IT BEGAN with a wake-up call.

When world leaders met in Dakar at the World Education Forum in April 2000, they could not ignore the poor progress and the dismal state of education in the developing world. More than 100 million children were out of school. Years of structural adjustment and lack of funding had decimated public education systems in many developing countries.

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Ten years later, remarkable progress was observed toward achieving the education-related Millennium Development Goals. Many more girls are in school and enrolment rates are on the rise, due to higher-quality aid and to political commitment. But 72M children are still out of school, and it is becoming clear that the world’s poorest countries urgently need an initiative that can deliver the resources to scale up to Education For All (EFA).

The EFA goals underline the need for international institutions, developing countries and civil society to agree on a plan of action to achieve an ambitious set of six targets aiming for universal basic education by 2015. This acknowledges the intrinsic value of education, as well as its powerful impact on economic growth, social development, and political stability.

It is clear that only through a concerted action could make these goals a reality.

Efforts are underway to step up to the plate, increase spending on education, improve the quality of plans to scale up basic education and demonstrate new political will to elevate education among national priorities.

Yet big challenges remain in meeting the Education for All goals. Despite promising reduction, the number of children out of school has increased. New analysis by UNESCO also indicates the number of out of school children is probably being under-reported.

Getting children enrolled in school is not enough; they must complete the cycle and demonstrate achievement, such as basic literacy and numeracy skills. Thousands, if not millions, of children currently complete primary school without these fundamentals.

Teachers are urgently needed to improve educational quality and retention, but there is a serious deficit. In order to get all children into primary school by 2015, an estimated 10.3 million additional teachers must be trained and hired. Resource allocation for health and education is in the wayside compared to spending for defense and armaments.

Beyond primary education, the wider EFA goals such as early childhood education, gender parity and adult literacy require urgent attention. In spite of strong evidence that educating girls delivers powerful economic and public health benefits, girls’ enrolment has continued to lag behind that of boys.

The economic crisis has been deepened by the worsening impacts of climate change and rising food prices. Most are struggling to provide food security for their communities; a rise in waterborne diseases has serious implications for school age children and their families, while scarce water resources continue to create additional pressure.

It is predicted that many more households will be unable to afford to feed their children and purchase basic school supplies such as paper, pencils and school uniforms, even with the 'free' basic education; and there are concerns that more children will be pulled out of school to work in the fields or engage in other income-generating activities. The International Labour Organization predicts that girls will be disproportionately pushed into child labor as a result of the crisis.

Challenges are high, swift action may be needed to respond to these conditions. Email comments to