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Toward a Global Compact on Universal Education

Author: Gene B. Sperling, Senior Fellow for Economic Policy and Director of the Center for Universal Education
May 14, 2003


Testimony of
Gene Sperling [1]

House Committee on Appropriations, Foreign Operations Subcommittee

May 14, 2003

Chairman Kolbe, Congresswoman Lowey, members of the committee, thank you for the privilege of testifying on the issue of universal education in the developing world.

I. Education is a Fundamental Foundational Investment in Global Poverty Reduction, Public Health and Growth

The Scope of the Problem: Millions Out of School

Lack of education is the silent crisis of the developing world. Only rarely – when the Taliban forbids girls to learn, or when we find weapons, rather than children, in Iraqi schools – does the issue make headlines. But around the world today, 115 million children between the ages of six and eleven do not go to school. [2] And of those children who are in school today, 150 million of them will drop out before they finish a basic education.

Currently, only one out of every five developing countries manages to get all of its children a primary education. In Sub-Saharan Africa, only 55% of children attend primary school, and only 24% go on to secondary school.[3] In Bangladesh, a recent study found that just over half of children complete primary school, and a third of those who do cannot read and write.[4]

The situation is particularly bad for girls, who make up two-thirds of the world’s unschooled children.[5] Barely half of girls in Sub-Saharan Africa attend primary school, and only 17% are enrolled at the secondary level. In Benin, for instance, a typical teenage girl has received less than three months of education.[6] Stories from Afghanistan of Taliban thugs warning a classroom full of girls that they would be burned alive if they came back the next day were rightly shocking to many Americans.[7] But in most areas of the world, girls are held out of school by more subtle means: the economic barriers of destitute poverty, the opportunity cost to parents who need help with housework and childcare, and cultural norms that suggest girls should simply marry early and begin having children of their own. When parents do want to educate their girls, they often fear for their safety, on the long walk to school or even in the classroom with a male teacher. And many girls do not go to poor rural schools because the buildings lack the simple but essential requirement of a private girls’ toilet.

What Works to Address this Crisis?

The crisis of the world’s unschooled presents a complex mixture of challenges, from the direct and indirect costs to parents of sending their kids to school, to the lack of access to either physical classrooms or even minimally qualified teachers, to deep-seated cultural expectations about who should and should not learn. The complexity of the problem requires flexible, situation-specific interventions that are grounded in community commitment and political will at the national level. The good news is that we have seen impressive progress in recent years, even under the toughest of circumstances.

Extensive research has shown that from Pakistan to Peru, successful efforts to get children into school combine some or all of the following strategies:

  • Making schooling affordable for poor families by covering schooling costs, including, critically, the elimination of school fees. In Uganda, primary school enrollment immediately doubled from 3.4 to 5.7 million children when free schooling was introduced in 1997 [8] ; Mali saw a 55% increase in enrollment when it cut fees in 1994 [9] ; and enrollment in Tanzania doubled in January 2000 when the government abolished primary school fees.[10]

  • Offering targeted scholarships to help cover the indirect costs imposed on poor families (such as uniforms and transportation) as well as the opportunity costs from lost work and chore time. A number of countries have had great success with this approach, including Bangladesh, Mexico and Brazil. For example, the Bolsa Escola program in Brazil, which provides payments to families contingent on keeping their children in school, has virtually eliminated drop-outs and brought a third of previously un-enrolled children into school. [11]

  • Building a network of local schools close to children’s homes, with a strong commitment of community support to both help finance schools and run the administrative processes. Successful community school approaches include the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee’s (BRAC) network of informal schools, which achieved near double the attendance rates of government schools,[12] and Colombia’s “Escula Nueva” model of multi-grade schools which contributed to a 30% increase in rural enrollment and has been widely replicated across Latin America. [13]

  • Providing enough trained teachers to keep class sizes down to 40 students per class, and working to recruit and train female teachers in particular, which helps attract more girls to school. Indonesia built over 60,000 schools in four years in a drive to increase enrollment, but coupled this effort with an initiative to provided additional qualified and trained teachers to maintain class size. As a result, student academic performance was maintained, despite rapid expansion in the school system. [14]

Last year, Stephen Moseley, President of the Academy for Educational Development, George Ingram, Executive Director of the Basic Education Coalition, and myself accompanied Representatives Johnny Isakson and Stephanie Tubbs Jones on a trip to rural Ethiopia, which ranks 158th out of 162 countries on the United Nations’ Human Development Index. There we saw striking examples of how a combination of local leadership and innovative strategies with outside technical assistance and financial support can be extremely effective at increasing enrollment and achievement.

