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Kiribati is dedicated to providing the best educational system for its children. Education in Kiribati was improved with the National Development Strategy, which was created to provide universal education to students in primary and secondary school. This means that students who attend primary school (grades 1-6) and Junior Secondary School (grades 7-9) will not have to pay, which takes an enormous financial burden off their parents.

This system is designed to take children out of the workforce, and so far it has been a large success. By 2005, there were 18,138 students enrolled in primary school. This number slowly declined to 16,710 by the year 2013, then quickly grew to 18,208 for the year 2014.

Not only does this program introduce children to education, but it also retains a very high percentage of students. Nearly 88 percent of those that participate in primary schooling move on to Junior Secondary School.

The issue that arises with education in Kiribati is when students move onto Senior Secondary School. The first obstacle that students must overcome if they wish to continue their education is passing the Junior Secondary Certificate Examination. As with most examinations, not everyone will pass, and this limits how many students can move on.

For those who have passed the exam and wish to move on, money is the next issue. As mentioned, while primary and Junior Secondary School are paid for by the government, Senior Secondary School is not. These school fees can be too much for a family to afford, even though the Kiribati government does provide some scholarships to students.

The third issue for incoming students is finding a school they can attend. Most Senior Secondary Schools are on the South Tarawa island. For students who are in other areas of Kiribati, like the Outer Islands, this means they must find a relative in the South Tarawa area or board at the school. This transportation and new residence can also cause a great financial burden on the family, which may be why only about one-third of students move onto the Senior level.

In the past several years, the government has taken steps to address the issues with education in Kiribati. In 2009, Kiribati and Australia agreed to a Partnership for Development, which concentrates on growing access to education, improving the education curriculums and developing workforce skills in students. Kiribati also launched its own Education Improvement Plan the following year, a ten-year plan which focuses on some of the same areas, but also on improving government policies and services. These programs show that Kiribati is committed to addressing the obstacles to education in the country and ensuring that all children can access it.

Scott Kesselring

Photo: Flickr

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This past weekend, many international leaders and education advocates met in Oslo to discuss strategies on how to meet the Millennium Goal of education, as well as discuss the price to educate the world. Among the attendees were UN secretary-general Ban Ki-Moon, Malala Yousafzai and former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

A high-level panel offered diverse perspectives on financing education. The Indonesian Education Minister, Anies Baswedan pointed out the need to bring down high cost education affecting teaching materials, curriculums and assessment. Rwanda’s Prime Minister Paul Kagame said one of the key factors for successful educational reform was strong partnerships.

Ms. Yousafzai addressed the congregation, urging the international community to spend more money on projects to provide education to those in poverty. She told them, “We will not stop. We will continue to speak out and raise our voices until we see every child in school.”

When the world’s leaders met during the Millennium Summit in September of 2000, they outlined eight core areas of need to reduce extreme poverty in the world. Among those eight core areas, one of the goals was to ensure that, by 2015, children everywhere, boys and girls alike, would be able to complete a full course of primary schooling. To this day, only two of the eight goals have been met, and education is not one of them.

According to the Malala fund, the NGO she helped start, Universal fee-free primary and secondary education for a 12-year period costs an estimated $340 billion per year through 2030. The United States defense budget was $526.6 billion in 2014 alone.

In a July 2015 report released by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the number of out of school students around the world is on the rise, reaching 124 million in 2013. That figure includes 59 million primary students and 65 million young adolescents aged from 12 to 15 years old. This is up from the 122 million that was reported in 2011.

Age is not the only disparity in the fight to educate all children. Efforts to abolish gender gaps have broken down in recent years. Although they are better than in the earlier 2000s when the program was initiated, progression has gone stagnant. According to the 2013 figures, 1 in 10 girls and 1 in 12 boys were out of school in 2013.

The study gives two explanations for the recent decline. First, the sub-Saharan countries are finding it hard to keep up with the rising demand of school education from the school-age population that is experience a surge in population.

Secondly, the old business model that was proposed in the early 2000s is outdated. That model included abolishing tuition fees, the construction of new schools and a system of more teachers, classrooms and textbooks.

The world must come together to pool resources in order to reach the goals set out in the Millennium Development Goals and address the challenges of the UNESCO report. On the fifteenth anniversary of the Millennium Development Goals, the United Nations is expected to adopt a new set of Sustainable Development Goals that will call for universal primary and secondary for all students by 2030.

This is definitely a step in the right direction, but will require more cooperation and resources from the international community and national governments. The World Bank has invested US $4 billion in education alone. This year, they have created a new Results in Education for All Children Trust Fund (REACH). Norway was the first donor followed by USAID. That aid must be used efficiently and with proper strategy.

