April 27, 2000

 

World Bank Chief to Unveil an Ambitious Education Program

 

New York Times- April 27, 2000

By JOSEPH KAH

 

 WASHINGTON, April 26 -- As world education ministers gather in Senegal today to discuss how they have fallen far short of their targets in poor nations, the World Bank plans to announce a broad  new commitment to schooling and literacy programs.

 

James D. Wolfensohn, the World Bank president, will announce in a speech Thursday at the World Education Forum in Dakar, the Senegalese capital, that the bank is prepared to lend "multiples" more than the $2 billion it now devotes to education programs each year, bank officials said today.

 

The resources will focus on poor nations that produce a comprehensive blueprint for enrolling more children in school, for eliminating illiteracy and for ensuring that girls have equal access to education.

 

The initiative will be the bank's second sweeping commitment in two weeks to fighting poverty at the grass-roots level. Last week finance ministers endorsed a World Bank plan to spend much more to fight AIDS in developing countries. The bank has pledged to shift resources it once devoted to large-scale projects like dams and highways to programs that directly help poor people. In total, it makes about $30 billion in loans each year.

 

The commitments have come at a time of unusual public pressure on the bank and the International Monetary Fund, its sister lending agency, to do more to alleviate poverty and protect the environment. Protesters declaring that these lenders often do more harm than good tried to shut down the spring meetings of the institutions in Washington this month.

 

Bank and fund officials say they are wary of a backlash against globalization that could undermine their political support in the richer countries that provide their money.

 

The World Bank is already the single largest source of international aid for education, having doubled its annual lending to $1.9 billion last year from $900 million in 1990. Bank officials said they were now prepared to devote many times that amount in coming years to a group of nations, perhaps as many as 20, that produce "business plans" demonstrating how they will use foreign aid for certain goals. These are to train teachers, buy textbooks, build schools and subsidize families, so that children who would otherwise be relied on to work can attend classes.

 

"This is about how we move from rhetoric to concrete action," said Eduardo A. Doryan, the World Bank's vice president for human development. "The constraints on this program will not be money." Rather, he said, the constraints will be "the political will in developing countries to produce a viable and sustainable plan to transform education."

 

The commitment comes as ministers convene in Senegal for talks organized by the United Nations.

 

When they met in Thailand in 1990, the ministers vowed to put every child in school by this year. But they have made only modest progress. Some 125 million children, mostly girls, receive no formal education today. Poor countries have made few gains in wiping out adult illiteracy, with an estimated 880 million adults still unable to read. And foreign aid for education in Africa has actually dropped since the early 1990's, private groups that follow education trends estimated.

 

Education officials are now moving some of those goals ahead to 2015.

 

 The bank said it would work with four United Nations agencies and a number of international citizens groups in pursuing the programs. Oxfam and Education International are among the private groups.