At the Tula Kebale primary school, we heard the school's dynamic young female principal and the head of its parent-teacher committee explain how by getting the community involved in parental outreach efforts, they had tripled the number of girls in school in just four years. This was clearly not an isolated achievement. Ethiopian Education Minister Genet Zewde told us that efforts to build schools in remote areas and other special steps to recruit girls helped Ethiopia achieve a 75 percent increase in female primary school enrollments over the same period. We also witnessed a sophisticated school mapping system in the Ethiopian Regional Education Office that virtually any school district in the US would have been proud of. These glimpses of hope were the byproduct of the six-year-old Basic Education System Overhaul, a partnership involving the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the Ethiopian government and local and international children's non-profit groups. Yet we also saw first-hand the limitations of such innovative leadership if not supported with adequate resources. At the primary school mentioned above, their admirable success in getting both boys and girls to attend school led to 170 second-graders being packed into a single classroom under the direction of just one teacher.

The Impact of Education in the Developing World

From a moral perspective, all of us should want to see these children educated for the sake of the education itself – to help them understand the world and live richer lives. But a strong body of research shows that successful approaches to expand education – particularly to girls – represent critical foundational investments that lead not only to higher growth and less poverty, but smaller, healthier families, less infant and child mortality, a slowing of the spread of HIV/AIDS and greater prospects for democracy.

Income Gains

Numerous studies have found that in the developing world, every extra year of education a person receives boosts their income levels by an average of between ten and twenty percent, which in the poorest countries can make the difference between being able to feed one’s family or send one’s children to school.[15] Education also makes people significantly more productive agricultural workers. One recent study of 63 countries showed that progress in educating girls led to dramatically improved farm yields, accounting for almost half of the reduction in malnutrition in those countries over a 25-year period.[16]

At the national level, a number of studies have documented that a developing country’s overall economic growth improves significantly when its people have more education – especially math and science education, and especially for girls. One study found that a single percentage point increase in the number of girls completing secondary school boosts a developing nation’s overall annual per capita income growth by a third of a percent.[17]

Smaller, Healthier Families

Education leads to healthier families, mainly by improving mothers’ abilities to care for themselves and their children. In Africa, a child born to an uneducated mother faces a 20 percent chance of dying before the age of five, whereas the risk for a child whose mother has at least five years of basic education drops to 12 percent.[18] Across both Africa and Southeast Asia, mothers who have a basic education are 50 percent more likely to immunize their children than uneducated mothers are.[19]

More education also leads to smaller, more manageable families. In Brazil, illiterate women have, on average, six children each, while literate mothers average only between two and three.[20] Indeed, a 1995 study of fertility rates in 72 countries found that “the expansion of female secondary education may be the single best lever for achieving substantial reductions in fertility.”[21]

A Window of Opportunity for AIDS Prevention

Education is also critical to the fight against AIDS. Lacking a vaccine for the virus or a cure for the disease, education is one of the best social vaccines against HIV/AIDS. While half of all new HIV infections are among 15 to 24 year-olds, prevalence rates are lowest among those in the 5 to 14 age group.[22] This generation of young people offers what Don Bundy and his colleagues at the World Bank have termed a “Window of Hope” for preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS. Just as Willie Sutton used to rob banks because, as he said, “That’s where the money is,” in developing countries, schools provide our best opportunity to reach the next generation with the information and motivation to avoid risky behavior before they become infected with this deadly disease – but only if we take actions to get all kids in school.

As part of the Center on Universal Education’s work at the Council on Foreign Relations, we have undertaken an ongoing project to study the best education strategies for reducing the spread of HIV/AIDS. A recent study in rural Uganda found that over the course of the 1990s, people who finished secondary education were seven times less likely to contract HIV – and those who finished primary education half as likely – as those who received little or no schooling.[23] In Zambia, HIV infection rates among late adolescents who had completed a basic education fell during the 1990’s, while infection rates among those with little or no education rose.[24] A study in Kenya found that among seventeen-year-old girls, those in secondary school were almost three times as likely to be virgins as those that had dropped out after primary school.[25] And new curricula specifically teaching AIDS prevention strategies have shown promise of even greater effectiveness in teaching children to avoid this plague.[26]

Greater Prospects for Democracy

The effects of education on civic and political life have only recently been studied, but initial research has found, not surprisingly, that educating a country’s population promotes a more responsible, representative government. A review of data from more than 100 countries found that the emergence of democracy followed increases in primary enrollments, particularly when girls’ enrollment levels caught up to the boys’.[27] The study argues that these findings confirm the hypothesis that “expanded educational opportunities for females goes along with a social structure that is generally more participatory and, hence, more receptive to democracy.”

