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Achieving Universal Primary Education – a Millennium Goal

August 27, 2008

Did you know that one in four adults in the developing world – 872 million people – is illiterate (Oxfam UK – Education Now Campaign)?

Or that more than 100 million children remain out of school (Source:UNFPA)?

Or that 46% of girls in the world’s poorest countries have no access to primary education?

Or the fact that more than 1 in 4 adults cannot read or write and 2/3 of those are women (Source:ActionAid)?

These may look like mind numbing numbers but every number here refers to a human life that may become tragic due to lack of basic education. It is incredibly unfortunate that many people fail to get even the simplest facilities like primary education which so many of us take for granted.

Due to the lack of opportunities, the uneducated ones remain trapped in the vicious circle of poverty and illiteracy and face harsh circumstances throughout their lives. Getting educated is the basic right of every human being and yet, a disproportionately large section of the population fails to get a chance to attend even the primary school.

Education alone can ensure that the poor find positive ways to overcome their adversities and get empowered to create bright future for themselves and their families. In fact, according to Oxfam, young people who have completed primary education are less than half as likely to contract HIV as those missing an education. Universal primary education alone would prevent 700,000 cases of HIV each year – about 30% all new infections in this age group. It is, thus, imperative that, at the minimum, primary education be made available to everyone around the world.

Is achieving universal primary education an impossible dream? Consider this data from ActionAid: Americans spend around $20 billion on ice creams every year and the cost of providing universal primary education per year is just half of that!

While adequate funds are not the only answer, it does help to allocate sufficient resources for this goal. With sustained efforts by governments and organizations, it is definitely possible to ensure that even the poorest and most disadvantaged people of the world learn the basics of reading and writing.

Moreover, thanks to a well planned initiative started by the UN, achieving this goal can become simpler. The eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) of the UN aim to make seemingly impossible dreams come true.

Eradication of hunger and poverty, achievement of universal primary education, promotion of gender equality and women empowerment, reduction of child mortality, improvement of maternal health, combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases, ensuring environmental sustainability and development of a global partnership are the eight goals that need to be achieved by 2015.

These are not mere lofty statements to be relegated to the record books and forgotten but a workable blueprint formed by and agreed upon by every country in the world. This partnership to end extreme poverty from the world by 2015 was formed by the leaders of all countries and the goals endorsed at the highest political level.

In the 2000 UN Millennium Summit, these eight targets were accepted by all the countries, whether poor or rich. The poorer countries committed themselves to changing their policies and governance to improve their citizen’s lives and the rich ones pledged to provide all the resources needed. The best part is the meticulous monitoring being done to ensure that the countries move steadily towards their goals. The national Millennium Goals reports and the Secretary General’s reports to the General Assembly keep track of the actual performance of every country against the millennium targets.

2007 was the mid point for the achievement of the goals and interesting results came out from the reports of the countries. Many countries have done very well in achieving most of the goals and ensuring sustainable growth. However, a lot of work needs to be done on several goals, including the goal of universal primary education.

The millennium goals, particularly the one targeting universal primary education by 2015, are within our reach. What we need to do is remind the governments about the promises made and support every endeavor made for the fulfillment of those promises. We need to galvanize help from every quarter of the society to make this mission an unprecedented success. Ensuring that every boy and girl in the world completes a full course of primary education is not that tough. We just need to be willing to help those that never get the same opportunities as ourselves – all we need to do is care.

Neha Singh


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In Nicaragua 50% of the kids that start 1st grade never make it to 5th grade. It is our goal to make this percentage drop significantly.

$30/month is what it takes us at Empowerment International to put a child in school. If you would like to help a child stay in school and get better life, please click on the link below or contact us

Donate at Change.org

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