T H E   W H I T E   H O U S E

Remarks of the Honorable Gene B. Sperling

Help Site Map Text Only

National Economic Council

Remarks of the Honorable Gene B. Sperling
Assistant to the President for Economic Policy
United States of America
International Consultative Forum on Education for All
Dakar, Senegal
April 28, 2000

Thank you Mr. Gustafusson. And I would also like to thank UNESCO Director-General [Koichiro] Matsuura; Chair of the EFA Strategy Committee [Knud] Mortenson; other distinguished organizers and participants of the International Consultative Forum on Education for All. My very generous host and the Ambassador to the United States Harriet Elam-Thomas.

I would especially like to recognize and thank our distinguished delegation, including [USAID Assistant Administrator] Thomas Fox, [Assistant Secretary of Education for Civil Rights] Norma Cantu, [Executive Director of the Council of Chief State School Officers] Gordon Ambach, [USAID Deputy Assistant Administrator] Emily Vargas-Baron and the other Americans here from government, civil society and private sector. They have done a terrific job of representing America at this vitally important gathering. We are also grateful to the Academy for Educational Development, which prepared the excellent US EFA Assessment in cooperation with our EFA National Commission.

A special thanks to the NGOs who so often serve as the foot soldiers in this battle, specifically but not limited to Oxfam, National Education Association, and the Global March Against Child Labor.

I would also like to express my gratitude to our Senegalese hosts. Over the past decade, Senegal and the United States have become more than close allies. We have become true partners. Our security cooperation spans the globe. We have worked together to place peacekeeping troops on the ground from the Persian Gulf to Liberia, and Senegalese troops have consistently served with distinction. In other areas, such as economic reform and social development, Senegal has also made important strides in recent years. President Clinton personally asked me to convey to the people of Senegal his fond memories of his visit and most importantly that the peaceful and gracious transfer of power between former President Diouf and President Wade was an historic gain for democracy that would serve as a shining example for all of Africa and the world. The President wishes to congratulate President Wade and reaffirm our deep commitment to even further strengthen our partnership.

We have come together here in Dakar amidst heightened global discussion on the issue of globalization. Without question, one of the central challenges of our day is the need to broaden participation among and within nations in the benefits of today's rapid technological change and global economic integration.

Out of the vigorous discussions taking place around the world on this topic lies hope for a new consensus. That hope rests on our embracing two realities. First, openness is critically important because international trade and investment are indispensable engines of economic growth, and growth is, in turn, indispensable to poverty reduction. But, second, while openness is essential, it is necessary but not sufficient for developing countries. For this reason, industrialized countries must work harder with our developing country partners on more direct efforts to combat poverty and raise living standards, through increased cooperation and assistance on health, education, institutional capacity, and infrastructure --- the fundamental building blocks of economic progress.

This new consensus must be anchored not in words, but in deeds. As some of our civil rights leaders say: not just by talking the talk, but by walking the walk. We believe that open trade lifts living standards, but we also believe that to raise living standards everywhere, we must seek a new consensus agenda that goes beyond trade to include a larger vision of globalization with a human face.

A process of globalization that is designed not only to prevent a race to the bottom but also to prevent complacency in the face of stubbornly persistent global poverty and wasted human potential.

We industrialized countries can begin by opening our doors further to products from developing countries. At the President's urging, our Congress has recently taken important steps toward passage of the historic African Growth and Opportunity Act and Caribbean Basin Trade Enhancement legislation, and we continue to press to grant China permanent normal tariff status in support of its accession to the World Trade Organization. The Africa bill --- while not all the President aspired to --- would provide duty-free and quota-free access to our market for nearly all products from Sub-Saharan Africa. And, in the apparel sector, the compromise bill would permit an estimated 30% to 40% growth per year in duty-free exports to the US of garments made in Africa from African fabric, creating an important incentive for new investment and job creation in an industry that has historically been a catalyst for job creation and economic development. We are hopeful that Congress will send the President a final bill for his signature soon, permitting us at long last to inaugurate a new era of US-African economic relations.