II. What is The Most Effective, Efficient Way to Make Progress

Toward Universal Basic Education?

The solution to this crisis must have its roots in a greater commitment to education from poor country governments across Africa, South Asia and Latin America. Research and experience have shown that a critical prerequisite for making any progress is that developing countries themselves take responsibility for coming up with comprehensive, nationally-owned strategies to provide a quality basic education for all their children, which include innovative strategies for delivering education to marginalized groups, such as girls and the rural poor. These plans should include not only strong anti-fraud protections and mechanisms for ensuring budget transparency but also a commitment to mobilize appropriate levels of domestic resources to support the national goal.

The key question for the US and other rich countries is: How can we most effectively help developing countries make and sustain progress in their efforts to devise and implement credible, accountable education plans?

The answer lies neither in thinking that we can throw money at countries and impose our preferences at will, nor in assuming that countries burdened with debilitating and destabilizing problems of poverty and disease will be able to devise and implement sound national education plans completely on their own. What is needed instead is a well-defined global compact where donors make a clear commitment of resources, contingent on poor countries demonstrating commitment to credible national plans to get all kids in school.

This approach is grounded in the basic idea that our assistance is most effective when it empowers those who are committed to taking responsibility for addressing their own challenges. And it is increasingly becoming the model for major development initiatives, from the HIPC debt relief initiative, to the Global Fund for AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria, to the newly proposed Millennium Challenge Account. Indeed, President Bush, speaking to a Major UN Conference in 2002, called for just such a “new compact for development defined by greater accountability for rich and poor nations alike.”[28]

Three years ago, in Dakar, Senegal, more than 180 nations – countries as varied as Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, and Pakistan – joined the US in committing to the simple yet profound goal of getting all children in school by 2015. The framework they agreed upon for achieving universal education fundamentally embodies the new approach to development embraced by President Bush in Monterrey. The Dakar Declaration calls on poor countries to “develop or strengthen national plans…including responsive, participatory and accountable systems of educational governance,” and in return, calls on donors to affirm the notion that “no country seriously committed to education for all will be thwarted in their achievement of this goal by a lack of resources.”[29]

The goal of a global compact on universal education should be to empower countries already committed to serious national reforms and to provide strong incentives for countries that are not quite there. Such a compact offers a number of key benefits that could not only jumpstart progress toward the goal of providing all children a quality basic education but would also dramatically increase the effectiveness of US aid dollars:

1. A Third Way on Resources: Contingent Funding

The traditional debate over whether money is or is not the central problem for achieving universal education presents a false choice. Few disagree that the current levels of funding are woefully inadequate to achieve the goal of universal education by 2015, considering the depth of the education crisis in so many poor countries, especially in Africa. And yet there is also agreement that throwing money at countries where corruption is rampant and there are no safeguards will do little good. What a global initiative can provide is a credible ex ante commitment of donor resources contingent on countries demonstrating significant progress toward developing sound and accountable education strategies.

A contingent commitment is like a spigot of funding. It gives donors the ability to empower the willing – countries like Uganda that have already made significant strides toward universal education and countries like Tanzania that have taken important and politically difficult steps like ending fees for primary school. Contingent commitments ensure further progress rather than backsliding in these countries, while challenging them to continue meeting high standards in order to keep receiving contingent support. A contingent funding spigot also provides incentive for reform in hesitant countries and can act as a tool to empower forward-looking Education Ministers who are trying to get the attention and support of their Finance Ministers and Heads of State. This model of contingent financing was effectively used in the debt relief initiative, where donors inspired action in poor countries by committing resources to debt relief in advance, but only disbursed those resources to reduce countries’ debts when they had met the agreed criteria.

In determining how and when to turn on the spigot, donors should be willing to employ both rigor and realism. Donors should place strong emphasis on additionality and anti-fraud safeguards to ensure that the money provided is being used for the stated purpose. Resources siphoned off because of corruption or government ineptitude end up not only being wasted, but creating increased cynicism and frustration among the public in both donor and recipient countries.

