- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 16, 2006

Britain should be commended for its April 10 pledge of $15 billion toward the goal of primary education for children in the poorest countries over the next 10 years. In Mozambique, Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown announced the landmark step toward the lofty and ambitious goal put forth at the World Economic Forum in Senegal six years ago: that no country’s serious commitment to education would fail because of lack of resources.

Mr. Brown’s announcement, which was made in anticipation of the meeting of finance ministers of the G-7 countries this weekend at the World Bank, harks back to the theme at the 2005 Group of Eight summit in Gleneagles, Scotland, of aggressively increasing aid to Africa and a broad commitment to “make poverty history.”

For many of Africa’s ills, education is a promising panacea. Mr. Brown noted on April 10 that, “education is vital in preventing the further spread of HIV/AIDS,” and during her January trip to West Africa, First Lady Laura Bush commented, “education is our greatest ally in the effort to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS.” The statistical link between education and AIDS is compelling: In Uganda, for instance, HIV is less than half as common in individuals with a primary education than in those with no education, and a secondary education cuts that number in half again, according to the Global AIDS Alliance. The impact falls harder on girls, who make up almost 60 percent of the 100 million children who do not attend school and who also contract HIV at a disproportionately high rate, particularly in their teenage years.

The substantial, upfront commitment to a decade of funding is essential for facilitating the elimination of school fees and the investment in teacher training and salaries. School fees are prohibitive for many families, and eliminating them — as Kenya successfully did in 2003, increasing primary school enrollment and lowering the dropout rate to less than 3 percent — brings more children to school. Eliminating the school fees without an alternative source of funding, however, leaves schools overcrowded and underperforming. A meeting of UNICEF and World Bank officials in Nairobi two weeks ago recognized getting rid of primary school fees as a critical step for universal schooling.

For its bold commitment toward making primary education a right for children in developing countries, Britain should be lauded at the World Bank meeting this weekend.

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