primary education’s share, managed to increase their per pupil expenditure between 1980 and 1987.

As a further indication of education efforts, a large majority of countries continued to expand enrolment during the 1975-85 decade, and some even reduced teacher-pupil ratios. Because of governmental financial constraints and parental choice, many countries have an increased proportion of their primary school pupils in private schools. Even though many private schools receive some form of direct or indirect government subsidy (and almost all benefit from teachers prepared in public institutions), the expansion of private schools can allow governments to target a portion of their expenditures more directly on the needs of the disadvantaged; for example, through subsidy formulas based on community income. There always is the danger that the private system will evolve into an elite alternative with access determined by family income alone, or that public schools will be comparatively neglected. However, appropriate planning can avert these effects by assuring a recognition of the inevitable interdependency of the two sectors.

The development of private education has been more dramatic in the industrial economies than among the developing economies. Only seven of twenty-four low-income countries showed an increase in the proportion of pupils in private primary education, while twenty-three of forty-nine middle-income countries, and fourteen of twenty industrial market economies did so. One inference is that the more advantaged nations are benefiting from the mobilization of nongovernment resources for primary education, while in low-income countries, whose public budgets are already burdened in other ways, governments continue to assume the highest proportion of fiscal responsibility for educational services. Obviously, private resources in low-income nations also are constrained, but nongovernment alternatives can assist in financing even in the poorest nations. For example, Haiti has more than half its primary students in private schools, and there are initiatives to mobilize family and community resources for basic education throughout sub-Saharan Africa.

Parallel efforts (by public, religious, and nongovernment organizations) to provide out-of-school basic education for children are harder to document in a comparable quantified manner. Despite difficult economic conditions, however, many nations have maintained and some have expanded their out-of-school programmes equivalent to formal primary education. These often provide instruction with the same content as that of primary schools and also often teach basic knowledge and skills to youth and adults. Better documentation of such programmes and their participants, costs, and results will be required for the future planning of basic education.

(iv) Educational effects

Ideally, a nation would want to know how educational efforts affect school processes, and the acquisition of knowledge, skills, attitudes and behaviour. In reality, data are available only to indicate access to schooling, continuing participation, graduation, and further learning attainment. The degree to which these indicators are adequate proxies for the hoped-for effects of basic education activities will vary among nations, systems, and institutions.

Chart 4: Gross Enrolment Ratios by Regions (1960-85)

Source: UNESCO.

The gross and net enrolment ratios (the common measures of access) reveal once again the differences among nations and among the economic categories of nations in their priorities for and efforts in meeting basic learning needs (see Chart 4 for regional comparisons). Gross enrolment ratios include under- and over-age pupils in addition to those of the normal primary school age (usually six to eleven years old). Within the group of low-income economies, gross enrolment ratios for males range from 20 to 30 percent (Afghanistan, Mali, and Somalia) to over 100 percent (twelve countries). The gross enrolment ratios for females are consistently lower with only one exception (Lesotho with 125 percent for females versus 101 percent for males).

Net enrolment ratios (restricted to the primary school age cohort) are less generally available but show a similar pattern: countries with comparable economic conditions show significantly different education results. Among the low-income economies, reported net enrolment ratios for males range from 14 percent in Somalia and 31 percent in Guinea to 87 percent in Togo, 89 percent in Madagascar, and 99 or 100 percent in Indonesia and Sri Lanka. Female net enrolment ratios reported for the same set of countries range from 8 percent in Somalia, 15 percent in Guinea, and 20 percent in Burkina Faso to 96 percent in Indonesia and 100 percent in Sri Lanka. Of course, these differences are not solely a product of policy choices and priorities, but they do support the contention that both societal willingness and effort must be considered in evaluating the constraining effect of a nation’s financial capacity.

Box 2.03. DIKMAS: Income Generation and Literacy Programmes for Women in Indonesia

DIKMAS is the Community Education Division of the Ministry of Education and Culture in Indonesia. Its programme of combining employment - oriented skill training closely linked with literacy efforts has helped Indonesia move from about a 60 percent literacy rate to nearly 80 percent over the past decade, while also providing earning opportunities for unemployed out-of-school youth.