But in gauging when significant outside education funding is appropriate, the focus should be where the contingent funding is aimed – the education sector. While we should of course encourage transparency and accountability broadly, the goal of strong contingent funding for education should be to ensure that a country can credibly and consistently track the funds in its education sector. Funding should not be de-railed if a government has yet to make progress in all areas: if a country has a credible program in place in its education sector, we ought to not hold up funding if the country that has, for example, yet to systematically address bribery and corruption in its ports.

Likewise, in judging country plans, our aim should be to fund those countries that have strong prospects for success as well as those that have already proven to be successful. Many African countries that are emerging from conflict or are, like Kenya, in a fragile period of new democracy, may not have the kind of track record that others do. But if they are willing to commit to reforms and employ strong, accountable safeguards, we should be willing to extend our contingent support.

2. Reconciling Challenges at Three Levels of Coordination

a. The Global Level: A clear initiative to inspire action, not skepticism

In addition to contingent funding, a robust initiative needs to send a clear, consistent message at the global level about the standards, procedures and commitments underlying a global compact on education. There has been some recent progress in this area, principally the result of the World Bank's efforts to establish standards and harmonize procedures through the Education for All Fast Track initiative. Yet in the absence of strong donor endorsement of the Fast Track or another framework, real clarity and confidence continue to be lacking.

Poor countries in general have little confidence that they will receive funding for education and are confused about the processes for seeking such support. I have seen this confusion, and the skepticism it breeds, in my interactions with Education Ministers in a number of African countries. As the Secretary of State for Education in the Gambia publicly stated, the current message from donors is “You develop a good education plan and somebody may or may not help you based on a number of unclear or undisclosed factors. That is not a contract.” Ministers tend to look at the donor countries and multilateral institutions as complex and distinct windows of funding, each with unique, often conflicting, standards and interests. While donors continue to encourage poor country governments to develop comprehensive national plans, Ministers end up spending their time cultivating friendly relationships with individual donor countries and cobbling together funding – for schools from one donor, for teachers from another, and for books and desks from yet another.

Even highly promising recent efforts in the US could increase confusion in poor countries. As opposed to clarifying a more coordinated process for seeking external education support, poor countries may now have to navigate their education plans through the separate funding processes of USAID, the MCA and the new HIV/AIDS initiative.

It is critical that a global initiative on universal education, while not necessarily superceding individual bilateral efforts, set out a clear, coordinated message with well-defined roles and responsibilities for both the donor and recipient countries. Such a message would both help to lock in donor country commitments and reduce confusion among poor country governments, turning what is now growing skepticism into positive action toward reform.

b. The Donor Level: Harmonizing funding approaches

At the donor level, the goal of universal education has been hampered by the lack of any viable process for determining where and when financing gaps exist and how donors might coordinate to fill them. This has led to an inefficient allocation of the precious little development assistance that currently goes to support universal education. Since the Dakar Declaration in 2000, the World Bank has worked through the Fast Track initiative to design a coordinated financing framework to help ensure that all countries committed to national plans receive adequate resources. Donors could build off of this promising approach by designing a coordinated structure that both retained flexibility and harmonized funding decisions. Such an approach would not necessarily entail creating a separate fund or ceding authority to a multilateral institution. Indeed, bilateral donors could retain a significant level of control over the allocation of funds within a common framework. Such an approach might inevitably require some pooling of resources to ensure that qualified countries aren’t left out because of so-called “donor-darling” syndrome, but could to a large extent rely on harmonizing existing funding mechanisms through a common, coordinated framework.

c. The Recipient Country Level: Reducing waste and duplication

At the level of actual implementation of education plans within poor countries, the result of the fractured donor interests described above is a high degree of waste and inefficiency – opportunities for synergy are missed and in some cases efforts are duplicated. Donors end up tripping over each other to support their pet projects, and spend little time coordinating with, or building the capacity of, national governments. A credible global compact would greatly reduce this donor-mandated waste by providing a process for all donors to sit down with government officials, NGOs and other stakeholders to not only agree to the contents of a country’s education plan but to coordinate exactly who is responsible for the implementation of each aspect and how different donors and stakeholders will work together to achieve the common objectives. Such a structured, coordinated process for the implementation of a national education strategy would represent a dramatic improvement over the status quo, increasing both the effectiveness of our aid dollars and the level of recipient-country ownership of national education strategies.

