Before we celebrate the dawn of the Internet Age, it's time for this pop-up-window reminder:
One of every five adults in the world cannot even write a letter. In the primary schools of some poor nations, students practice writing and math in the dirt with sticks. Worldwide, about 125 million school-age children - or roughly half the US population - have never seen a teacher.
Americans can be thankful they have had over two centuries in which basic education and literacy were a public concern. In many other nations, that idea is just decades old, and often underfunded.
In richer nations, public money for education exceeds 5 percent of the gross national product. But in developing countries, it remains under 2 percent. Even in well-funded schools, parents often keep kids out of school to make them work.
Closing the education gap would provide the ability to close so many other rich-poor gaps, such as in income, health, birth rates, and, yes, even access to the Internet.
Ten years ago, the global community met in Thailand to make a promise that all children would have access to primary education by the year 2000. While there's been progress, that goal proved elusive.
So last week, in Dakar, Senegal, private activists and 155 nations met yet again to set a new deadline, this time aiming for 2015 to achieve universal primary education.
The World Bank has pledged to find donor money for any developing country that has a viable plan to provide free basic schooling. The bank has doubled its education spending in the past decade to $2 billion.
More focus as well as more money is needed, especially to make sure girls are given equal access to school. Private donations to education can also help. And new technology can bring electronic learning to even the remotest areas. The Internet itself - assuming a village has electricity and at least one computer buff - can make up for a lack of books, even teachers.
Literacy is essential for democracy, and without better schools, many nations may falter in creating free societies.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society