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, an article on the Education International web site points out that new legislation in the United States, backed by the National Education Association (NEA), a member of the US Child Labour Coalition, may help to address this urgent need for international educational support.
The Education for All (EFA) Act, proposed in the US Senate in September 2010 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 programmes.
The bill has received widespread support from organisations within the US, including the Global Campaign for Education (GCE). 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 programmes is one of the best investments any government can make.”
The need for increased US assistance in the movement for universal education is significant. The UN MDG Summit in September 2010 concluded that despite advancements in education in many countries, progress has not been made fast enough to meet the 2015 goal. An estimated 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 hurdles for advancement.
If passed by the US 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, victims of trafficking and child labourers. The bill also states that the US would commit resources to monitor and improve the quality of existing education programmes and to utilise schools as community development centres by offering programmes 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.
NEA’s 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.”
Article by Meredith Barnett, NEA