With the decade-old goal of providing access to a primary-grade education to all the world’s children by 2015 fast approaching, a new congressional effort is under way, aimed at boosting US leadership in the global education campaign.
Starting from the stark reality that 72 million children – mostly girls, and mostly in Africa – still lack access to a basic education, education experts are joining congressional leaders in calling for a redoubled national effort behind an existing but lagging international plan for making universal primary education a reality.
At a Capitol Hill press conference Wednesday, US Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY) cited the touchy-feely truths that all children deserve an education to “realize their potential” and to “live healthier and happier lives.” But the longtime promoter of international education initiatives quickly added the steely-eyed perspective that universal education is a US national security interest because “a better-educated society is more resilient against the teachings of terrorist organizations.”
That point has been debated for years – the 9/11 hijackers were generally well-educated and some had advanced degrees – but references to it reflect the reality of a tough budget year when promoting new or reinvigorated foreign-assistance initiatives will likely prove difficult.
Ms. Lowey introduced the Education for All Act, which calls on the US to support a plan for achieving universal education by 2015 – using either an existing “fast-track initiative” within the World Bank, or a new multilateral Global Fund for Education. The bill calls for “predictable, long-term funding” to realize the goal, and tasks the president with coordination of a wide range of international and public and private partners.
The bill as introduced sets no funding targets, but its supporters make repeated reference to the pledge in 2008 by then-candidate Barack Obama to create a $2 billion global education fund.
The new US push is aimed at replicating the success of the international campaign on AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria, which has been instrumental in sharply increased treatment rates and in some cases in significantly reducing disease rates across much of the developing world, especially in Africa.
David Gartner, co-director of the Center for Universal Education at the Brookings Institution in Washington, says the universal education effort would do well to take its cues from the Global Fund for AIDS, TB, and Malaria, a hybrid international campaign set up in 2002. With pledges of $10 billion in its first six years alone, the fund operates on the basis of an “equal partnership” between donor organizations and countries, and the developing countries where the fund’s programs operate.
Bilateral education agreements between the US and developing countries are credited with opening school doors to millions of children over the past decade. But Mr. Gartner says a ramped up, multilateral, and public-private plan of action will have to take effect “this year, not next year or the year after that” if the goal of providing a primary-level education to all children by 2015 is to be reached.
Supporters realize the universal education goal may sound like one well-intentioned international cause among many. But the actress Jessica Alba – who stood by representative Lowey at the Capitol Hill press conference to publicize the adoption by this summer’s World Cup in South Africa of the universal education goal – said she now realizes how education is fundamental to addressing issues ranging from poverty reduction to women’s advancement.
From her work as ambassador for the World Cup 2010, Ms. Alba says she has seen in the African countries she has visited the link between development and education. Education for all – including girls, she emphasized – “seems to be the most effective way to tackle all of those problems.”