Again, we believe that expanding trade and investment is an important piece of the strategy to spread the benefits of globalization more widely, but that it is only one piece.

Equally important is the need to combat poverty directly by helping developing countries create the conditions ripe for unleashing the creative and productive potential of their people. This can be done by intensifying our support in three areas in particular; (1) debt relief; (2) infectious diseases prevention and treatment and; (3) basic education and continuing efforts to end the most abusive forms of child labor.

The first part of this direct, three-pronged assault on poverty -- debt relief -- is closely related to the other two. In many poor countries, foreign debt obligations exceed health or education budgets or both. This is a major reason why President Clinton, in a Summit meeting with African ministers in Washington last year, proposed a sweeping expansion of the Heavily-Indebted Poor Country Initiative (HIPC) to make debt relief faster, broader, and deeper. That proposal formed the basis of the G-7 agreement last June in Cologne, Germany, which will reduce the debts of over 30 countries by about 70 percent when combined with previous efforts, freeing additional resources for investment in health and education. Last fall, he pledged unilaterally to go beyond the Cologne framework and cancel 100 percent of the US government debt owed by countries qualifying for it. Other G-7 countries have since followed suit, and we are pleased that the first developing countries have recently begun receiving expanded debt relief.

The second way we should intensify the fight against poverty is by increasing assistance for the prevention and treatment of infectious diseases. Just this week, the Financial Times reported that malaria alone has cost Africa tens of billion dollars in lost GDP. More people die each year of infectious diseases than all soldiers from every country in World War I. In his budget this year, President Clinton proposed a $1 billion tax incentive aimed at stimulating the development of vaccines for diseases in poor countries as well as an increased contribution to the Global Alliance for Vaccines Initiative (GAVI), and an appeal to the World Bank and other multilateral development banks to dedicate an additional $400 million to $900 million of low interest loans to address infectious diseases. We are encouraging our G-7 partners to make similar efforts. The growing HIV/AIDS pandemic, especially in Africa, demands our attention. It compels us to act!

The third prong of our strategy is what has brought us together here for this historic gathering: creating access to quality basic education for all of the world's children. The Dakar Framework for Action is grounded in the moral belief that children everywhere have a right to explore their potential and better their own lives and that of their families.

One of the contributions made by the Dakar Framework is that it paints a thorough, textured picture of the many obstacles to and benefits from basic education. It rightly presents basic education as a springboard to economic opportunity, better health, empowerment of women, sustainable population growth and environmental conditions, and stronger democratic participation and respect for human rights. When our Supreme Court declared our shameful period of racial segregation of schools unconstitutional in 1954, Chief Justice Warren stated that education was integral to all aspects of first class citizenship. In his opinion, he stated: "In these days, it is doubtful that any child may reasonably be expected to succeed in life if he is denied the opportunity of an education. Such an opportunity, where the state has undertaken to provide it, is a right which must be made available to all on equal terms." What was true for the United States nearly 50 years ago, rings more true for too many of the world's children today.

When our Secretary of the Treasury, Larry Summers, was Chief Economist for the World Bank, he gave a seminal speech stating that basic education, particularly for girls, was perhaps the single most productive investment we could make to raise living standards in poor countries. During this conference that proposition has been reaffirmed repeatedly and correctly by Kofi Anan and many others. Much of the return from this investment is realized over time, but it is unmistakable. Within each nation, perhaps each family, there are those who have benefited from a generational chain of human betterment created by the educational opportunity afforded to a single child. For nearly every child that is rescued from unfulfilled potential by a quality education, there are succeeding generations of children and grandchildren who are likely to be better educated, healthier, and more prosperous.

The President sent me, his National Economic Adviser, here to address you out of a conviction that education truly is the closest thing we have to an answer to the universal quest for economic opportunity. And it must be at the center of any long-term strategy for economic development and poverty reduction. This is increasingly true as information technology pervades more and more aspects of economic activity. He sent me here to outline for you a perspective on how all of us represented here --- developing countries, developed countries, international institutions, and the private sector -- can join together in a genuine and effective global partnership to make Education for All a reality.

