Despite world leaders committing to achieve universal primary education by 2015, as part of the United Nations’ Millennium Development Summit in 2000, this goal remains unfulfilled with limited progress and time running out.
However, new legislation in the United States, backed by the National Education Association (NEA), may help to address this urgent need for international educational support.
The Education for All (EFA) Act, proposed in the US Senate in September by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, outlines how US policy can contribute to the international campaign for universal primary education.
If passed into law, the bill would amend the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 and would state that the US should help to strengthen education systems and promote education as a core development priority. It would also facilitate US involvement with a Global Fund for Education and authorise President Obama to give resources to qualifying countries to build infrastructure to further develop education programs.
The bill has received widespread support from organisations within the US, including the Global Campaign for Education (GCE), a coalition co-established by EI, to promote access to education as a basic right.
The NEA, which is a strong supporter of the EFA Act, serves on the GCE leadership council, alongside the Global Action for Children; National Peace Corps Association, and the Global AIDS Alliance. NEA Vice President, Lily Eskelsen, said: “We are so proud to be a part of the Global Campaign for Education. At NEA, we know that investing in quality education programs is one of the best investments any government can make.” The need for increased US assistance in the movement for universal education is great. The UN Millennium Development Summit in September concluded that despite advancements in education in many countries, progress has not been made fast enough to meet the 2015 goal. 69 million school-age children are not in school, and drop out rates in sub-Saharan Africa are high. Providing enough teachers and classrooms have been major hurtles for advancement.
If passed by Congress, the EFA Act will enable resources to be allocated to countries to increase education access to marginalised groups, like girls, children in remote areas, and victims of trafficking.
The bill also states that the US would commit resources to monitor and improve the quality of existing education programs, and to utilise schools as community development centres, by offering programs like adult literacy or business training.
GCE director in the US, Joanna Kuebler, said: “We can stay the course and watch another generation of children fall victim to poverty, disease and conflict, or, we can see the EFA Act realised so that we can invest in the next generation of teachers, innovators and world leaders.”
The EFA Act is rooted in President Obama’s pledge, during his 2008 presidential campaign, to support a Global Education Fund. This was followed up by US House Representatives, Nita Lowey and David Reichert, introducing the bill in April 2010. NEA’s affiliate, the New York State United Teachers and its president, Richard Ianuzzi, worked to secure Senate backing for the bill, and then, in September, Senator Gillibrand sponsored the Act.
“This legislation helps deliver aid to build new schools in the poorest countries and train more teachers, creates opportunities for children in need to get a good education. It lays the foundation for a stronger, more stable global economy and secure world,” said Gillibrand.
Eskelsen added: “Too many times, we forget that the money spent on education is never lost. It is always an investment that brings returns, and the returns are seen in health, economic growth and democracy, and the ability of boys and girls to pursue their happiness.”