3. Clarity and Contingent Resources Can Create Positive Competition

A global initiative that improves coordination at the global, donor, and recipient country levels could also initiate a process of positive competition between developing countries. If a country sees its neighbors receiving resources after committing to specific universal education programs, it gives the county both the motivation to initiate reform and a set of models upon which to base its efforts.

The debt relief initiative provides an example of such positive competition. The process was initiated by a straightforward presentation to all eligible countries of the steps necessary to qualify for relief through Heavily Indebted Poor Country Initiative (HIPC). A few leading countries, most notably Uganda, completed these steps early on and received relief, which gave all other eligible countries clear confidence that their efforts and sacrifices would be rewarded. The speed and pace of reform in other countries picked up as more and more countries realized that they too could follow the leaders and receive significant debt relief in return.

A credible global compact on education could work the same way. Even the Education for All Fast Track initiative, which has set credible standards and a financing framework, but has not to-date received serious commitments of donor support, has begun to initiate such a process. In the wake of the announcement of the initial Fast Track nations, representatives from countries not chosen demanded to know exactly why they were not chosen and exactly what they needed to do to be included in the next round. If donors were to back this initiative – or a broad global compact – with a clear contingent commitment of resources, the power of positive competition would be multiplied many times over.

III. The U.S. Should Lead a Global Compact on Universal Education

The ultimate measure of U.S. success in the area of universal education should be the extent to which our leadership, including the commitment of resources, helps move the world toward the goal of getting all kids in school. To this end, the U.S. should commit itself to the principles of a clear global compact on universal education and create a new, clearly identified pool of funds to catalyze the initiative in conjunction with other donors and poor country governments.

Following the first global meeting on universal education in Jomtien, Thailand in 1990, there was never a clear compact put in place to support the goal. Poor countries could come forward with national education plans, but they were never presented with clear, agreed-upon standards or ensured contingent funding. After bringing the world together again in 2000 to reaffirm the goal of universal education and commit to its achievement by 2015, it is critical to make this compact real. If not, we risk increased skepticism and diminished hope of any real progress. And it is imperative that the US not only be a part of this solution, but lead this effort.

The Fast Track Initiative has attempted to construct a viable financing framework to both identify and support accountable national education plans. To date, 10 of the 18 Fast Track eligible countries have had their national education plans officially approved, and the remaining eight are expected to submit plans by November 2003. The initiative has also sought to accelerate progress in large countries that are home to the majority of the out-of-school children in the world, helping to move them closer to the time when they will be in a position to develop credible national plans. To that end, the Fast Track initiative is working with Bangladesh, Democratic Republic of Congo, India, Nigeria and Pakistan to address capacity gaps and encourage forward momentum.

This initiative has the potential to provide the type of clear, rigorous standards for national plans and the kind of coordinated framework for contingent donor commitments that are necessary to spark positive competition and inspire poor countries to succeed. As such, it represents an important resource in helping to construct a viable global compact. But it will never succeed without strong US leadership and support. A global initiative should not be seen as a project of a multilateral institution like the World Bank or UNESCO. It must reflect a commitment by the US and the other G-8 donors to take direct ownership of the standards and financing structure to support the achievement of universal education for all.

Therefore, if the US and other G-8 members identify problems with the World Bank’s approach, or feel improvements are needed in the selection criteria or financing structure, it should be motivation to take more ownership, rather than an excuse downgrade the Fast Track initiative to pilot-status and retreat back to fractured, bilateral approaches.

Of course, a key component of moving this global compact forward is increasing the US’s financial contribution to universal education. It should be noted that, however far we have to go, there have been several positive steps taken in this area over the past five years. The Department of Labor increased its support for the prevention of child labor from $3 million to $45 million and has added a $37 million annual education component to its abuse of child labor prevention strategy. The HIPC debt relief initiative does seem to be freeing up substantial resources for education – average education spending in the 26 low-income countries currently receiving debt relief has increased from 2.9% of GDP in 1998 to 4.5% of GDP in 2003, in large part due to the initiative.[30] In addition, the MCA offers the hope of some new education resources in a handful of high-performing poor countries.