“Learning and Earning” opportunities are being offered by the Kejar Paket A literacy and Kejar Usaha small enterprise programmes for women in Indonesia. The programmes, using such facilities and activities as village learning groups, reading courses, rural newspapers, and preparation for primary school equivalency examinations, aim to eliminate illiteracy, especially among women; to increase participation in child survival and development activities; and to enable women to increase their income through loans for small business. Most learners are poor, illiterate girls and women between the ages 13 and 44, with no fixed occupation. The community provides tutors and a venue for classes, and a village task force manages funds for the programme.

In 1987 a midterm review found that Kejar Usaha group members have been able to increase their income by as much as 34 percent a year, and Kejar Paker A learners have been able to raise their income by 20 percent a year. The Kejar Paket A scheme has also become an alternative to formal schooling for primary school dropouts, who form 46 percent of learners. One innovation of the Kejar Usaha programme is that loans are being extended through the Bank Rakyat Indonesia (BRI) on collateral furnished by UNICEF and the government. This offers group members a chance to learn to deal with banks and frees civil servants from having to keep detailed accounts of payments and repayments.

A total of 5.6 million illiterates will be reached by the programmes during Repelita V. The country's next five year development plan.

One of the most widely used indicators of educational development is the female enrolment rate. Since females commonly are the last to benefit from educational expansion and the first to suffer from reductions in learning opportunities, their participation rates are a more sensitive indicator of access than are total or male only rates. The general pattern of female participation is one of lower aggregate enrolment rates with a notably greater degree of equality at entry to primary schooling than at termination. This finding indicates that attempts to improve gender equity must focus both on access and on the continued participation of females.

Not indicated in the available data is differential achievement. Anecdotal reports suggest that, even where participation in learning programs is high, social and cultural factors which influence career expectations and role definitions can indirectly affect learning achievement. A well-known example in the United States is the question of girl’s achievement in science and math.

Participation by students until the end of the primary school cycle may be, however, a necessary if not sufficient condition for achieving an acceptable level of basic learning. For 1980-86, completion rates (the proportion of grade 1 enrollees who complete the primary cycle) reported by the low-income countries ranged from around 15 percent (Benin, Guinea-Bissau, and the Yemen Arab Republic) to 80 percent and above (Mauritania, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and Zambia). Since high completion rates can reflect policies that restrict initial access opportunities in favour of elites, this indicator needs to be viewed in the context of both access and achievement levels. Similarly, reported levels of secondary school access indicate the effect not only of primary schooling but also of other determinants, including the demand structure of the labour market and the availability of secondary school places.

Educational patterns also differs among the middle-income and the industrial market economies. For example, one lower middle-income nation reports a gross enrolment ratio for males of less than 75 percent, while twenty-five countries report ratios of 95 percent or above. Among the higher income nations, the reported female net enrolment ratios range from 48 to 100 percent.

Two critical facts are not directly indicated by the tables in the Data Annex. First, economically advantaged nations vary dramatically in how effective they are in extending learning opportunities to their disadvantaged populations. Second, the functional definition of basic learning may differ among developed economies and may include some post-primary education. Indicators related to these issues of access and definition may be derived, however, from variations in the percentage of grade 1 students completing the primary cycle and in the gross enrolment ratios at the secondary level.

A list of the desired effects of educational investments at the basic education level must include initial access, continued participation, equity for disadvantaged populations, and learning achievement. All of these are of some concern in all countries. As in the case of economic growth, however, the most disadvantaged nations face the most difficulty in achieving the desired effects.

In summary, multiple indicators of educational processes and effects are required to assess the effectiveness and efficiency of a nation’s attempts to meet basic learning needs. The willingness of some nations to invest in basic education despite adverse economic conditions and their efforts to overcome financial constraints deserves both respect and further study. Examination of a high-performing nation’s willingness and effort may help identify aspects that can be transferred to other national contexts.

