Third World countries, by definition, include the poorest and the most underdeveloped. Most of them, therefore, are severely lacking in most development indicators including education and literacy levels. So even though, it is now universally recognized that education is the most cost-effective factor in improving the quality of life, both at the individual and at the collective level, millions of people in poor, third world countries still do not have access to even basic, primary education.
The Education for All (EFA) Initiative: Realizing the need for a comprehensive international program to help achieve the goals of extending the benefits of education "to every citizen in every society" the international community made an important commitment called Education for All (EFA) in Jomtien, Thailand in 1990. In response to slow progress over the decade, the commitment was reaffirmed in Dakar, Senegal in April 2000 and then again in September 2000, when 189 countries and their partners adopted two of the EFA goals as part of the eight Millennium Goals.
The EFA Development Index: In order to measure the state of education in various countries and to monitor the progress made towards the specific EFA goals, the Education for All Development Index (EDI) was introduced in 2003. The EDI provides a summary measure of a country's education level in four specific areas: The EFA goal of achieving Universal Primary Education (UPE), adult literacy, gender equality in education, and quality of education. ("Education for All: Literacy for Life" Summary of UNESCO Report, 2006, p. 3). The EDI ranges between 0 and 1, with 1 representing the EFA goal. According to the latest (2006) EFA Global Monitoring Report published by UNESCO, the state of the EDI is as follows:
46 countries have an EDI above 0.95; which is close to the EFA target: these countries are mostly the industrialized 'first world' located in North America and Europe, where education has been compulsory for decades.
49 countries have EDI values between 0.80 and 0.94. 20 of these countries are located in Latin America / Caribbean; 10 are Arab states; 7 are in East Asia and the Pacific; and 7 are in Sub-Saharan Africa. Quality is still an issue in Latin America and the Caribbean. Arab States show low adult literacy rates.
28 countries have EDI values below 0.80. More than half are in sub-Saharan Africa; 5 are Arab states, and 3 each are in South-West Asia and East Asia.
All the 28 countries with the lowest EDI values are in the third world. In these countries, all four components of the EDI are at low levels, and they are unlikely to achieve EFA by 2015 without dramatically stepped-up efforts, including in international support. However, rapid progress has been made in several countries with the lowest indicators. For example, the EDI rose by more than 10% in Cambodia, Ethiopia and Mozambique between 1998 and 2002. At the same time, certain other low-EDI countries such as Chad, Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, and Papua New Guinea registered sharp decrease in the EDI (5% to 11%) in the same period; the drop was largely attributable to the decreasing "survival rate" (i.e., an increasing percentage of pupils dropped out of school before reaching Grade 5). Interestingly, in more than three-quarters of the countries for data was available, at least one EDI indicator moved in the opposite direction to the others (Ibid).
Despite rising enrolments at the primary level, about 100 million children (55% girls) of primary school age were still not enrolled in schools in 2002. Seventy percent of these children live in Sub-Saharan Africa, and South and West Asia and 19 countries are each home to more than 1 million out-of-primary-school children. Ten of these are in sub-Saharan Africa, where countries with relatively small populations, such as Burkina Faso, Mali and the Niger have a very high percentage of children who still do not attend primary school
Reasons for the Continuing Low Education Levels
There are a number of barriers to the continuing low education levels in several third world countries, some of which are described below:
Conflicts and Natural Disasters: Internal conflicts, natural disasters (such as the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004) and economic instability are major barriers to improving education levels. Armed conflicts and their aftermath are particularly harmful for setting back the already precarious education systems in poor countries by physical destruction of the infrastructure, causing trauma among parents and children, and displacing large numbers of people within and across borders.
Fees: Charging of fees in primary schools has proved to be another major barrier to insufficient progress in initial enrollment in schools and it is a major reason for the persistent drop-out rates. According to UNESCO, 89 out of 103 countries surveyed, still charge fee at the primary level; even where direct tuition fees are not charged, other costs such as for registration, uniforms, transport, and books / stationery are still unaffordable for large numbers of people in third world countries, and discourage parents from sending their children to school. ("Education for all..." 2006, p. 5)
Shortage of Trained Teachers: Shortage of trained teacher is yet another barrier in providing quality education in third world countries. In sub-Saharan Africa, pupil/teacher ratios typically exceed 40:1 and are as high as 70:1 in some countries such as Chad, Congo and Mozambique. (Ibid)
HIV / AIDS: The HIV / AIDS pandemic also affects education, especially in eastern and southern Africa, where a number of AIDS orphans are at risk of not continuing their education if special support is not provided to them. The epidemic has also added to teacher shortage in Africa.
Overcoming the Barriers
Greater Commitment by National Governments: Although all countries are theoretically committed to achieving the Education for All (EDA) goals by 2015, several of them have not provided the required finances for meeting the challenge. For example, out of thirty countries with data available up to 2002, ten spent less than 3% of their GDP on education, and 14 countries spent between 3% and 5%. Nine countries, including Indonesia and Pakistan (two countries with very large populations of over 150 million each) spent less than 2% of their GNP on education, which is highly inadequate. Better commitment is required from national governments in several such countries to improve the level of education. ("Education for all..." 2006, p. 13)
International Aid: The meager financial and technical resources of many third world countries are clearly not enough for meeting the challenge of providing universal primary education to their people; they need substantial international aid. Although International development assistance to poor countries has increased in recent years, it is still far from adequate, and is not being directed to the most needed area of primary education in the poorest countries. On average, countries allocate only 9.7% of their bilateral aid to education. Even the increased aid flows pledged at the 2005 G8 summit could by 2010 result in an annual total of only U.S.$3.3 billion for basic education, which is still far short of the U.S.$7 billion a year estimated by UNESCO as necessary to achieve Universal Primary Education and gender parity alone by the target date of 2015. Hence, at least a doubling of international aid for education is needed. (Ibid. pp. 31-34)
Although there are several other challenges such as improved teacher training and better monitoring of expenditures to prevent the wastage of funds, overcoming the above-mentioned barriers are crucial to improve the quality of education and improving literacy levels in third world countries.
Education and Development." (2007). World Bank Website. Retrieved on December 7, 2007 at http://go.worldbank.org/F5K8Y429G0
Education for all: Literacy for Life." (2006). UNESCO Global Monitoring Report, 2006. Retrieved on December 7, 2007 at http://www.unesco.org/education/GMR2006/summary_eng.pdf
Frequently Asked Questions: Education." (2006). World Bank Website. April, 2006. Retrieved on December 7, 2007 at http://go.worldbank.org/B2LD7NHT70
Hough, J.R. "Educational Cost Benefit Analysis." (1993). Department for International Development, London. Retrieved on December 7, 2007 at http://www.eric.ed.gov/ERICDocs/data/ericdocs2sql/content_storage_01/0000019b/80/1a/97/73.pdf
Riddell, W.C. (2004). "The Social Benefits of Education: New Evidence on an Old Question." University of Toronto. December 3-4, 2004. Retrieved on December 7, 2007 at http://www.utoronto.ca/president/04conference/downloads/Riddell.pdf
Universal Declaration of Human Rights." (1948). United Nations Website. Retrieved on December 7, 2007 at http://www.un.org/Overview/rights.html
Article 26 of the Declaration, interalia states: "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" ("Universal Declaration of Human Rights," 1948)
Studies show that each year of schooling increases individual earnings by a worldwide average of about 10% ("Frequently Asked Questions" 2006).
Consisting of a broad coalition of national governments, civil society groups, and development agencies such as UNESCO and the World Bank