By Mr. Richard Arden, Education Adviser, DFID


Honourable Minister of Education, China, honourable Ministers of Education, from other participating nations, senior UNESCO, UNICEF and other donor and NGO representatives, distinguished visitors, ladies and gentlemen.


I would like to emphasize that in delivering this statement from DFID, I am not speaking on behalf of the UK Parliamentary Under Secretary of State Gareth Thomas but as one of the current co-chairs of UNGEI.


As I am also currently based in Zambia I want to bring to the meeting a grass-roots perspective of key lessons being learnt on how to tackle the challenges of achieving the MDG on gender equity in primary and secondary education.


Firstly there is no doubt that the abolition of user fees has had a huge impact on improving girls' participation in addition to other out of school children. In Zambia for example, enrolment has increased by over 20% since fees were abolished in 2002, and girls' net enrolment has soared from 65.9% in 2000 to 81.5% in 2004. Even greater increases have been noted in other African countries such as Malawi , Kenya and Uganda .


However, another lesson being learnt is that in order to achieve and maintain increased enrolment and completion rates, there must be sustained commitment to greater long-term and predictable investment in education. Many developing countries in Africa, Asia and South East Asia have increased the proportion of their GDP to education, but also require well-co-ordinated external financing. A number of donor partners are increasing their funding for education both through in-country sector or general budget support and through the Fast Track Initiative.


It is being increasingly demonstrated that a well co-ordinated and harmonised approach to international financing enables partner governments to implement its EFA policies and plans more effectively. Just recently on a visit to one of the poorest rural provinces of Zambia I saw at first hand how the regular disbursement of school grants empowers districts and schools to improve the delivery and quality of basic and high school education through infrastructure, textbooks, stationery and additional teachers.


Despite this evidence, there is still a lack of consistency amongst external agencies in some countries where parallel initiatives are implemented at the expense of the country's own development plans. In addition, the contributions of international and local NGOs are often ignored and not aligned or factored into sector programmes. One exception is Zambia where CAMFED and FAWEZA along with UNICEF, DFID, Norway and DCI in particular are co-ordinating successfully with Ministry of Education in the development of weekly boarding facilities for girls.


In line with the current theme of literacy, all this increase in access will come to naught if we do not see an improvement in the quality of education and in particular an increase in levels of literacy and numeracy across the world. While we recognise the huge challenge of 800 million illiterate adults, many of them women, the first task ought to be to ensure that the teaching of initial literacy in primary school is effective to avoid another generation of illiterate adults.


The Zambia Primary Reading Programme is an example of an approach that has had a significant impact on literacy in both mother tongue and an international language (in this case English) at primary school level. Moreover, the theme of empowering girls and women through literacy is graphically illustrated in this video of a real rural girl in Northern Zambia whose progress through to Grade 7 exams has been tracked over several years. I am pleased to inform you that last year she passed her Grade 7 examination with over 800 points and has been accepted into Grade 8. This demonstrates the value of investing in good literacy programmes at primary level.


Adult literacy can only be tackled effectively if it is also factored into country-led, costed education policies, plans and poverty reduction strategies, even if the providers come from a variety of institutions and civil society organisations. There is no doubt that women in particular are empowered when literacy is related to skills development, the world of work and rights education. Indeed it is notable that women often form the majority in adult literacy classes. Again, a major change in adult literacy levels cannot be accomplished without considerable financial investment through a co-ordinated partnership of international agencies and developing countries.


To sum up, the lesson from the field for all partners who want to increase girls' participation in basic and secondary education is to ensure that UNGEI strengthens countries' own planning, co-ordination and implementation of initiatives. UNICEF in particular can play a major advocacy and influencing role in helping government led-plans and policies target gender equity at all levels of the education system.