The UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon encapsulated a worry amongst people working in education in a blog on The Huffington Post a few days ago. He said, 'I am deeply concerned that education is slipping down the international priority list'.
This is why he is launching a new global initiative, 'Education First', together with the Irina Bokova, the Director-General of UNESCO, and Gordon Brown as the new UN Special Envoy for Education at his side. Our team working on the annual Education for All Global Monitoring Report, we are all too aware of the necessity for there to be more vigour and energy behind goals targeted at giving all children access to a free primary education. We are also aware of how important it is that additional resources, such as the new ambition behind 'Education First', are put towards helping the disadvantaged and most in need, first.
This approach is often a challenge to governments and policy makers and has spurred us into designing a new website exposing the deep rifts dividing the chances that boys and girls have of going to school in over 50 countries. It shows the disadvantages which a child can face in education if he or she is born into poverty.
At one extreme, in Benin, it shows how living in one region can make it five times more likely that you'll live in extreme education poverty, with less than two years of school, than if you live in another. The new website is called the World Inequality Database on Education (WIDE). When you explore, you can zoom in on selected countries and indicators, you can compare disparities from one country to another, and identify which groups are most disadvantaged within a country's borders.
Looking at Nepal, for example, WIDE shows that, while 19% of 17-22 year olds have fewer than four years in school, the percentage rises to 24% for women, 57% for the poorest women and jumps to 75% for the poorest women living in the lowland Terai region. By contrast, only 5% of the richest females in this region had fewer than four years of education. These contrasts speak volumes given the large caste divides in the region.
Nepal, 2011, Fewer than four years in school
Comparing across countries provides some very interesting insights too, and is useful for highlighting the variations in the pace of progress towards Education for All. Take Egypt and Niger, for example - two countries with a very different economic status. Here you can see that, while the situation for the poorest youth in Niger has had serious implications on their chances of escaping extreme education poverty, there is a far smaller gap between the poorest young men and young women than are found in Egypt. Despite the country's relative prosperity, 36% of poor, young women in Egypt have less than two years of schooling.
Niger, 2006, 17-22 years, less than two years in school
Egypt, 2008, 17-22 years, less than two years in school
WIDE also allows you to assess progress that has been made over time. In Colombia, for example, it shows that in 2010 youth in rural areas reached the level of school attendance that youth from urban areas enjoyed back in 1990.
Likewise, in Rwanda, the poorest young people aged 17-22 years are as likely now to have spent at least four years in education as rich young people were back in 2005.
It remains true that a key reason for the likely failure to reach the 2015 deadline of the six Education for All goals is that not enough attention has been given to those who are marginalised. Nor is there enough available data showing how bad marginalisation for many can be. For now, we hope that WIDE will make a visual impact highlighting the need for policies and ambitions to put the marginalised at the centre. And we hope that the UN Secretary-General's new global initiative will help put the spotlight on the need for all children, and particularly those who are hardest to reach, to benefit from moves to put education first once and for all.