The data on primary education efforts shed light on the incomplete coverage of the current systems; they also define more precisely the task of expanding basic education through primary schooling and equivalent systems, public information, and adult education and training programmes. The need for each nation to expand its out-of-school efforts is strengthened by the realization that, for many nations, the goal of universal primary schooling will not be attained in the immediate future.

(v) Social impacts

As noted earlier, the desired social outcomes of expanded basic learning include higher levels of literacy, health, and nutrition, lower fertility, and greater income equality. Indicators of these effects can be used to appraise the social justification for past investments in basic learning. Although simple cause-and-effect relationships again are difficult to document, numerous studies have demonstrated that basic education has direct effects on these social measures by transferring information and skills and indirect effects by altering general economic conditions and individual and community preferences.

In reviewing the available data, it becomes obvious once again that, while a correlation does exist between background economic conditions and these measures of social progress, many countries succeed beyond their expected levels while others seem to be underperforming relative to their economic context and fiscal capacity. While literacy levels, with some exceptions such as the notable achievements of Tanzania, follow the pattern of primary schooling effects, the same is not true for the other societal measures.

Under five mortality rates (U5MRs) have been notably reduced in such low-income nations as China, Kenya, Lesotho, Myanmar (Burma), Sri Lanka, Viet Nam, and Zambia. Poland, Jamaica, Costa Rica and Chile have outperformed the other lower-middle-income countries, and Greece and Portugal lead all higher-middle-income countries in this measure. In contrast, the United States is second in income, a leader in educational expenditure, and nineteenth in child mortality rates. Similar patterns of over- and under-achievement exist among countries for the measures of life expectancy, caloric intake, fertility rate, and the shares of income possessed by the lowest 40 percent and highest 20 percent of the population. (See Annex 1, Table 5.)

These data, and those summarized in Table 4, are presented in order to document that nations can do more with what they have and to justify the assertion that a further margin of improvement is attainable with proper targeting and the efficient use of additional funds. These funds can be mobilized not just from government but also from families, communities, the private sector, nongovernmental agencies, and external development assistance organizations.

Table 4 - Economic and Social Indicators for Selected Countries

Note: Under Five Mortality Rate = Annual Number of deaths of children under five years of age per 1,000 live births.

Sources: UNESCO, Unicef and The World Bank.

Although economic development eventually will help achieve societal goals, some goals cannot wait for such progress. The data here show that, in fact, equivalent social development can be fostered at varying levels of economic development. Since social development - in the form of improved literacy, health, nutrition, population planning, and income equality - also promotes further economic development, this interaction provides clear grounds for an expanded vision and a renewed commitment to meeting the basic learning needs of all.

C. The State of Adult Basic Education

Because of the diverse nature of adult education activities, the available aggregate data fail to capture adequately the content, effects, and target populations of specific programmes. As noted earlier, even the coverage and detail of the aggregate data are not as complete as in the case of formal education. Thus, the state of adult education can at best be merely approximated by the data in Annex 1, Table 6; country- and programme-specific data are the only reliable means for examining the issues of effort, direct effects, and social impacts discussed above.

Annex 1, Table 6 covers enrolment in adult education courses for seventy countries. It presents total adult education enrolment, the estimated population of those aged fifteen and over, the ratio of adults enrolled relative to the population estimate, and the proportion of female enrolments. The range of years covered - from the mid-1970s to the early 1980s - points to the need for a new international survey of this category of learning activities.

One striking characteristic of adult education is that the pattern of participation appears to be correlated more with the availability of national resources than with unmet basic learning needs. Of the forty-eight developing nations reporting data, only nine had participation rates of 5 percent or more of the adult population, even though adult needs for literacy and basic knowledge and skills are most dramatic in developing countries. In contrast, twelve of twenty-three more economically developed nations had a participation rate of 5 percent or more, and nine of these had a rate of over 10 percent (see Chart 5).