First, we must combine education strategies with our efforts to fully implement ILO Convention 182 banning the worst forms of child labor. When children are not in school, they are not only failing to reach their potential, they are too often being placed at risk, working in abusive or hazardous environments in factories, sweatshops or even brothels and drug trafficking networks. Those in industrialized countries who call for globalization to be more humane must recognize that there can be no true solution to abusive child labor without universal, free, and compulsory basic education. Parents of limited means can not be expected to sacrifice their child's income by sending them to school, especially when doing so would result in significant added expenses for fees, uniforms, travel, and supplies. Poor quality and costly schools discourage parents from appreciating the long-term benefits of education for their children. The US stands ready to help. In the past two years, we have increased our support for the ILO's International Program for the Elimination of Child Labor, which helps developing countries remove children from work and place them in school, from $3 million to $30 million. This year, President Clinton has asked Congress for a further 50 percent increase. Now the program's largest funder, we have helped create educational alternatives to work for about 74,500 children in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. During his recent visit to Bangladesh, the President announced that we will finance a new IPEC initiative to remove an additional 30,000 children from a number of hazardous industries over the next few years.

Second, developing countries must develop and come forward with solid National EFA plans for improving access to quality basic education. Part of this responsibility involves setting the right priorities, whether it be eliminating gender disparities, increasing support for early childhood care and education, implementing assessments, creating HIV/AIDS awareness programs, or increasing and redeploying resources for basic education for children, youth, and adults. The path to universal access inevitably must begin with developing countries themselves.

Third, developed countries must be prepared to respond concretely to these plans with increased assistance. We should fully finance the Cologne debt relief framework, whose full implementation has a direct bearing on the extent to which developing countries will be able to commit their own additional resources for basic education. For our part, we are working hard to convince our Congress to appropriate our contribution to the HIPC Trust Fund. In addition, the President is proposing both our efforts to increase our bilateral assistance for basic education by over 50% in this year alone -- a doubling of resources in just the last few years – and our efforts to fight abusive child labor. We encourage other donor countries to consider similar increases in their budgets for bilateral education aid, whether by overall increases in aid levels or a reallocation of resources from tertiary to basic education.

Fourth, international institutions including multilateral development banks (MDBs) and organizations such as UNESCO and UNICEF must continue to play a key coordinating role by marshaling and targeting donor assistance to basic education in the LDCs. The United States supports the Framework for Action's basic aim of ensuring that "no country seriously committed to basic education will be thwarted in the achievement of this goal by lack of resources." To provide the necessary impetus for developing countries to take action by committing to systematic broadening of educational access, we must be clear that more resources will be available to those who do their part. Like the line in the American movie "Field of Dreams" -- "if you build it, they will come" – we must be able to say to the poorest countries, " if you build a commitment to basic education, we will be with you."

The World Bank can play a critical role, particularly with the outstanding leadership and commitment of its President, Jim Wolfensohn. The World Bank and the international community should consider concrete, multi-year targets for a substantial, even dramatic, increase in World Bank lending, particularly for basic education and to ensure equity among girls and boys.

Over the past several years, World Bank lending for education has varied widely, from $1.01 billion in FY97 (5.3 percent of total lending) to $3.11 billion in FY98 (10.9 percent) and $2.01 billion in FY99 (7 percent) with less than half going to basic education.

For example, assume the World Bank were to increase overall education lending by 50 percent -- if they devoted this entire increase to basic education then lending for basic education could be doubled -- a step that could galvanize all parties toward action in support of the Dakar Education For All Goals.

Fifth, to make these two preceding steps happen, the G-7 countries must exercise leadership. Just as the G-7 was the catalyst for expanded debt relief last year, so it should consider taking the initiative on basic education and health at its summit this year in Japan. We will strongly encourage that action on the results of the World Education Forum be a serious topic on the agenda G-7 meeting in Okinawa.

