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Universal Primary Education – Time to make stock by Robert Verboon

Have you ever heard of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals? It’s a declaration that government leaders from 189 (!) countries have signed back in September 2000. These government leaders are bound to achieve eight concrete goals that were to be met by 2015. The UN pinned down achievement indicators per different goal, that are all individually measurable.

Since we’ve hit 2015, it’s necessary (and interesting) to make stock of these development targets.
From looking at our own experience in rural South Africa I personally like to scrutinize the target “achievement global primary education”.

The complete targets reads:

“Ensure that, by 2015, children everywhere, boys and girls alike, will be able to complete a full course of primary schooling”.

In conjunction with these aims the achievement indicators are:

  • The balance of the amount of children that attend school, and the amount of children that are of the school going age.
  • Amount of children that start school in the first class and finish until the fifth class.
  • The scale of children that successfully finish elementary school in comparison with the total amount of children from the same age category
  • Youth literacy from the age group 15-24 year olds.


South Africa
Opinions whether or not South Africa is a developing country vary. When looking at the global standards South Africa has an average national income and a great amount of mineral resources. The financial, legal, communication-, energy- and transport industries are well developed; its stock exchange belongs to the top 10 of the world, and the infrastructure is also good.

On the other hand, the unemployment rate (of 26% ) is extremely high, and the economical problems inherited by the apartheid era, poverty, and lack of economic strength for the less fortunate population groups, are still very much alive. High crime rates, corruption and aids also contribute to these issues. South Africa’s current economical situation knows two sides: the modern, developed economy in and around the big cities are in stark contrast with the many (rural) areas where people can only keep themselves busy with survival agriculture.

Our organization Kwasa is active to fight issues that involve survival agriculture, aids and chronicle unemployment. Looking from that context I am making stock of the Millennium Development Goals:

To go to school or not go to school
Unfortunately we have concluded that there are still too many children from rural areas that still don’t go to school. Despite several attempts from the government (among others school money allowance / free school uniforms) the financial threshold to send children off to school is still too high. In addition to the financial threshold, many children have to look after their younger siblings or work on the land. This way they have direct use or benefit for the parents. These short-term benefits unfortunately weigh heavier than the long-term benefits for most families.

There’s also no school attendance officer who supervises the situation.

Quality of the education
Even for children who do attend school it’s not always what they were hoping for. Especially in the rural areas teachers often aren’t properly trained. It’s not a highly respected profession and very difficult to attract new and enthusiastic teachers. It’s relatively easy to become a teacher, and the lesson materials aren’t up to standard.

Most teachers have to walk several hours to reach the school and don’t always feel like it. There’s hardly any inspection on whether or not teachers are present.  I’ve seen with my own eyes how one school with 600 pupils only had 4 teachers for that day. The situation makes good quality education impossible.


On the rise
But there’s also a lot of good news. Twenty percent of the annual government budget is being spend on education. Ninety percent of that amount is going to primary education. Meaning the government is taking education seriously and is making efforts to improve the educational system. However, it needs time, it doesn’t improve overnight.

When I solely look at the rural areas of South Africa we must conclude the Millennium Development Goals haven’t been met in 2015, and that’s a shame! But we knew that the goals very ambitious. We are heading in the right direction because of these goals. We are very happy and gratefull for the Millennium Development goals despite the fact that they haven’t been met YET. We’ll continue fighting for good (primary) education because it is the doorway that closes poverty.

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Robert Verboon – Vice President of Kwasa 



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