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Initiatives to Expand Access to Basic Education and Improve Childhood Development in Poor Countries

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National Economic Council


JULY 23, 2000


TODAY, PRESIDENT CLINTON ANNOUNCED NEW INITIATIVES TO EXPAND ACCESS TO BASIC EDUCATION AND IMPROVE CHILDHOOD DEVELOPMENT IN POOR COUNTRIES. Part of the Okinawa Summit's unprecedented emphasis on international development, these measures include:

  • A new $300 million U.S. Department of Agriculture international school nutrition pilot program to improve student enrollment, attendance, and performance in poor countries.
  • Endorsement by the G-8 of key international "Education for All" goals, including the principle that no country with a strong national action plan to achieve universal access to primary education by 2015 should be permitted to fail for lack of resources.
  • A new commitment by the World Bank to double lending for basic education in poor countries --- an estimated additional $1 billion per year.
  • A FY 2001 Administration request to increase funding for international basic education assistance by 50 percent ($55 million) targeted to areas where structural weaknesses in educational systems contribute to the prevalence of abusive child labor.

Better access to basic education can be a catalyst for poverty reduction and broader participation in the benefits of global economic integration. Literacy is fundamental not only to economic opportunity in today's increasingly knowledge-intensive economy but also to maternal and infant health, prevention and treatment of HIV-AIDS and other infectious diseases, elimination of abusive child labor, improved agricultural productivity, sustainable population growth and environmental conditions, and expanded democratic participation and respect for human rights.

  • The U.S. will launch a $300 million school feeding pilot program working through the UN World Food Program in partnership with private voluntary organizations. Building on ideas promoted by Ambassador George McGovern and former Senator Robert Dole and explored at the World Food Program (WFP), the USDA's Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC) would purchase surplus agricultural commodities and donate them for use in school feeding and pre-school nutrition programs in poor countries with strong action plans to expand access to and improve the quality of basic education.
  • For the first year of the program, the U.S. Government would spend $300 million for commodities, international transportation, and other costs under the current CCC authorities, feeding as many as 9 million schoolchildren and pre-schoolers.
  • The program would be initiated working through the WFP in partnership with Private Voluntary Organizations, the U.S. share of which could grow over time depending upon participation by other donors and eligibility by developing countries.
  • Selection criteria would be based on need and include a commitment and contribution of resources by the host government, technical feasibility, good progress toward a strong national action plan to achieve the Dakar Education for All goals, and a commitment by the host government to assume responsibility for operating the program within a reasonable time-frame where feasible.
  • A portion of the commodities could be sold to provide cash resources for in-country program management, funding any associated programs (e.g. feeding equipment purchases and local commodity purchases, etc.), in-country product storing, processing, handling and transportation, and purchasing the appropriate foods for the local program.
  • Funding would come from USDA's Commodity Credit Corporation under the surplus removal authority of the CCC Charter Act, and Section 416(b) of the Agricultural Act of 1949, which provides for overseas donations of commodities in CCC's inventory to carry out assistance programs in developing countries and friendly countries. The last several years have seen record food surpluses in the U.S., with corresponding record donations of food overseas. USDA analysts project continued surpluses over the next few years.
  • The G-8 has strongly endorsed Education for All goals and called for increased bilateral, multilateral, and private donor support for country action plans. At the initiation of the U.S., the G-8 has agreed to endorse the goals of a recently concluded international conference on access to basic education. Held in April 2000 in Dakar, Senegal, the World Education Forum gathered over 1,000 leaders from 145 countries to increase the world community's commitment to basic education in poor countries by:
  • Ensuring that no country with a strong national action plan to expand access to and improve the quality of basic education should be permitted to fail to implement its plan for lack of resources;
  • Ensuring that by 2015 all children -- particularly girls, children in difficult circumstances and those belonging to ethnic minorities -- have access to and complete free and compulsory primary education of good quality;
  • Achieving a 50 percent improvement in level of adult literacy by 2015, especially for women;
  • Eliminating gender disparities in primary and secondary education by 2005;
  • Expanding and improving comprehensive early childhood care and education.
  • In connection with the Summit and at the suggestion of the U.S., World Bank President James Wolfensohn has pledged that the Bank will increase education lending by 50 percent and devote the increase to basic education in support of the Dakar Framework, a $1 billion increase or doubling of the Bank's lending for this purpose. This step could galvanize action on the part of the developing countries and other public and private donors to develop a deeper partnership in support of educating the world's youth.
  • The G-8 action builds on the President's FY 2001 budget initiative to increase by 50 percent ($55 million) U.S. assistance to strengthen educational systems in developing countries, targeted to areas where abusive child labor is prevalent. The International Labor Organization has estimated that 250 million children work worldwide. A lack of educational alternatives exacerbates this problem. The Administration initiative would complement direct efforts to reduce abusive child labor such as those by the International Labor Organization by providing support for improvements in educational systems.
  • The Okinawa Summit's focus on basic education in developing countries builds on one of the primary achievement of last year's G-7/G-8 Summit, the Cologne Debt Initiative. This initiative makes debt relief available to countries committed to undertake economic reforms and devote the resources freed up by lower foreign debt repayments to the education and health of their people. The President has requested $435 million in appropriations for this year's participation in the Cologne Debt Initiative, $810 million including FY 2002 and 2003.