Sixth, we should consider tapping more deeply into the vast reservoirs of private philanthropy in order to leverage official assistance. Many of the corporations and individuals that have benefited from the global economy are looking for ways to give something back. Surely there are private sector counterparts interested in performing a similar service for basic education given the synergies for economic growth, public health, democratic participation, and environmental sustainability. It is hard to imagine a more effective investment in the success of open markets and global integration than an expansion of literacy.

For example, an information clearinghouse might be created to apprise interested corporations and foundations of opportunities to respond to an EFA-approved action plan and complement bilateral and multilateral donor assistance. When I return home, I plan to seek out a meeting with private groups to explore ways they might be willing to play an enhance role.

Finally, we must continue to address new challenges. Let me mention three. First without drawing attention away from basics of free education, quality teachers, and acceptable teacher-student ratios, we must also be committed to ensuring that the revolution of the internet and information technology become a force for equity and not a force for a digital divide that will widen the global divide. Again, while we must focus on the basics, education technology and the internet will increasingly become a new basic. In a community without a library, a single computer connected to the internet, can be a connection to every library.

Second, since the 1990 conference in Jomtien, there has been considerable research on early childhood development of the brain and of learning. We must incorporate this new research into our strategies and go much further in developing cost effective early childhood learning strategies for even the poorest countries. I realize that this is a further challenge for nations still struggling to achieve basic primary education, but we simply cannot ignore what we now know scientifically, about what type of early childhood education is needed to allow all of our children to explore that full potentials of their minds.

Third, we can not and must not leave behind those children with disabilities and special needs. Education can be the medicine of hope and opportunity to these children; new technologies can provide opportunities that seemed beyond us only a few years ago. Imagine what some of these new technologies can do for children who are blind or deaf or even bed-ridden. Again, I realize that even in the United States this can be challenging in terms of resources. But if we believe in the basic moral imperative that all children would have a chance to reach their potential, than we must include children with disabilities in our vision and our concrete plans.

The global economy is generating vast new wealth and raising living standards throughout much of the world, yet there is much we can do to widen the circle of economic opportunity. The World Education Forum has taken an important step in establishing the principle that no country that has developed an effective plan to increase access to basic education should lack the resources to implement it. Today, I have tried to outline how we can create a truly global, public-private partnership to make good on this noble principle. The steps I have outlined would generate billions of dollars of additional resources, providing more than ample incentive for developing countries to organize themselves to rise to the challenge.

The stakes are high, especially for the children. We must think of the children. If we miss the opportunity to make this global partnership a reality, an estimated 75 million children will still be deprived basic education come 2015.

Yesterday, I traveled to a rural village called Keur Sega. We traveled by hundreds -, even thousands of children who were not in school, on our way to a village that previously had no primary school whatsoever. Now thanks to a small grant from our Embassy here, and a tremendous effort by the parents, the village and the government, there are two functioning classrooms, excellent teachers, with only the first and second grade, with over 50 students in each class. The students finishing first grade could read as well as students anywhere in the United States. At the end of my visit, when we asked if any of the students wanted questions, someone told me that some of the students might use the question-and-answer period to make unreasonable demands of me. One little boy finishing second grade, dressed in his coat and tie, raised his hand and said, "I wish we could have the resources so that we could have a third grade I could go to, and a bathroom at the school. This did not seem to me to be an unreasonable request.

Thank you.

President and First Lady | Vice President and Mrs. Gore
Record of Progress | The Briefing Room
Gateway to Government | Contacting the White House
White House for Kids | White House History
White House Tours | Help | Text Only

Privacy Statement


PNTR and the Levin-Bereuter Proposal: The Prospects for a More Open China

PNTR and the Prospects for a More Open China

Permanent Normal Trade Relations

Remarks of the Honorable Gene B. Sperling

Consumer Interests in the Global Trading System

Remarks to International Aviation Club