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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

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.