The international community has set a goal of achieving universal access to primary education by 2015; however, half of children in developing countries do not attend school and 880 million adults remain illiterate. An estimated 120 million children in developing countries do not attend any school at all, and an additional 150 million children drop out of school before completing the four years of schooling needed to develop sustainable literacy and numeracy skills.

  • Girls represent over 60 percent and perhaps as many as two-thirds of the children who are not in school.
  • Where 20 percent of women or less read and write, those women have an average of six children each. By contrast, in countries in which female literacy has reached 80 percent or more, this figure drops to fewer than three children each.
  • Each year of maternal education reduces childhood mortality by eight percent.
  • In Sub-Saharan Africa, 40 percent of children (42 million) are out of school. In South Asia, 26 percent (46 million) are not enrolled in primary education. Of those children who do enroll, 33 percent never finish in Sub-Saharan Africa, 41 percent in South Asia, and 26 percent in Latin America.

The United Nations World Food Program estimates that 300 million children in developing countries are chronically hungry. Many of these children are among the nearly 120 million who do not attend school. Others are enrolled in school but underperform or drop out due in part to hunger or malnourishment.

  • A 1996 World Bank study concluded that when children suffer from hunger or poor nutrition and health problems, their weakened condition increases their susceptibility to disease, reduces their learning capacity, forces them to end their school careers prematurely, or keeps them out of school altogether.
  • An estimated 210 million children suffer from iron deficiency anemia, 85 million are at higher risk for acute respiratory disease and other infections because of vitamin A deficiency, and 60 million live with iodine deficiency disorders. Each condition adversely affects cognitive development, physical development, and motivation, yet each is susceptible to cost-effective treatment because the body requires only minute quantities of the nutrients in question.
  • By helping to address these problems, school feeding and pre-school child nutrition programs have been shown to have a significant positive impact on rates of student enrollment, attendance and performance.

The President's international school feeding pilot program and the G-8's support for basic education in poor countries are part of the G-8's unprecedented emphasis on development. One of the principal objectives of the Okinawa Summit has been to strengthen the partnership of developed and developing countries, international institutions, the private sector, and civil society in support of global poverty alleviation. The Summit will create a framework for significantly increased bilateral, multilateral, and private sector assistance to poor countries with effective policies in three interrelated areas: infectious diseases, basic education, and information technology. The goal is to mobilize a more comprehensive response by the international community in response to developing countries that exert leadership at home on these issues. No issue is more fundamental to human progress than basic education:

  • Primary education is the single most important factor in accounting for differences in growth rates between East Asia and sub-Saharan Africa because it leads to greater achievement of secondary education, according to the World Bank.
  • An education helps people understand health risks, including AIDS, take preventative steps and demand quality treatment.
  • Educational opportunities are also critical to eliminating abusive child labor. Around the world, tens of millions of young children in their formative years work under hazardous conditions, including exposure to toxic and carcinogenic substances in manufacturing, dangerous conditions in mines and on sea fishing platforms, and backbreaking physical labor. Some children labor in bondage, are sold into prostitution, or are indentured to manufacturers, working against invented debts for wages so low that they will never be repaid.




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