Education is critical to eliminating poverty, empowering active and healthy citizens, improving gender equity, and building sustainable solutions to the greatest development challenges of our day: poverty, HIV/AIDS, environmental degradation, inequity, violence.
According to the World Bank: “Education is one of the most powerful instruments for reducing poverty and inequality and lays a foundation for sustained economic growth.” The Canadian International Development Agency recognizes: “Education is the single best development investment a country can make.” Even the International Monetary Fund notes: “A reallocation of public expenditures can benefit the poor in the long term by shifting resources to… basic education and health care, which build human capital and thus enhance growth and equity.”
And yet, more than 75 million primary school-aged children around the world still do not have access even to the most basic literacy, numeracy and other skills an education provides. Even worse, a quarter billion children will never make it to secondary school and, as adults, over 700 million will not be able to read — condemning them to a life of limited options and vulnerability, which their children will in turn inherit.
From Millennium Development Goal 2, which makes a commitment to universal primary education completion explicit, to numerous G-8 communiqués and UN statements, global leaders have promised the world’s children that their education is a priority. Progress has been made in fulfilling these promises, but much more remains to be done.
The Education for All movement is a global commitment to provide quality basic education for all children, youth and adults. The movement was launched at the World Conference on Education for All in 1990 by UNESCO, UNDP, UNFPA, UNICEF, the World Bank and civil society partners from around the world. Participants endorsed an ‘expanded vision of learning’ and pledged to universalize primary education and massively reduce illiteracy by the end of the decade. Ten years later, with many countries far from having reached this goal, the international community met again in Dakar, Senegal, and affirmed their commitment to achieving Education for All by the year 2015. They identified six key education goals which aim to meet the learning needs of all children, youth and adults by 2015:
In 2002, the World Bank launched the Education for All - Fast Track Initiative (FTI) as a global partnership between donor and developing countries to ensure accelerated progress towards the Millennium Development Goal of universal primary education by 2015. All low-income countries that demonstrate serious commitment to achieving universal primary school completion can receive support from the FTI.
FTI is built on mutual commitments. Donors provide coordinated and increased financial and technical support in a transparent and predictable manner. Conversely, partner countries have agreed to put primary education at the forefront of their domestic efforts and develop sound national education plans.
In particular, universal education requires that school fees of all kinds must be removed. School fees, including fees for books and required uniforms, are the single biggest reason that poor children are prevented from attending school.
The World Bank established the Catalytic Fund for Education in November 2003 in support of the Fast Track Initiative. The Catalytic Fund is designed to provide transitional financial assistance to low-income countries which have difficulty finding donor funding. Transitional (2-3 year) assistance from the Catalytic Fund can enable these countries to begin scaling up the implementation of their programs and establish a track record of performance that will help in attracting longer-term support from new donors.