The Print

Educating the World's Children

Debra Angel

The recent earthquake and tsunami created thousands of orphans and left many parents childless. Now, months later, Asia struggles to rebuild. Roads are being cleared, houses rebuilt. The children, many now displaced, will return to school. That is the hope. And as Iraq struggles to elect a government and rebuild a country, its people continue to live among a constant stream of violence. But they too are opening roads, rebuilding houses, and returning their children, many of whom are displaced, to school. That is the hope.

With war, terrorism, poverty and natural disaster impacting the globe, one wonders what is being done to help the world's children, especially as education is concerned. In the United States, most of us take education for granted. Without question, we expect it for our children years before we ever anticipate having them. However, this basic right is not a guarantee the world over. The facts are that "an estimated 114 million children of primary age in the world are not enrolled in school, depriving one in every five children access to even the most basic education." ("Why do the Millennium Development Goals matter?")

United Nations Millennium Goals

In September 2000, the United Nations General Assembly gathered to draft its Millennium Summit Declaration, which included 8 goals to "attain peace and security, human rights and sustainable development." (http://www.un.org/millenniumgoals/) One of the primary goals of this declaration is to achieve universal primary education, which means that by 2015 all boys and girls are assured that they will complete primary school.

Goal number 3 of the declaration is to promote gender equality and empower women. What this goal aims to do is "eliminate gender disparities in primary and secondary education preferably by 2015." ("Why do the Millennium Development Goals matter?")


In an effort to help achieve the educational goals outlined in the UN's millennium declaration, governmental bodies such as UNESCO and others have set in motion special programs and standards for education. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), created in 1945, is the United Nations' specialized agency for education. As stated on its Web site, its "mission is to:

  • Promote education as a fundamental right
  • Improve the quality of education
  • Stimulate experimentation, innovation and policy dialogue."

Education for All

UNESCO has several programs in place to promote and improve education around the world, including Education for All (EFA), which was created after the World Conference on Education for All assembly in Jomtien, Thailand, in 1990. In April 2000, the EFA 2000 Assessment was presented at the World Education Forum in Dakar, Senegal, to report on the progress of the EFA program during the 1990s. Out of this meeting was born the Dakar Framework for Action (http://www.unesco.org/education/efa/ed_for_all/dakfram_eng.shtml), which aims to achieve quality basic education for all by 2015.

Six goals came out of the Dakar forum, as follows:

  • Expand early childhood care and education.
  • Free and compulsory education of good quality by 2015.
  • Promote the acquisition of life-skills by adolescents and youth.
  • Expand adult literacy by 50 percent by 2015.
  • Eliminate gender disparities by 2005 and achieve gender equality in education by 2015.
  • Enhance educational quality.


UNICEF, which stands for United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund, has five basic priorities for children that include:

  • child protection
  • immunization
  • early childhood
  • fighting HIV/AIDS
  • girls' education

The educational focus of UNICEF involves 25 countries--15 of which are in Africa and 6 in South Asia--and it aims to help girls and boys attain equal access to school. As Carol Bellamy so aptly stated in her January 3, 2005, speech in Sri Lanka after the tsunami disaster:

"Finally, we must help children cope with their trauma by getting them back in school as quickly as possible. Nothing will signal hope more clearly than rebuilding and reopening schools. Being in a learning environment gives children something positive to focus on, and enables the adults around them to go about the business of rebuilding with greater confidence."

In the Field: One Woman's Point of View

I spoke to Anne Ferguson, who spent some time in Jamaica working for Jamaica Movement for the Advancement of Literacy (JAMAL), an agency of the Jamaican government that was formed in 1974 to administer adult education programs. Even though Ferguson's work involved adults, the experience and preparations she underwent are relevant for anyone undertaking a similar task for children. To prepare for her duties, Ferguson read a lot of Paulo Freire's book, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, and used a training manual put out by the Peace Corps. As she points out, "We used their [Peace Corps] ideas for a lot of things we did--more than any other resource. They are pretty dated though."

About her training with JAMAL, Ferguson says, "We did a two-day training course with them. It was regarding very basic literacy skills and I don't recall any texts as such. We were encouraged to use newspapers with more advanced students. And I also had the Peace Corps materials."

Ferguson's insight speaks to the international need to address a specific country's indigenous literature and its oral tradition of storytelling. She acknowledges that "[f]or Jamaicans there is little indigenous literature, though that is slowly changing. There is a lot of colonialist literature, stories written by both sides (like Kipling or Achebe, examples from other cultures). Their school books are very British, though there are a rare few which use native characters and storytelling. Storytelling is considered primitive to the educated classes, because of the bad grammar associated with the Patois dialect, and I'm not sure how much of it is used in any classroom setting. Although a woman named Louise Bennett did a lot to try and make Patois an official language, it never had much of an impact on the educational system, which is very formal."

As our world becomes more global, the more the world's leaders will need to take this issue of multilingual education and using local languages in schools beyond rhetoric and debate. However, it is clear that educating the world's children is a big job. Thankfully, the international communities and government agencies across the globe are embracing the need for education. With any luck, poor, disadvantaged and displaced children everywhere will have one thing in common: quality education.





"Education for All: An Achievable Vision," UNESCO brochure, http://www.unesco.org/education/efa/

"Why do the Millennium Development Goals matter?" brochure, UN Development Programme and the UN Department of Public Information, DPI/2321, September 2003-25M, http://www.un.org/millenniumgoals/brochure4.pdf

Remarks by Carol Bellamy, Colombo Press Conference, COLOMBO, SRI LANKA, 3 January 2005, http://www.unicef.org/media/media_24709.html

Anne Ferguson, Email interview, February 13, 2005


Debra Angel

Volume 9, Issue 2, The Looking Glass, 2 April, 2005

Site design and content, except where noted, © The Looking Glass 2007.
"Educating the World's Children"
© Debra Angel, 2005.
Send general correspondence regarding The Looking Glass c/o The Editor.

The Looking Glass: new perspectives on children's literature

ISBN 1551-5680