The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Developing countries face three main challenges in expanding primary education: Limited resources...inequity...and inefficiency... Inefficient spending means that a high share of recurrent spending goes for teacher salaries, leaving little for learning materials. In addition, low-quality teaching means that students do not learn as much as they could.

Governments play a much more important role in the economies of countries where human development is high than in countries where it is medium or low. In 1999 median public spending was 35 per cent of the gross domestic product in countries with high human development — while in countries with medium human development it was 25 per cent, and in countries with low human development, 21 per cent...

When public spending places high priorities on areas other than education and health, social spending suffers. Debt service is an important non-discretionary component of public spending in many low human development countries. But military spending — a discretionary expenditure — can also squeeze out education spending... True, efficient spending is critical to achieving desired outcomes. But the amount of spending is also important. Efficiency means getting better outcomes from the same amount of resources and pursuing policies that help rather than hinder learning.

What can developing countries do to increase spending on education, especially basic education' Cutting spending on other priorities (such as the military) is one way. World military spending fell in the Nineties — except in Latin America and South Asia. In 1991-2000 military spending increased 59 per cent in South Asia...All the major arms-exporting governments have pledged their commitment to the millennium development goals. Hence rich country governments can help shift these expenditures by reviewing their arms exports. The G-8 are among the world’s top 10 supplies of major conventional weapons...

Economic growth is unlikely to provide enough resources for developing countries to achieve universal primary completion by 2015...Donor aid for education is insufficient: in 2000 it totalled $4.1 billion, with just $1.5 billion for primary education. In the Nineties, bilateral aid for education fell from $5.0 billion to $3.5 billion, dropping to just 7 per cent of official development assistance...Only France, Germany, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States of America devote significant shares of their assistance to education...Gender differences in enrolments and dropouts are most severe in south Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. How, then, can gender disparities in schooling be eliminated by 2005 — just two years from now — as called for by the millennium development goals' Countries that have eliminated such differences offer several lessons: getting and keeping girls in school requires that schools be close to their homes. School mapping can identify least-served locations, aiding the establishment of multigrade schools in remote areas; lowering out-of-pocket costs prevents parents from discriminating between boys and girls when deciding whether to send children to school — and in times of declining household income, to keep children from dropping out; scheduling lessons flexibly enables girls to help with household chores and care for siblings; having female teachers provides girls with role models — and gives parents a sense of security about their daughters.

A major problem in nearly all developing countries is making children repeat class years, a factor in high dropout rates and a significant waste of resources. Countries that have done well in primary education have addressed this inefficiency. Costa Rica cut repetitions in half by introducing automatic promotions to the next class year in the Sixties. To maintain standards, automatic promotions should be accompanied by a minimum package of inputs, especially classroom materials and teacher training.

Teaching children in the appropriate language also improves education outcomes, as high-performing countries show. In all those countries the mother tongue was used for instruction at the primary level. Students learn to read more quickly when taught in the language most familiar to them and can learn to read a second language more quickly...School feeding programmes are also effective in getting children into school and keeping them there.

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