According to the UNESCO report, what is needed now are “targeted interventions to reach the most marginalised children and youth who are out of school today, including those with disabilities; from ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities; and children affected by armed conflict.” Continuous citizen advocacy is need to make sure U.S. foreign aid stays consistent over the course of the next 15 years in its commitments to universal education, or else the price to educate the world will go even higher.

– Adnan Khalid

Sources: U.S. Department of Defense, Government of Norway, Malala Fund, United Nations, UNESCO, The World Bank
Photo: Flickr

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This is the second in a series of posts reviewing the UN’s Millennium Development Goals. The MDGs are a set of eight targets agreed upon by almost every country in the world, based on a shared commitment to the improvement of the social, economic, and political lives of all people. They are to be achieved by 2015 and, with two years to go, it’s time to see how far we’ve come and what is left to be done.

The second of these goals is to achieve universal primary education. All children, regardless of gender or socioeconomic background, deserve the opportunity to receive a high quality education. Because of concerted efforts to meet this goal, more children are attending primary school today than ever before, with 570 million children enrolled in school. From 1999 to 2006, the number of out-of-school children fell from 103 million to 73 million, and primary school enrollment in developing countries increased from 83% to 88%. Primary school enrollment continued increasing, reaching 90% by 2010. However, progress is slowing with the number of primary school aged children out of school falling by only 3 million between 2008 and 2011.

Despite significant progress, children in sub-Saharan Africa are the most likely not to attend primary school, with the net primary school enrollment ratio there increasing to only 71%. This leaves roughly 38 million children without a primary school education. On the other hand, 90% of Southern Asian children attend primary school. This represents excellent progress, although it still leaves 18 million children without the basic reading and math skills they would learn in school.

Inequities in access to primary education represent the main barrier to reaching the second MDG. The UN estimates that, without accelerated progress, 58 of the 86 countries that have yet to achieve universal primary education will not do so by the 2015 goal date. Despite progress in many areas, girls are still significantly more likely to drop out of school than boys are. Children from poorer households and from rural areas also have increased dropout rates.

It is important to note that enrollment numbers are not the only indicator of success or failure when it comes to MDG 2. There is no point in getting children to school if there are inadequate teachers or supplies, or if the learning environment is hostile. Therefore, it is vital to consider the quality of the education as well as the number of children attending school. We must ensure that teachers are trained and well equipped, and that children feel safe at school. Students that attend school on a regular basis should graduate with at least basic reading and math skills. They should also graduate on time, giving them a greater chance of attending secondary school.

Many countries have made significant progress using a variety of programs. Nine countries have increased primary school enrollment by eliminating school fees. These include Ghana, where public school enrollment in impoverished areas skyrocketed from 4.2 million to 5.4 million in 2004 alone, and Kenya, where primary school enrollment jumped by over a million students in just one year. However, abolishing school fees inevitably means less school funding, which presents challenges when it comes to providing adequate school buildings and well-trained teachers.

In Haiti, a $70,000 donation from famous soccer players Ronaldo and Zidene allowed for incredible improvements to schools in a severely impoverished area. UN agencies and NGOs partnered with the Haitian government to promote school attendance, conduct training for teachers, and provide 33 schools with necessary supplies. This positively changed the lives of 4,300 children by significantly improving the quality of their education.

Despite significant progress, 123 million youth, aged 15 to 24, still lack basic reading and writing skills. In a reflection of the persisting gender gap in primary education, 61% of these youth are female. Clearly, there is still work to be done. The UN provides several suggestions for continued efforts on this front. More funding, both from governments and from aid organizations, will be needed to achieve universal primary education by 2015. Annual aid dedicated to basic education in developing countries increased from $1.6 billion in 1999 to $5 billion in 2006, representing a step in the right direction. However, it is estimated that $11 billion will be needed annually to achieve universal primary education by 2015. These funds are needed to train teachers and to ensure that they have all the materials they need to do their job well.

In order to prevent unequal access to education based on socioeconomic status, school fees should be eliminated. At the very least, scholarships should be readily available for children from poorer families. Children should also be provided with free transportation to and from school if needed and with free meals and basic health services at school. Proper nutrition and health services will improve children’s overall well being, and these services would help reluctant children and families to see school as a worthwhile investment. An even more drastic step could be to entice low-income families with cash transfers conditional on their children’s school attendance. This could be especially useful in convincing families to educate their daughters, not just their sons.

A high quality primary school education can set children on the right track, giving them necessary skills to succeed in their personal lives and in the workplace. Primary school education has the power to break the cycle of poverty and to empower disenfranchised social groups. This makes the world’s progress towards universal primary education extremely exciting, and compels us to continue working towards this goal.

– Katie Fullerton

Sources: UN Fact Sheet, UN
Photo: Pakistan Today