Finally, this committee, under the fine leadership of both Chairman Kolbe and Ranking Member Lowey, should be strongly commended for its hard-fought efforts since 9/11 to substantially increase USAID’s development assistance funding for basic education. Considering the limited funds you must deal with, these recent increases have been admirable, and everyone working on the issue of universal education greatly appreciates your significant efforts. But all of us who work in this area must also recognize that these improvements come from an extremely low and unsatisfactory base. Even if adding up education and anti-child labor funds comes to near $300 million, it still means that the US government spends on education for all the world’s poor children what a single US city spends to build 12-16 high schools.

In November 2002, UNESCO projected the total external resources necessary to achieve universal primary education by 2015 at $5.6 billion per year. This estimate likely represents the low end of what it will realistically take to provide all kids with a quality education, because it assumes only the strictest definition of primary school, does not include significant funds to support innovative approaches to target traditionally marginalized groups, and still assumes substantial increased contributions by countries that are being hit hard by AIDS and other poverty challenges. As explained above, countries that have been most successful in increasing enrollment and quality have done so by supporting non-traditional programs like the Bolsa Escola targeted scholarships in Brazil and intensive community-based approaches in Africa, which are highly promising but also relatively expensive. In addition, there is a growing body of evidence on the importance, especially for girls, of not only primary but secondary school in terms of increasing future income and dramatically reducing the chances of being infected with HIV/AIDS. These findings justify looking beyond the bare minimum of education to support country efforts to increase secondary enrollment as well. Therefore a more realistic projection of the external resource requirements necessary to support country efforts to provide a quality education for all their children is likely to be between $5.5 billion and $10 billion per year.

To send a clear message on education, the US should take the lead in making a contingent commit to cover its share of this total resource requirement. Currently the US economy accounts for about a third of global GDP, and about 40% of the GDP of the developed world. In the debt relief initiative, the US covered about 25% of the total contributions made to the multilateral trust fund. Therefore a reasonable and appropriate US commitment would be to cover a minimum of 20-30% of the total resource requirements for achieving universal education – about $1.5 billion to $3 billion per year. This amount would not break the bank – indeed it would represent only 10% of the likely annual reconstruction costs in Iraq. Further, by making these new funds contingent on countries demonstrating significant capacity and commitment to reform, we would not be immediately increasing outlays and affecting the deficit by the amounts pledged. Indeed, we might end up spending only a fraction of our total commitments in the first few years of an initiative. But the strong contingent pledge would ensure that if and when US taxpayer dollars were disbursed, they were supporting only the best, most highly accountable and comprehensive national education plans. By leading with this commitment, the US would also be in a position to challenge other G-8 leaders to contribute their shares, and to lead the process of designing a common, unified application and funding process to present to developing countries.

Since 9/11, the US has committed itself to increasing resources for development-related activities in poor countries through the MCA and stepped-up efforts to combat HIV/AIDS. It is clear that some of the money allocated for these new initiatives may end up supporting education programs in a handful of countries. While these potential contributions are extremely positive, it would be a mistake for the US to simply make assumptions about how much of the new resources might end up supporting education from a variety of disparate sources, and, on the basis of those assumptions, wash our hands of the need to commit serious new funds to a global compact for education. For the US to play a powerful role in mobilizing a global initiative, it needs to have clear and separate resources for universal education and be willing to use those funds to catalyze a global effort.

Mr. Chairman, considering our nation’s strong belief in education and the inherent worth of all children, we in the US should consider not only doing our share in a global effort, but actually going beyond our share to lead the world in the fight for universal basic education. While those of us testifying here have marshaled the academic evidence to show that education in poor countries is a wise practical investment in higher incomes, healthier families, and more democracy, it is worth noting that when tens of million of American families witnessed the Taliban banning Afghan girls from going to school, they did not need to hear such studies or statistics to know it was wrong and to want our country to take action. These Americans knew fundamentally that every child should have the right to a basic education, and that for any little boy or girl or reach their potential, they need to be given the opportunity to learn and go to school.

While the US should be commended for acting quickly in Afghanistan and Iraq to support efforts to get all kids in school, our simultaneous unwillingness to support a global compact for all poor nations suggests a current policy on universal education which is primarily reactive, not proactive. Perhaps, it is time for us to extend President Bush’s “preemption” strategy into the area of universal education for the world’s poorest children. In the realm of universal education, an ounce of preemption today for a foundational investment in democracy, stability, poverty reduction and empowerment could be worth a pound of intervention and rebuilding down the road.


[1] Mr. Sperling is a Senior Fellow for Economic Studies and Director of the Center on Universal Education at the Council on Foreign Relations.

[2] UNESCO. 2002. “Education For All Global Monitoring Report.” Paris.

