“Education Must Reach the Marginalised”
Monday, March 21, 2011
IPS - Although more girls are enrolling in school - notably in countries with the greatest gender gaps like Chad, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Yemen - two-thirds of the world’s illiterate adults are still women.
Excerpts from the interview follow.
Q: What are UNESCO’s global priorities in helping U.N. member states achieve education for all by 2015, the deadline for the Millennium Development Goals (MDGS)? And do you think this is achievable?
A: As our Global Monitoring Report being released on Mar. 1 shows, there has been impressive progress in the past decade. An additional 52 million children enrolled in primary school. The number of children out of school was halved in South and West Asia. A number of countries that started the decade with large gender gaps have achieved gender parity in primary education.
Q: Do you think that a quality education for girls can help strengthen the international agenda on development and peace?
A: The education of girls and women is indeed the key to development and peace. The fact that two-thirds of illiterate adults are women reflects the injustice of unequal access to education. Societies pay a heavy price for this.
Q: What are the real challenges of getting girls into schools? Are these due to political, financial, social or cultural problems?
A: You have to start early. Being born a girl in many countries can still mean exclusion from education. Poverty is a number one obstacle. But there are others of a more social and cultural nature.
Recruiting and training female teachers has an impact on school performance, especially in low-income countries. Where we really must put more concerted effort is at the secondary level because girls are more likely to drop out than boys for a whole set of reasons. Cost of schooling is one, but there are also concerns about safety, hygiene and long distances to and from school. Finally, we have to build a gender-sensitive culture in schools: this means breaking stereotypes, and encouraging girls to have aspirations and pursue them.
Q: Lack of education is clearly one of the hidden costs of conflict and violence.
A: Our report being released on Mar. 1 documents the devastating consequences of armed conflict on education. The alarming situation demands a strong and concerted global response. We must address failures of protection through better monitoring and reporting of attacks targeting education systems and sanctioning these egregious violations of human rights.
Q: Have UNESCO’s priorities been affected by a decline in financial contributions caused by the global economic crisis?
A: The financial and economic crisis puts all international organisations before the challenge of reforming deeply and swiftly. I was elected to the post of director-general in the midst of the crisis. Reform is the mainstay of my agenda - a reform that makes us more efficient, more visible and more effective. We have to do more with less – this is the reality.