UN Millenium Development Goals 2000: II. Achievement of Universal Primary Education

“We will ensure that, by 2015, children everywhere, boys and girls alike, will be able to complete a full course of primary schooling.” (UN Millennium Declaration)

One third of the total world population are children. In 2010, 90 % of all children in development countries were attending primary school. In 2011, the amount of children of primary school age out of school had dropped to 57 million from 102 million. Thus, the number of children not attending primary school is still high.

Gender gaps are narrowing, however, girls still drop out of school on the average after four years, for different reasons. More than half of all children out of school live in sub-Saharan Africa. Worldwide, the number of illiterate young people between the age 15-24 is 123 million (61 % are girls). More than 250 million children between 4-15 years of age are forced to work. 50 % of these children work full-time. (UNA of Finland. Printed material. 2014; United Nations Millennium Development Goals. UN. Quoted 29.4.2014).

Despite of the huge improvements in this target, the goal cannot be reached by 2015 with the current pace of change.

One of the main challenges in many less developed countries is the lack of professional teachers, educational facilities, and equipment. According to UNESCO´s research, the shortage of teachers is highest in sub-Saharan Africa and in certain Arab States.

The shortage of primary teachers is reality everywhere on our globe, but critical only in sub-Saharan Africa, where 1/3 of all countries suffer from teacher shortages. (UNA of Finland. Printed material. 2011; UNESCO Institute for Statistics. Global Teacher Shortage. Quoted 29.4.2014.)

There are several reasons behind high poverty levels in Africa, including the cost of schooling, non-affordable for poor families, who also look at the lost value of their child´s work at home. Most often girls are the one´s who need to stay at home.

In order to understand the amount of work needed to develop the economies in sub-Saharan Africa:

50 % of Africa is rural with no access to electricity. The continent currently generates less than 0.6 % of global market share. Hence, many countries are affected by power shortages. At the time being, some Asian countries are actively driving power projects across the African continent. E.g. China is training tens of thousands of technicians in the use of solar energy, which is part of the China-Africa science and technology cooperation agreement (2003). Funded by the AfDB and the EU-Africa Infrastructure Trust Fund, NEPAD is developing an integrated, continent-wide energy strategy, with a focus on:

– Sustainability

– Involvement of cross-border dimension and/or regional impact

– Involvement of both public and private capital

– Contribution to poverty alleviation and economic development

– Involvement of at least one country in sub-Saharan Africa

The lack of infrastructure in developing countries is one of the most significant reasons slowing down economic growth and achievement of the UN Millennium Development Goals. Furthermore, infrastructure investments contributed to more than half of Africa´s improved growth performance between the years 1990 and 2005. Hence, increased investment is essential to economic growth and in tackling poverty. The ROI in infrastructure can be significant. (Wikipedia. Sub-Saharan Africa. Quoted 29.4.2014).

Other factors slowing down economic development include malaria and other major diseases. As an example, the influence of malaria alone on economic growth has been estimated to be at around 1.3 % on a yearly average, caused by illness including costs of treatment and prevention measures. According to statistical research undertaken by the World Bank, GDP in sub-Sahara would have been 32 % higher in 2003 compared to the situation in 1960, had malaria been eradicated.

Sub-Saharan African countries are also home to the highest fertility rates worldwide, with a current growth rate of 2.3 %, predicted by the UN to rise up to 1.5 billion in 2050. More than 40 % of total population is under the age of 15 (except South Africa), and the region has serious overpopulation problems. Child mortality, mainly due to malaria infection, is common: 15 % of all children die before the age of five (situation in 2007).

40 % of African scientists live in OECD countries, mainly in Europe, the USA and Canada. Despite of the so-called African “brain drain”, enrolments in sub-Saharan African universities tripled between 1991 and 2005, with an annual expansion rate of 8.7 %, being one of the highest in the world. Sub-Saharan Africans are commonly the most educated immigrant group in many OECD countries. The expenditure on science and technology in sub-Saharan African countries accounted for an average of 0.3 % of their GDP in 2007, an increase of 50 % compared to the situation in 2002.

In short, following problems need to be tackled in order to improve general conditions for primary education in sub-Saharan Africa:

– Major improvements in infrastructure

– Eradication/minimization of major diseases and thus reducing child mortality

– Building capacity for (primary school) teaching (educating/finding enough teachers)

– Minimizing price of education (free of charge?)

In a developmental process, local conditions must be taken into consideration, and the usage of local resources should be maximized. Bench-marking from countries with successful educational models is a way of improving local conditions.

Finland created and built a strong, productive educational system in only a few decades. Climbing rapidly to the top of international rankings, such as PISA (Program for International Student Assessments), Finland is one of the leading countries in the world in terms of education. The current education system in Finland is modern, publicly financed, accessible and free of charge (including free school meals!) to all national children/students.

In Finland, more than 99 % of students complete compulsory basic education, and an average of 90 % finish upper secondary school. 2/3 of graduates enroll in universities or polytechnics. 98 % of educational costs at all levels is covered by government (tax payments). The success of the Finnish educational system is a result of reforms undertaken in the 1980s. Investments in teacher education have been intense: teachers are highly educated and trained.

The core principles of the Finnish educational system include:

– Resources for all, and those who need them most

– High standards and supports for specific needs

– Highly qualified teachers

– Evaluation of education

– Balancing decentralization and centralization

(Laukkanen. 2008, p. 319)

In the past decades, Finland has moved into a more localized system with lean national standards. Implementation takes place through equitable funding and extensive preparation for all teachers. The development has been grounded on equal opportunities for all, equitable distribution of resources, early interventions, and building trust.

Finnish schools are generally small in size (including class sizes), and well equipped. School meals are free of charge, as well as free health care, transportation, learning materials, and counseling.

The main purpose of assessing students, according to the Finnish National Board of Education, is to

guide and encourage students’ own reflection and self-assessment. Inquiry is a major focus of learning in Finland. Active learning skills are cultivated through posing open-ended questions and helping students in addressing them.

(Finnish National Board of Education. Quoted 5.5.2014).