Goal 2: Achieve universal primary education

DebtSchoolCapacity Development

The goal is to enable all children, boys and girls alike, to complete primary schooling.

Steps towards the right to education
by Lilia Solano

Upper Cazucá is an area in Colombia where Proyecto Justicia y Vida (Justice and Life Project) works. It has a population of over 63,000, made up of mostly migrant workers or displaced persons. They have come from various parts of Colombia in recent years, mostly because of political violence or forced displacement. Many of these people live in extreme poverty. They suffer from high unemployment. They receive little care from the government authorities. Cazucá is a deprived area, built up with no planning. The inhabitants are ignored by the state.

Rural migration to the cities resulting from the present armed conflict in Colombia has led to insecurity, corruption, social discrimination, violation of human rights, abuse of the indigenous peoples and violence. Children are the most vulnerable. They suffer as the living conditions of their families gradually worsen, resulting in low income, little schooling, and lack of housing and land.

The area has low levels of educational provision. There is a lack of school buildings, equipment and teaching programmes. There is also a lack of informal vocational training centres. In 1999, two out of every three children had no schooling at all.

The high costs that parents have to pay for their children’s education in Colombia conflicts with the idea of free primary education for all, prompted by the Millennium Development Goals. The Colombian state is not fulfilling its commitment to public schooling.

Steps towards political impact

High numbers of children drop out of school. Justicia y Vida carried out research among children and parents to find out why children were not attending the few available primary and secondary schools. Their main reason was a lack of money to pay the various fees.

Justicia y Vida called a meeting to discuss what could be done to ensure children received schooling the following year.

First, they gathered information on the national legal situation regarding children who are victims of forced displacement. Secondly, they requested from the Mayor a copy of the area action plans from the Ministry for Social Development and Education. This information allowed Justicia y Vida to understand better the rights of displaced children and the obligations of the state in terms of education. They discovered that in Colombian law, children who are victims of forced displacement and children of single mothers should get preferential access to education.

Next they began lobbying the Ministry of Education, asking them to pay for the children’s education. They met with the lawyers working for the Ministry, making them aware of the large number of children who had not been able to study. They also sent a petition to the Ministry of Education, asking them to abolish registration fees at all levels of schooling for children who are victims of displacement.

After a year of lobbying, the Ministry responded to the petition and agreed to pay for all fees in formal educational institutions for displaced children. Now children who are victims of forced displacement and all children of single mothers throughout the area do not have to pay for their education.

Through their efforts, the Justicia y Vida team, together with the facilitators and volunteers, succeeded in reducing the high numbers of children dropping out of school in Cazucá. By working together, and inspired by the God of hope and life, they were able to build a better future for all.

Lilia Solano is Director of Proyecto Justicia y Vida. Carretera 49 A# 29-89, Barranquilla, Colombia. E-mail: projusvi@yahoo.com

Debt relief: the benefits for education

An extract from a presentation made to the Jubilee Debt Campaign in 2004 by President Benjamin Mkapa of Tanzania

When I became President of Tanzania in 1995, our country was witnessing a serious deterioration of social services and a debt burden that was exceedingly high and unsustainable. 

In the 1970s Tanzania had built an extensive education system. By the middle of the 1990s much of this infrastructure was in a state of disrepair. Enrolment in primary schools had fallen to 77%. One of my first priorities was to increase government support and to ask for debt relief. Jubilee 2000 was a great partner in this. In 2001 Tanzania was granted substantial debt relief, and this was all directed into supporting education and health. Two years later we reviewed progress in education. We could report that:

  • 32,000 new classrooms and 7,500 teacher homes had been built
  • 1,000 new primary schools had been built
  • the primary school population had increased by 50% with equal numbers of girls and boys
  • enrolment had increased from 59% to 89%
  • in primary schools there were now text books for every three pupils instead of every eight
  • the pass rate for the primary school leaving exam had risen from 22% to 40%
  • 12,000 school committees had been trained.

All this after just two years of adequate funding! At this rate we believe that Tanzania can achieve MDG 2 in 2006, nine years ahead of the UN target in 2015.

EDITOR: Many Footsteps readers supported the advocacy work of Jubilee 2000 and will find this update very encouraging.

Other ideas to meet Goal 2

  • Abolish all primary school fees.
  • Encourage community support to build more classrooms and teachers’ houses.

Progress on Goal 2

Primary school enrolment is increasing everywhere except in East Asia and the Pacific. In much of Latin America and the Caribbean enrolment levels are high, but drop out rates are also high. 

Without a lot more effort this goal is unlikely to be met.