[3] Ibid.

[4] United Nations Development Programme. “Human Development Report 2001.” Oxford University Press.

[5] UNESCO. 2002. “Education For All Global Monitoring Report.” Paris.

[6] Filmer, Deon. 1999. "The Structure of Social Disparities in Education: Gender and Wealth," World Bank Gender and Development Working Paper No. 5 May 1999.

[7] Reported by Newhouse News Service and U.S. News & World Report, respectively.

[8] World Bank. 2002. “Education for Dynamic Economies: Action Plan to Accelerate Progress towards Education For All.” Washington, DC.

[9] Rugh, Andrea. 2000. “Starting Now: Strategies for Helping Girls Complete Primary.” Academy for Educational Development, SAGE Project. Washington, DC: Academy for Educational Development.

[10] Weissman, Robert. “The Enron of the Developing World” Washington Post, September 25, 2002.

[11] Lavinas, L. 2001. “The Appeal of Minimum Income Programmes in Latin America.” Geneva: International Labour Office; Morley, Steven and David Coady. 2003. “Targeted Education Subsidies in Developing Countries: A Review of Recent Experience.” Forthcoming.

[12] Rugh, Andrea and Heather Bossert. 1998. Involving Communities: Participation in the Delivery of Education Programs. Washington, D.C.: ABEL Project.

[13] Benveniste, L. and McEwan, P.J. 2000. “Constraints to Implementing Educational Innovations: The case of multi-grade schools,” International Review of Education (46)1-2, p.31-48.

[14] Duflo, Esther. 2001. “Schooling and Labor Market Consequences of School Construction in Indonesia: Evidence from an Unusual Policy Experiment,” The American Economic Review 91:4.

[15] Psacharopoulos, George, and Harry Anthony Patrinos. 2002. “Returns to Investment in Education: a Further Update,” World Bank Policy Research Working Paper 2881.

[16] Smith, Lisa C., and Lawrence Haddad. 1999. “Explaining Child Malnutrition in Developing Countries: A Cross-Country Analysis,” IFPRI Food Consumption and Nutrition Division Discussion Paper 60. Washington, DC.

[17] Dollar, David and Roberta Gatti. 1999. “Gender Inequality, Income, and Growth: Are Good Times Good for Women?” World Bank Policy Research Report on Gender and Development, Working Paper Series No. 1. Washington, DC.

[18] Summers, Lawrence H. 1994. “Investing in All the People: Educating Women in Developing Countries.” Washington, DC: World Bank.

[19] Gage, Anastasia, Elisabeth Sommerfelt and Andrea Piani. 1997. “Household Structure and Childhood Immunization in Niger and Nigeria.” Demography 34(2).

[20] UNESCO. 2000. “Women and Girls: Education, Not Discrimination.” New York.

[21] Subbarao, K., and Laura Raney. 1995. “Social Gains from Female Education.” Economic Development and Cultural Change, 44(1).

[22] UNAIDS, 2002. “AIDS Epidemic Update December 2002.”

[23] De Walque, Damien. 2002. “How Does Educational Attainment Affect the Risk of Being Infected by HIV/AIDS? Evidence from a General Population Cohort in Rural Uganda.” University of Chicago.

[24] Vandemoortle, J. and E. Delamonica. 2000. “Education ‘Vaccine’ against HIV/AIDS.” Current Issues in Comparative Education 3(1).

[25] UNICEF. 2002. “Education and HIV Prevention.” (Data from Kenya DHS).

[26] Shuey, D.A., B.B. Babishangire, S. Omiat, and H. Bagarukayo. 1999. “Increased Sexual Abstinence among In-School Adolescents as a Result of School Health Education in Soroti District, Uganda.” Health Education Research 14(3): 411-19l; Ross, David. “Mema kwa Vijana: Good Things for Young People,” Presentation at the Council on Foreign Relations HIV/AIDS and Education Roundtable, January 25, 2003.

[27] Barro, Robert J. 1999. “Determinants of Democracy.” Journal of Political Economy 107(6).

[28] “Remarks at the United Nations Financing For Development Conference,” Monterrey, Mexico (March 22, 2002).

[29] “Education for All: Meeting our Collective Commitments.” Text adopted by the World Education Forum, Dakar Senegal (April 26-28, 2000).

[30] UNESCO. HIPC Debt Relief in African Countries: Scope for Financing Education, November 2002.