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Globally, the number of children enrolled in primary school has improved to 88% over the course of the last decade, while enrolment in primary education in Sub-Saharan Africa continues to succumb to a much lower percentage, hardly breaking 71% (UNDP MDG 207). Although enrolment in primary education is gradually improving, a discrepancy exists between the number of children who are enrolled and the actual attendance records reported, which consequently creates disparities as high as 9% (UNICEF Child Info 2009).
Recent media documents recognize the reality behind the current statistics, arguing that "at this pace, the chances of attaining the Millennium Development Goals are essentially nil in Sub-Saharan Africa" (Bloomberg 2010). The argument was made in the context of the lacking financial aid to these areas, which is also supported by Mathew K. Jallow of The Modern Ghana press, who explained the financial corruption discovered through a recent Ugandan study where it was found that "less than 30% of aid earmarked for primary education actually reached the intended schools" (2010).
Past trends in social policy within areas of Africa during the era of globalization limited access to education and health services and were based primarily on the exploitation of Africa as a colony, which could explain, in part, the current state of the African education system and the resoundingly high rates of adult illiteracy. More recently, however, research has been conducted by the International Congress on School Effectiveness and Improvement (ICSEI) in an effort to conceptualize an education framework for success, although it has widely been researched in accordance to a primarily western framework. Hoever, according to Bruce Fuller and Prema Clarke (2004), "â€¦the most effective and efficient mix is so conditioned by local social and cultural factors that decisions should be made as close to the classroom as possible" (as cited in Heneveld & Craig, 1996, 17). In other words, Fuller and Clarke are emphasizing the importance of preserving African values, customs and ideologies that are to be associated with school quality and effectiveness.
Based on the examination of the current literature, a human rights, social justice and community development framework should emphasize the cultural integrity of African customs and norms. In accordance with Josiah Cobbah's concept of an African model of human rights, (while putting aside his views on the philosophy of human nature), the promotion of our second generation human right to education, as stated in the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966), needs to be placed in the dichotomy of African cultural values and their "guiding principle of "community, a sense of cooperation, interdependence, and collective responsibility" (Mishra, 1999, 27).
The right to primary education:
According to Article 26 of The Universal Declaration of Human RIghts,
"Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit."
The right to education is recognizable within numerous conventions and covenants, including the International Covenant on Economic, Social And Cultural Rights (ICESCR, 1966), The Convention on the Elimination Of All Forms Of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW, 1979), and The Convention On The Rights of The Child (CRC, 1989). Additionally, a majority of countries within the region of Sub Saharan Africa signed and ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966), which further states in Article 13 that "education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and the sense of its dignity, and shall strengthen the respect for human rights and fundamental freedom" (Office of the United Nationsâ€¦ n.d.).
The problem we are facing in the onset of the 21st century is that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was written over six decades ago, and universal access to primary education is a right that has yet to be achieved equally and communally. Sub Saharan Africa (1 footer) continues to have an average adult literacy rate just above 60% (UNDP Human Development Report 2009). In addition to the fact that it is significantly lower than the average world literacy rate of 79.7% (UNESCO Regional Report 2003), it is also disproportionally lower than that of developing nations in general (73.6%). Additionally, sever gendered and geographic disparities exist within the region. Sub-Saharan Africa contains countries with some of the highest rates of illiteracy in the world, including Mali (73.8%), Burkina Faso (71.3%) and Niger (71.3%) (UNDP Human Development Report 2009).
The low literacy rates that exist within the countries of Sub-Saharan Africa is directly linked to inadequate and inefficient access to quality education. In order to reverse the cyclic trend of illiteracy, the failing educational system within Sub-Saharan Africa needs to be addressed from a culturally relative perception.
The breadth of the issue: who is affected?
"Building a person's educational opportunities increases their prospects for a successful future -- not only for that person, but for that country and, indirectly, for the world."
Education deprivation exists along a continuum, ranging in degree from mild to extreme (Gordon, 2002,70). Throughout much of Sub-Saharan Africa, it could be argued that these children are facing moderate to severe educational deprivation, based on the fact that Sub Saharan Africa contains some of the highest rates of illiteracy as these children advance into adulthood and some of the lowest rates of enrolment in primary education, due, primarily, to issues surrounding accessibility. Children in sub-Saharan Africa consequently have significantly less marked years of educational attainment compared to that of industrialized nations, where the World Bank describes this figure as 3.5 years and ten years, respectively (World Bank 2009l).
Regional and gendered disparities that exist in the ability to access primary education disproportionally affect rural children and female students. Statistics show that enrolment in primary education favors urban children over rural, and male children over female children, where enrolment is configured at 86 girls enrolled in primary school to every 100 boys (UNESCO Education for All, 2005). Considering the low literacy rates that already exist within Sub-Saharan Africa, the inequity of already poor universal access to primary education) that exists affects rural children and female students to an even greater extent. Without knowledge, without a voice, they remain invisible unless social policies address these disparities and eliminate the discrepancies that exist.
Across Sub Saharan Africa, individuals are predisposed to health disparities including disease and HIV/AIDS, low life expectancy, lack of education and low mobility, all of which are issues interlinked with poverty. However, "a primary school education of some minimum quality enhances individual capabilities to stay healthy, earn a livelihood, have an effective voice in the community, control fertility, and be mobile socially, economically and geographically" (Lloyd & Blanc, 1996, 266) Knowledge is a form of empowerment that enables individuals to be autonomous, to advance out of poverty, and to determine their future, rather than having it be determined for them. It promotes one's ability to attain and secure their human rights, as laid out in the International Bill of Human Rights. Attaining education is the key factor to promoting development, as development cannot thrive without education.
Through the education at the primary level, families benefit as a whole from their children's education "through higher family income, economic supportâ€¦, greater social status, and the improved marriageability of their daughters" (Lloyd & Blanc, 1996, 267). In the long term, the community and future generations of Sub-Saharan Africa will benefit from an educated society, as the region's illiteracy rates drop and countries begin advocating for themselves.
Social developers should be concerned:
Universal access to primary education is a criterion of the Millennium Development Goals established by the United Nations. By recognizing the importance of primary education within developing regions, one can understand the implications it has for the world as a whole. Through the advancement of knowledge interlinked with positive progress of the remaining seven MDG, the quality of life of individuals across the globe, is intended to improve.
Poverty is associated with an inability to meet a set of very basic human needs. These needs include access to food, safe drinking water, shelter, healthcare, sanitary facilities, education and access to basic social services. According to the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), it was estimated that "the annual cost over ten years of providing every person in the world with basic social services" was approximately $40 billion USD (Gordon 2002 72). Of this proclaimed budget, the annual cost of providing basic education worldwide was only six billion USD, a mere fraction of proposed total. Through the provision of true universal education, one could suggest that it is the "cheapest" step towards alleviating poverty, and one that could possibly have a profound long term impact.