DAKAR - Close to one billion people will never receive a formal education because governments around the world are not living up to pledges to provide free primary schooling for all by 2015, aid groups said on Wednesday.
At a meeting in Senegal's capital Dakar in 2000, governments from 164 countries agreed on goals including the provision of good quality, free primary education for all and a 50 percent improvement in adult literacy by the middle of next decade.
Half way to that deadline, the world's richest nations are failing to live up to pledges to help the poorest and the goals remain elusive, according to the Global Campaign for Education (GCE), a grouping of thousands of teachers' unions and civil society groups including Save the Children and Oxfam.
"At current performance rates, close to a billion people won't receive education in their lifetime, let alone in the next seven years as promised," said Nelida Cespedes, a GCE board member from Peru.
Universal primary education by 2015 is also one of the eight U.N. Millennium Development Goals agreed by world governments.
The campaign group said in a report that 72 million children were still not attending primary school and that 774 million adults -- or one in five -- were illiterate. Although many of them were in Africa, the study said several African governments had made marked improvements in providing schooling.
The report coincided with a meeting in Dakar of ministers and educational specialists from around the world, hosted by Senegal's President Abdoulaye Wade and the director general of U.N. cultural and education agency UNESCO, Koichiro Matsuura.
"More than 18 million new teachers will be needed by 2015, nearly four million in sub-Saharan Africa alone," Matsuura told the summit, attended by hundreds of school children.
RICH NATIONS MUST DO MORE
UNESCO said in a report last month that good progress was being made, with primary school enrolment rising by 36 percent in sub-Saharan Africa and by 22 percent in South and West Asia between 1999 and 2005.
But it said external foreign aid for education was "far short of the $11 billion required annually" and was not targeted enough at Africa or at primary school education.
"The biggest blame has to be laid at the door of the G8. Despite repeated promises, only one -- the United Kingdom -- is almost living up to its promises," Lucia Fry, GCE policy adviser, told Reuters on the sidelines of the Dakar meeting.
"Countries like the United States, Germany and Japan -- the world's richest nations -- are not even giving a quarter of what they should relative to their national wealth," she said.
The GCE report ranked developed nations on their promise to provide long-term funding to meet the 2015 targets.
The United States ranked bottom for giving less than $1 per capita per year in aid spending for basic education, compared to about $15 per person in the United Kingdom, Fry said.
It would cost the equivalent of just a few days of G8 military spending to give every child in Africa the chance to go to school, the report said.
"All the rich countries should allocate more funds to poor countries so they can build schools," said Amar Lal Banjara, a 10-year old former child laborer from India who was invited to speak at the Dakar meeting.
"The promises that were made in 2000 should be kept in 2015. Keep your promise to the world's children," he told the summit, to roaring cheers from the Senegalese children in the hall.
(Editing by Daniel Flynn)
© Reuters 2007