It is true that as economic development proceeds, the scope and content of basic learning needs change. The issue is not just that the level of enrolment in the developed nations is higher, but that adults in these countries typically have greater access to learning opportunities than adults in the developing nations. It is this combination of advantages that widens the knowledge gap between these two groups of countries. When the advantages of adult education are compounded by other favourable circumstances in the economically developed nations, the challenge to developing nations to maintain, let alone increase, their relative position is made dramatically difficult. Information on female participation in adult education is not available for all countries. Among the thirty-four developing nations for which data are available, women represent half or more of the participants in only fourteen, though in five of these cases they represent two-thirds or more of the participants. Because females have often been denied access to and participation in formal education, their share of the need for adult education is greater than their share in the population. Therefore even an equal gender ratio could be interpreted as less than equitable to women.

In seven of the fourteen more developed countries reporting gender ratios, over 50 percent of the participants are women. But some of these countries have rates of female participation below one-third of all enrollees. Adult education activities do not automatically serve their dual role of supplementing and extending the effects of formal education. The data here, as aggregate and dated as they are, suggest that basic learning opportunities for out-of-school youth and adults must be consciously designed to fit the needs that remain unmet by the primary education system and to meet the new learning needs created by the successful operation of primary education. Whether providing literacy, numeracy, knowledge to meet basic needs, or social and economic skills, the programmes to train youth and adults face rapidly evolving demands. The lack of adequate resources to meet those demands places an even greater burden on adult education programmes in most countries.

In summary, the state of adult education remains unclear because of data limitations and the internal complexity of the basic learning activities that occur. The available data do highlight a general pattern of increasing inequities among nations in participation and growing differences between genders in overall knowledge acquisition. More detailed data on the content and quality of programmes and on the characteristics of participants would not likely reverse this conclusion, and current observations of adult education in many developing and developed nations tend to reinforce it. Above all, there is a critical need to improve the data base on adult education to permit more detailed analysis and a more refined development of policy to meet the basic learning needs of adults.

D. The State of Early Child Development

Early child development can be considered a component of basic education because learning begins at birth. Moreover, a growing body of evidence demonstrates that health, nutrition, and psychosocial processes interact to affect survival and development in the early years of life. The outcomes of these interactions condition the readiness of the child for school and other learning opportunities, which in turn influences the child’s chances of enrolment and success in basic education programmes.

As with basic education for adults, the data on early child development is incomplete and does not lend itself readily to international comparisons. Early child development may include some or all of the following: nutrition supplementation, growth monitoring, care-taking, home instruction in pre-literacy and numeracy skills, and parent education for the benefit of the child, which may also be considered under adult education.

According to 1980 data from the World Bank, enrolment in preschools, a sub-category of early child development, was quite low in most low-income economies, with a median of one percent of the age-group for countries reporting data. In middle-income developing economies, the picture is more mixed. Enrolment rates ranged from a low of one percent to a high of 57 percent, with 4.5 percent as the median for lower-middle income economies and 15 percent the median for upper-middle income. In high income economies, median enrolment rates were 25.5 percent, with a range from less than one to 66 percent. However, most statistics focus on organized preschool and child care programmes. Because of the difficulty in defining and identifying such educational programmes, the Unesco Office of Statistics points out that their estimates should be considered as the minimal figures for each country. What is clear from the data, however, is that in many countries, early childhood education has been the most rapidly expanding sector of education over the past decade.

Chart 5: Adult Participation Rates by Country Category

A. Adult students per adult population

B. Women as a proportion of adult students

From the growing body of studies and reports on specific early child development, two important impacts of early childhood development programmes on meeting basic learning needs have become evident. First, attention to the physical and psychosocial development of young children often enhances their ability to benefit from schooling, thereby increasing efficiency within the school system. Second, the positive effects on school performance of early child development programmes has been shown in many cases to be more significant for girls than boys, and for children from disadvantaged social groups than those from more affluent homes. Thus, early child development can have a substantial equity effect, by reducing disparities in subsequent educational attainment. So long as such programmes are only available to higher income groups, however, they may have the effect of further advantaging those groups, thus increasing inequities in learning achievement.

