Newspaper clipping – iol online – 11 July 2010

Invest in our children, says Zuma

President Jacob Zuma read fellow leaders a lesson before heading out with them to Sunday’s World Cup final.

Just hours before the Dutch-Spanish final, Zuma convened leaders from Burkina Faso, Kenya, Togo, Mozambique, the Netherlands and neighbouring Zimbabwe at an education summit in Pretoria. At the meeting, he urged African leaders to ensure parents don’t have to pay school fees or buy uniforms – costs that can keep children out of school. He also called on leaders from developed countries to honour pledges to support education in poor countries.
“We convened this summit because of our strongly held view that the first soccer World Cup tournament on African soil should have a lasting legacy,” Zuma said at the meeting, which was also attended by United Nations and international sporting officials.
“The most important investment in the future of any nation is in education. No legacy could be higher than that,” Zuma said.

The summit is the culmination of 1GOAL, a campaign supported by football’s governing body FIFA to use the attention the World Cup commands to publicize the need to get more children into school. An estimated 72 million children aren’t in school and millions more do not have access to quality education, according to 1GOAL.

Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe was among those at the summit. Post-independence Zimbabwe’s education was once widely praised, preparing graduates for high-level jobs across southern Africa and in the West. But with the nation’s economic collapse blamed on Mugabe’s policies and its international isolation because of his poor human rights records, young Zimbabweans are dropping out of school and leaving the country to work or beg.

Zuma’s administration had been criticized for inviting Mugabe for the World Cup final and summit. Last week, Ayanda Ntsaluba, a top foreign ministry official, told reporters asking Mugabe was “a normal invitation extended to a sitting president of a neighbouring country”.

While Mugabe did not address the summit, Nthabisng Tshabalala, a 12-year-old in her blue-and-white Soweto school uniform, did.
“I wish all children could go to school like I do,” she said.

Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende said the international financial crises could not be an excuse.
“Destroying education and health systems by cutting budgets is not the way to achieve sound economic recovery,” he said.

Ensuring all the world’s children have a chance to finish at least primary school is one of eight goals set at a UN conference in 2000. The Millennium Development Goals, which include halving poverty and halting the spread of Aids as well as the education target, were to be met by 2015. With five years to go, the struggle to meet the deadline will be the subject of a UN conference in September in New York.

Unesco, the UN cultural and educational organization, is urging donors to step up aid for education in Africa. It says aid for basic education in sub-Saharan Africa has dropped from $1.72-billion in 2007 to $1.65-billion in 2008, even as more children enroll in schools.
“Education is Africa’s most powerful antidote to poverty,” Unesco Director-General Irina Bokova said in a statement last week lauding Zuma for holding Sunday’s summit.
“Leaders must seize this occasion to put their full support behind providing Africa’s children with a quality education.” – Sapa-AP