Oxfam school fury at education summit.

Oxfam school fury at education summit.

Non-governmental groups were last night meeting in emergency session to decide whether to walk out of the world education summit. “We are bitterly disappointed”, said Kevin Watkins of Oxfam, one of four NGOs on the committee drafting the final communication which will be presented later today. “All references to a global plan of action have been replaced and all decisions on the core issue of how the world community responds to the accepted crisis in education are being postponed.”

Earlier, Kofi Annan, the World Bank, the heads of the several UN agencies and representatives of hundreds of non-government groups had urged immediate international political commitment and an end to the rhetoric that has bedevilled the conference so far.

But the principle of an international plan has not been popular with all countries. Development secretary Clare Short and the Department for International Development argued yesterday that sufficient funds were already available to bring education to everyone and that education should not be separated from poverty or other development priorities.

In a speech to the conference yesterday, she said: “I do not support a call for new separate funds for education, new conditionality or a new set of education objectives. Progress on education must go together with progress on other essential development objectives.”

Later she said that the £2.5bn a year that the non-governmental groups from 180 countries were calling for to bring primary education to everyone, was “tokenistic”. “£32bn in overseas development assistance is available already. The problem is not money. To say you need £2.5bn is tokenism; it won’t change anything.”

Ms Short has argued that the international community should back countries prepared to reform their educational policies to include the poorest and that many governments are corrupt or do not have the right policies in place to deliver effectively. Britain prefers to work on a country by country basis and has increased education by more than £300m a year with good results. However, most of the money goes to 12 preferred countries.

Oxfam school fury at education summit.

Too much money, she said, was siphoned off by elites in developing countries or was wasted on bad quality programmes. “You cannot pour money into budgets going down the tubes. If you get behind reformers, you can have massive achievements. You cannot build a quality education system in rotten corrupt dictatorships. Even the Archangel Gabriel can’t do that.”

Britain also objected to parts of the World Bank plan mooted earlier this week to “fast-track” a few countries who could show that they wanted to bring primary education to all in a very few years. “We should fast-track any country ready to move'” Ms Short said. “But you can’t just fast-track education alone.”

Yesterday James Wolfensohn, head of the World Bank, said that Britain preferred “country-led activities rather than generalities” but that there was no fundamental disagreement with Ms Short. “Our objectives are simple – to take countries with a plan who want to move ahead and then bring the international community together behind them to come up with examples of real progress.” Mr Wolfensohn said that the World Bank, already the world’s largest international provider of education, would make extra money available for primary education. “We are prepared to stretch [beyond the £1.2bn already given each year] if programmes are viable.”

But he agreed with Ms Short, saying that money would probably not be the issue. “I’m most concerned that management of the education budget in the countries is used effectively. But, yes, we are prepared to put more in.”

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