E. Progress and Prospects

Since the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights articulated the right of everyone to education, the nations of the world frequently have established specific targets to make the right a reality. The 1956 Lima meeting and the 1963 Santiago Conference of Ministers of Education focused on free and compulsory education in Latin America and the Caribbean; similar conferences in 1960 in Karachi and 1962 in Tokyo established the Asian model with goals of primary school gross enrolment ratios of 70 percent by 1964 and 90 percent in 1980. The Addis Ababa conference in 1961 affirmed the goal of universal primary education in Africa by 1980.

Ironically, the primary enrolments attained in 1970 and 1980 exceeded those projected by these UNESCO regional meetings, and yet universal primary education still was not achieved in many countries. The phenomenal growth of aggregate enrolments during the 1960s and 1970s was offset by rapid population growth and a widening divergence among the achievements of individual countries and geographical regions.

In the 1980s, Asia has consolidated its gains, and in the more developed countries emphasis has shifted from concerns with aggregate access to issues of achievement and equity for disadvantaged populations. In much of sub-Saharan Africa and in the least developed economies elsewhere, however, the 1980s have been a period of stagnation and, for some, a retreat from the goals of universal access.

The low-income economies (excluding China and India) have seen growth in primary enrolments fall from an average annual rate of 5.6 percent in 1975-80 to 2.7 percent for 1980-87. During this same period population growth increased annually from 2.7 percent to 3.4 percent on average and was accompanied by negative real economic growth rates for certain Sub-Saharan countries. Most middle-income countries maintained enrolment growth in proportion to population growth, but many faced mounting concern about the effectiveness of education (as measured in part by learning achievement) and the efficient utilization of funds. The lower-middle-income countries have not been able to maintain their 1975-80 enrolment growth rates into the 1980s, while the higher-middle-income countries have benefited from a decline in population growth rates that more than offset the slowing growth in enrolments.

According to UNESCO estimates, in 1985 approximately 105 million school-age children (six-eleven years old) were not participating in formal education. Of these, 70.2 percent were in the least developed nations and 60 percent were girls. If current trends continue, by the year 2000 the number of out-of-school children will almost double to approximately 200 million.

In summary, despite significant progress in the aggregate expansion of primary education, a growing number of children are not in school, nor ready when they do enter, the number of illiterate adults is increasing, and the unmet needs for basic knowledge and skills continue to accumulate. These needs are expanding so fast that many formal primary education systems do not have the capacity to meet them. Without significant changes, many nations will have to forgo improvements in educational quality, and some will be forced to accept deterioration. High rates of dropout and repetition of grades will continue to characterize many basic education programmes - symptoms of the overwhelming needs and the current inadequacy of resource provision.

The challenge for the future remains the assurance of access to an acceptable quality of primary education, of literacy training, and of basic knowledge and essential life skills for all children, youth, and adults. However, universal access to primary education alone by the year 2000 would require raising enrolment by more than 7.5 percent a year for the low-income countries (excluding China and India), 3.2 percent for the lower-middle-income countries, and 3.0 percent for the upper-middle-income countries. The current growth rates for the three categories are 2.8, 2.4, and 1.7 percent respectively. One fact is obvious, therefore: a linear expansion of current growth patterns will not be sufficient to meet the basic learning needs of all. Government, families, communities and nongovernment organizations will all need to do more.

For the economically advantaged economies, increased efficiency and the availability of new resources will better their chances of improving educational quality for all and extending basic learning opportunities more effectively to currently marginal populations. For a middle range of countries, substantial increases in efficiency and effort (in the context of economic growth) will allow them to concentrate more on reducing the inappropriate repetition of grades and the number of dropouts. These countries can work toward providing universal access to primary education, encouraging completion of the primary cycle and the achievement of an acceptable level of learning, and improving opportunities for youth and adults to attain literacy and the basic knowledge and skills their society requires.

Under projected patterns of economic growth, however, a third group of countries simply will not be able to meet basic learning needs for all with their own resources. Greater government fiscal support, the mobilization of family, community, and nongovernmental resources, and increased efficiency - even if all are achieved - will not provide sufficient resources. External assistance, substantial and sustained, will be required to allow these countries to join those in the more advantaged categories in meeting the basic learning needs for all.