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Norway: Newsline

High Level Group panellists make case for education investment

OSLO, Norway, 18 December 2008 - “You can only invest your way out of a recession,” said Craig Barrett, chairman of Intel Corporation, at a panel highlighting education as a driver for change held at the opening of the High Level Group Meeting on Education for All in Oslo on 16 December.

“In past financial crises in Latin America and South Asia social sectors have been hardest hit and child labour has increased, said Hilde Johnson, Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF. “In times of crisis we need to be able to give more to the poor, and more to girls.”

With 40 million more children in primary school than in 2000, participants stressed that gains had to be maintained. “As the financial crisis hits, the pressure on poor families will be much greater,” said Nicholas Burnett, UNESCO’s Assistant Director-General for Education. “It is really important that spending be maintained to help poor families to keep their children in school.”

Studies show that each additional percentage point loss in growth pushes 20 million more people into poverty. This was a time to pull out the evidence on the benefits of education. “Investing in early childhood care and development programs increases earning potential by 17 to 40 per cent and each additional year of schooling by 15 per cent. These are the compelling arguments we can make,” said Joy Phumaphi, Vice-President of the World Bank

The benefit of educating girls is another compelling argument. “Unless girls are educated society cannot change,” said Greg Mortensen, co-author of “Three Cups of Tea” and executive director of the Central Asia Institute. Working closely with local communities, Mr Mortensen has opened over 70 schools in remote regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan. “You have to empower people and to listen to them. When you ask women what they want, most say that they don’t want their babies to die and they want their children to go to school.”

Several panellists stressed that pressure has to be kept on governments. “We have to play the name and shame game and call those to account who are not acting in the right way,” said Ms Johnson from UNICEF. For South Africa’s Minister of Education Naledi Pandor, media and civil society organizations can hold governments to account by monitoring actions more carefully. “Without a universal campaign, we will not get support we need.”

Panellists discussed strategies to fill the teacher shortage and to improve the status of the profession. “Our traditional approaches to teaching will not work,” said Ms Pandor. “We need to use innovation and technology because we need materials to teach on a larger scale than we have ever thought of before.” Ms Phumaphi suggested that unemployed graduates in sub-Saharan Africa could be fast-tracked into short teacher training courses. Ms Johnson drew attention to a program in Norway that gives teacher training scholarships to students who go on to teach in remote rural areas for four to six years. In Afghanistan, Ms Johnson cited the example of a school running three shifts to cater to over 3,000 students. “Students who have finished seventh grade are able to teach women at a nearby literacy centre how to read and write.”

For Intel’s Mr Barrett, whose company has helped to train six million teachers around the world, “simple technologies can do wonders. “A simple television set and DVD can supplement teaching in local language,” he said. “We have to take great programmes that exist in countries and scale up.”

Governments have choices: they can choose not to cut their basic education budgets, said participants. “It depends on the will and commitment of sovereign countries and partners, said Ms Pandor. Norways’s Crown Prince Haakon pointed out that his country spends one per cent of gross national income on development aid and education is among priority fields. “We need to act now and not use the financial crisis as a pretext,” he said.

“These goals are not something unattainable: look at what has happened since 2000. We need to focus on equity and to go to scale,” said Mr Burnett. “The $7 billion annual gap in aid for basic education is not large compared to other amounts being spent these days to overcome the financial crisis.”


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