Nations Gear Up for Education Conference

Development organizations encourage all countries to join in an international discussion of `Education for All'

`I DON'T think the people of the world have recognized the severe nature of the educational dilemma that we're in,'' says Bryan Truman of World Vision International, a private voluntary organization. Mr. Truman is participating in a global consciousness-raising effort with the goal of providing a basic education for all the children and adults of the world by the year 2000.

A world conference on the topic will be held in Thailand in March 1990. About 1,500 government leaders, educators, researchers, and representatives of international nongovernmental organizations from more than 150 nations are expected to attend the ``World Conference on Education for All: Meeting Basic Learning Needs.''

The meeting has three basic objectives:

To highlight the problem of meeting basic learning needs.

To build a knowledge base to assist countries that would like to enhance access to education and literacy.

To forge a consensus on an international framework for meeting basic learning needs.

Conference sponsors include a heavy handful of international organizations: the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), and the World Bank.

The conference is pegged to the UN General Assembly's designation of 1990 as ``International Literacy Year.''

``This was a confluence of agency interests and events coming together very nicely,'' says Nat Colletta, deputy executive secretary of the Inter-Agency Commission that is planning the event.

Illustrative case studies will be discussed at round-table sessions, and displays will provide information on effective educational programs around the world. The conference will be the culmination of nine months of preconference consultations. Nine regional meetings are scheduled between October and December to discuss regional perspectives on meeting basic learning needs.

Truman participated in the North American Regional Consultation held in Boston in November.

The group's concerns were recorded and will be considered by an International Steering Committee and Executive Committee, which will meet in Nice, France, in December to process the feedback from the nine regional meetings.

``My biggest concern is in reference to the time frame that everything is wrapped up into,'' says Wayne Jacoby, president of Global Education Motivators, in Chestnut Hill, Pa., and a participant in the regional meeting.

The pace of this process has been shifted into overdrive in order to have the conference in March 1990. Conference organizers agree that the time frame is tight, but the beginning of a new decade provides an opportunity for signaling a renewed vision of education.

``What I like best about the whole process,'' says Truman, ``is that it was designed in such a way that it would be participatory.''

Mr. Colletta says this approach has been important to the conference planners. ``You really can't get commitment to implementation unless you have participation and therefore we've tried to build in participation in many ways.''

One objective of the conference is to build new alliances across national sectors. Invitations for official delegations have suggested that each country send one person from the education field, one person from the finance and planning ministries, and one person from the nongovernment organization (NGO) or private sector.

More than 150 NGOs will be invited directly as well, say conference planners. This is a deliberate departure from the usual inter-governmental conference procedure of inviting NGOs as observers only. NGOs are recognized as an essential ingredient in forging new alliances in education.

A global alliance and commitment to educating the world's citizens is the ultimate goal.

``I would hope that all nations of the world,'' says Truman, ``would take this seriously enough to benefit from it.''

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