issue 248 - October 1993
The 1980s saw an educational decline which eroded many of the gains of previous decades. Teachers are demotivated and often badly paid, classrooms are in disrepair. In some countries parents are forced to choose which of their children are to be educated. In others, education is becoming enterprise and private schools are booming – for those who can afford them. The goal of free education for all still seems a long way off.
North and South
There is still a huge gap in spending on education between the developed and the developing world. Africa, Asia, and Latin America account for three-quarters of total world enrolment in formal education, but only one-eighth of total spending.
The share of world GNP spent on education, having risen in the mid-1970s and early 1980s, has now fallen back to the same level – 5.5% – as in 1970. But this global figure masks the dramatic fall in education spending in sub-Saharan Africa during the 1980s.
In sub-Saharan Africa, expenditure on education increased from $1.3 billion in 1970 to $11 billion in 1980. Since then there has been a steady decline in spending, until in 1988 spending levels had decreased to $7.1 billion.
In sub-Saharan Africa between 1980 and 1988 there was a decline of 33% in public expenditure per pupil. In Latin America and the Caribbean, there was a decline of 11%.
In Asia and the Arab world expenditures per pupil rose in the 1980s, but more slowly than in the previous decade.
Estimated percentage of children who stay in school5
Percentage of children enrolled in private schools (1971-1980)3
Getting children into school is one thing; keeping them there is another. Nearly one-third of all children who start primary school drop out before they have completed four years. The majority of such children are girls, and most are in developing rather than developed countries.
The UN Declaration of Human Rights states that everyone has the right to a free primary education. But as funding for the state sector falls, parents who can afford to do so are opting out of crumbling classrooms and overstrained teachers.
Throughout the world the percentage of children receiving primary education has fallen during the 1980s. The poorer the country (the index of poverty used in the table on the left is its child-mortality rate), the more dramatic this fall has been.
This fall was often due to structural-adjustment programmes imposed by the IMF which squeezed already limited government spending on education and other services. Education’s share of total government spending shrank from 15% to 12% in countries undergoing intense adjustment programmes between 1980 and 1986.
A woman’s right to read
The UN Declaration of Human Rights states that everyone has the right to read. Despite vast improvements in adult literacy over the last three decades, there are still 900 million adults in the world who cannot read or write. Two-thirds of these are women. Yet educating women not only improves their quality of life. It also reduces infant mortality and family size, and improves the health and productivity of the entire family.
1 Includes pupils in pre-primary, first and second level. From World Education Report 1991, UNESCO.
2 State of the World’s Children 1993, UNICEF. The percentage can exceed 100% because of children in school from outside the normal age-range.
3 See E James in Comparing public and private schools: institutions and organizations, T James & HM Levin eds (Falmer Press, Brighton 1988).
4 Sarvekshanan 1988, quoted in: World Development Report 1990, World Bank.
5 6 World Education Report 1991, UNESCO.