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close this bookWorld Conference on Education for All: Meeting Basic Learning Needs - Final Report (UNICEF - UNDP - UNESCO - WB - WCEFA, 1990, 129 p.)
close this folder2. Education for All: The Context - Summary of the Opening Session
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentA Unique Opportunity
View the documentExternal Debt, Optimization of Resources
View the documentBasic Education: Broadening the Concept
View the documentVision, Will, Partnerships
View the documentA Focus on Human Development


The overall context of the World Conference was established in the opening session. Presidents Borja of Ecuador, Ershad of Bangladesh and Moi of Kenya reflected in particular Latin American, Asian and African viewpoints. The Deputy Prime Minister of Thailand and HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn represented host country perspectives, while Director-General Mayor of UNESCO and Conference Executive Secretary Haddad set the scene on behalf of the sponsoring agencies and the Inter-Agency Commission, respectively.

A Unique Opportunity

Speakers shared the common perspective of the uniqueness of this gathering, taking place at a critical juncture in world history.

As the Deputy Prime Minister of Thailand stated, the World Conference came at a particularly auspicious time: "the present world climate is conducive to international cooperation in developing the quality of life of its population".

The Executive Secretary described the World Conference as "a unique occasion to influence the future development of education and of our many societies". All speakers underscored the need to seize new opportunities, while all three presidents emphasized the real potential for massive reduction of expenditures for military purposes.

The World Conference on Education for All provides us a unique opportunity to have an electrifying impact on political will in the world and to mobilize global resources for world-wide universalisation of education. Let us not miss this opportunity of the century.

President Ershad

The warming of relations between East and West, the withdrawal of occupying forces in various parts of the world and the reduction of the manufacture of arms, are all developments that should release huge amounts of resources for development. We shall surely not be asking for too much when we say some of the resources thus saved should be put to better use of providing education for all.

President Moi

The cost of a nuclear submarine would finance the annual educational budget of 23 developing countries and meet the needs of 160 million school-age children.

President Borja

External Debt, Optimization of Resources

Two themes which became of major importance in the World Conference debate were highlighted by the opening speakers: the urgency of reducing the burden of external debt, without which developing countries cannot realistically foresee increasing investment in basic education, and the importance of optimizing scarce resources. As stated by the UNESCO Director-General, the "reaffirmation of political will" will have to be measured in restructuring of international cooperation, as well as of education systems and national budgets.

President Borja, for example, speaking on behalf of Latin America, largely ascribed poor educational conditions to the enormous burden of external debt. The impossibility of repaying debt and at the same time meeting the internal needs for progress, he stated, demand Equitable and fair responses from creditor countries to the problem of... external debt".

Optimization of national resources demands flexibility in the provision of education through diverse approaches - "Our National Plan of Action", stated President Ershad, "proposes realistic strategies that mix innovative and unconventional approaches with conventional and traditional ones... communication channels, both traditional and modern, will be utilized to the maximum... Stress is placed on making optimum use of the resources available".

Education for all needs the contribution to education from all... If we combine vision with pragmatism political will with economic resourcefulness, international solidarity with national commitment, the expertise of educators with the fresh contributions of the media, science and technology, the business community, voluntary organizations and many others - then, and probably only then, the struggle to bring education to all can be won.

F. Mayor
Director-General, UNESCO

Basic Education: Broadening the Concept

The concept of basic education itself needs to be broadened beyond literacy and numeracy to include a wide range of skills and knowledge for living. HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn highlighted:

... the need to meet basic learning needs... by emphasising such topics as occupational development, knowledge of health care, food preparation, child care,... nature and the environment.

President Moi expanded upon the theme:

We must increasingly look towards education to help solve such problems as unemployment, population growth, declining agricultural production, and the damage being caused to our environment.

Vision, Will, Partnerships

Mr. Federico Mayor, Director-General of UNESCO, speaking on behalf of the four sponsoring agencies, placed the Education for All initiative in the context of the human cost of recent declines in the field of basic education, and emphasised the need for the conference both to renew commitment to, and provide action guidelines for, achieving basic education for all within a foreseeable time-frame.

But while the challenge of Education for All may appear daunting, a mix of vision, political will and new partnerships could well produce the "revolution" required.

Whether we can eliminate illiteracy within the next ten years will depend on cooperation at every level from the governmental and private sectors, as well as from independent agencies, which must all coordinate their efforts around the world.

HRH Princess Maha Chalcri Sirindhorn

The theme "Education for All-Meeting Basic Learning Needs" is above all about people, the most valuable resource on our planet.

W. Haddad
Executive Secretary, WCEFA


Speakers further emphasized the necessary corollary to cooperation: self-reliance, whether of individuals suffering from inequity, of people at large, or of nation-states:

When you educate a woman, you educate a nation. We should not, therefore, allow cultural factors, financial constraints, and other factors that militate against the education of women to hinder our efforts to provide quality education to this important segment of the world population.

President Moi

People are not mere numbers. When adequately trained and empowered, they are transformed into mighty forces for positive change and progress. Literacy and basic education are the indispensable tools and steps for such empowerment. We in Bangladesh are trying our best to achieve this empowerment.

President Ershad

The root of all dependencies originates in technological dependence... thus we in developing countries have to create our own capacity to generate technologies adequate for our conditions of life, to select technologies and to adapt them to our economic and social infrastructures, all this forming part of our own culture, our own idiosyncracies and our own way of being.

President Borja

A Focus on Human Development

The United Nations Secretary-General's message, presented by the Executive Secretary of ESCAP, emphasized the potential of the Conference for shaping future approaches to basic education and for "devising strategies for bridging the wide gap between proclaimed rights and sombre realities". This statement introduced a theme to be much stressed during the week: the renewal of a world-wide focus on human development.

The issues of literacy and basic education for all must constitute key elements of... a comprehensive approach to address the human dimension of development. This Conference is thus expected to have a substantial impact in shaping the international development strategy that will carry us into the twenty-first century.

J. Perez de Cuellar
U.N. Secretary General

Education does not work in a vacuum or in isolation from other factors that have a bearing on society.

Message of Crown Prince Hassan