Basic benefits for girls

March 17, 2000

You note that the World Bank has effectively endorsed the shifting of priorities from basic to higher education for the world's poorest nations ("World Bank enlists HE to narrow poverty gap", THES, March 3). If this is indeed the case, I find it quite alarming.

While I, like most people, would support a greater investment in higher education for poorer countries so that their own well-educated citizens could break the cycle of poverty and "become a powerful force for change", it is the statement that this must be done at the expense of basic education that concerns me.

Despite promises made in 1990 by 155 governments at the Jomtien World Conference on Education for All, 130 million children worldwide are still without access to primary education. Two-thirds of them are girls. The effects of a basic education are especially profound for females. The more years of education girls have, the later they marry and the fewer children they have. Women with education have healthier children. Education also means reduced maternal death in childbirth and higher levels of nutrition and health for the children of educated parents.

Absolutely, expand access to higher education in developing countries, but let us not make this a "shift in priorities" at the cost of basic education. Instead, let us make it a different priority. And let us hope that the World Bank will not make the mistake of throwing 130 million babies out with the bath water.

Barbara J. Haley Victoria, BC, Canada

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