Universal schooling

May 15, 2006

It has pledges from 180 industrialized nations, but the effort to provide free universal primary education for all children in the developing world by 2015, which is part of the United Nations Millennium Project, is still short on a key ingredient: money. Last month, the United Kingdom pledged $1.5 billion a year for the next 10 years to the cause. The United States, which has an economy six times as large as that of the U.K., is way behind. It's time for America to step up and pay more of its fair share.

More than 100 million young people - nearly 60 percent girls - in developing countries do not attend school. About 40 million of these youngsters are in sub-Saharan Africa, and most of the rest are scattered across Asia. User fees, commonly charged in about 70 nations, are the main reason children don't attend elementary school. And when an impoverished family can scrape together enough money to pay the fees, boys are more likely to be the beneficiaries.

In 2000, the developed nations promised to give money if the developing countries came up with plans to absorb the new students in a free system. The estimated gap between what is currently being spent and what it would cost to provide all children with eight years of schooling is about $10 billion a year. With just about a decade to fulfill the goal, Great Britain's pledge is a big boost. It now joins the Netherlands in fully honoring its 2000 pledge. The U.S., which has made no specific pledge, is contributing $465 million. Even in tight fiscal times, America should at least commit to spending $500 million in the next fiscal year. When it comes to a basic primary education, no child in the world should be left behind.

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