By Mi Jong Kwon, Assistant Professor of English Literature at Anyang University and RESULTS Korea Volunteer
As the whole world is being linked via Facebook, drones deliver packages from the sky, and nouveaux riches emerge from the ranks of programmers, I wonder how many kids are still out of primary school. The answer is 57 million. Half of them live in conflict zones. If Steve Jobs had not received primary education, would Apple have been born? If Ma-Won of Ali-Baba had not received primary education, could he have dared to dream of being the king of online marketing?
The Education for All (EFA) movement started 25 years ago, and in the year 2000, at the World Education Forum, it set the goal of achieving universal access to primary education by 2015. With the cooperation of many countries, 90 percent of its primary school enrollment goal has been reached. If in 25 years, this much was achieved, we must admit, with regret, that we could have completed the job with stepped up efforts.
If the rate of increase that happened between 1999 and 2008 continued, we would have just about reached our target of 100 percent. Also, even when we say that we reached a 90 percent ratio for primary education enrollment, in sub-Saharan Africa the rate of completion reaches only 56 percent. In Arab countries and sub-Saharan Africa, two-thirds of girls who are not attending school in a given year will never go to school at all. When we look at the graduation level, things look much worse. Of the 90 countries monitored for progress on EFA, only 13 countries have reached universal completion of primary school. Despite these facts, due to the complacency of reaching 90 percent, the tendency to invest in education is turning downward.
Currently, in our country (South Korea) primary and middle school is compulsory. Even when our country was poor, we knew the importance of education; we invested a lot of money in education and became one of the top countries to champion education. But we must remember that during much of this era, we were an aid-receiving country. Without that aid, the present state of development would have occurred for South Korea at a much later date.
The upcoming World Education Forum will take place in Incheon on May 19-22. Its purpose is to review the promises made previously and to deliberate on new education objectives for 2030. One of the promises is to secure primary and middle school education (nine years) for all boys and girls. To accomplish this, we need $22 billion dollars annually. But aid going to education has been declining by six percent every year. This is because we have overlooked the importance of education and have not kept it as a priority. So while the goal is laudable, the financial resources are insufficient.
In this year 2015, when we are about to set a new target, Japan and Norway, two education champions, have refused to commit 10 percent of their aid to primary and middle school education. The reason is because there has not been any country that has had the courage to show the way. It is time that Korea showed the example and led the way.
As the country that is hosting the 2015 World Education Forum, as the country that has championed education more than any other, and as the country that became a donor country after being a recipient county (largely thanks to investments in its citizens’ education), we must show the way by dedicating 10 percent of our aid to primary and middle school education. This would be the way to be reborn as the country providing true leadership in education.