Letter of advice

Denying education to women may erode fundamental human solidarity, affecting social cohesion, says a United Nations report

Published: Tuesday 30 April 1996

-- THE World Education Report, 1995, compiled by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has recently been released. The third edition of a biennial series, the report aims at presenting a broad but concise analysis of major trends and policy issues in present day education systems in different parts of the world.

The report concludes that while the actual situation varied from country to country, the education opportunities for women tended to be more limited than those available for males. It notes that this basic imbalance in the upbringing of men and women has undoubtedly worked on the form and character of social cohesion in different countries, affecting human solidarity at the fundamental level.

"It focuses on the largest single category of persons denied equality of educational opportunity in the world today - women and girls. So often maltreated and abused, women represent two- thirds of the world's illiterate among adults and children," stated Federico Mayor, director-general Of UNESCO.

"The prospects of a continuing slowdown in the world's population growth and its implications for sustainable development and future global 'quality of life' have emerged in recent years as a powerful instrument for consideration in favour of education of women in those regions of the world, especially Africa and Asia, where population growth is still high," noted the report.

Terming the task of global eradication of illiteracy and provision of equal educational opportunities for women as a fundamental imperative, the report adds that women tended to be more vulnerable to economic discrimination in almost all societies.

A disturbing trend that has been documented by the report is that, while literacy rates were rising in all major regions of the world, the absolute number of illiterate adults was still on the increase in certain other regions - notably sub-Saharan Africa, the Arab states and southern Asia, where women formed a substantial majority of the social strata.

School life expectancies tended to be higher in the case of girls in developed countries who were in direct competition with boys in the job market. The reverse was noted in developing countries. Studies revealed that in the developing world, policies were needed to encourage parents to send their girl child to school.

With reference to international cooperation in the field of education, the report notes that there is a growing awareness in how things are done in other countries. So far, global cooperation has been achieved in only such networks as UNESCO's Associated Schools Project, which involves 3,300 institutions in 125 countries and whose activities are focussed in four themes: global challenges and the role played by the UN system; human rights; knowledge about other countries, respect for different cultures and the world heritage; and the environment. The report projects that in future, neighbouring countries will exchange more frequently in the field of education.

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