YAOUNDE — Educators and civil society groups from 54 African countries are meeting in Cameroon to review the U.N.'s Millennium Development Goals on education ahead of a 2015 deadline. They say with barely a year to go it is more critical than ever that donor countries reaffirm their commitment to the world's poorest people and adopt strategies that can improve access to education.
A drum beat invites Baka and Mbororo ethnic groups spread in Central African countries to send their children to school. They still live their traditional lives in which education is not a priority.
Jean Pierre Edzoa, an official of Cameroon's Ministry of Social Affairs, wonders what future exists for the children without education.
"I can use one word, it is a disaster," he said. "We are doing everything possible to make the parents to understand that they are compromising the future of their children."
The efforts to increase school attendance has attracted the attention of the the World Wildlife Fund for Nature. Hanson Njiforti, the group's director for Cameroon, told VOA that his organization - best known for biodiversity conservation - is now focusing on education because so many children are not going to school.
"There has been a lot of initiative in the past to educate children and most of it has failed, so the study was to get the view of the Baka on what should be done to make sure that their kids go to school," Njiforti said. "We have in the past years been working in education where we have targeted the whole Congo Basin, but Cameroon has been taken as a pilot area where we shall get information that will be used to later extend to the other part of the Congo Basin."
Educators and civil society groups from the African countries meeting in Yaounde say although a recent report on the U.N. Millennium Development Goals indicates progress, many countries, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, will not meet targets for increasing education and gender equality in primary and secondary schools.
Bois Waruku of the Nairobi-based Africa Network Campaign on Education for all says their meeting in Yaounde gives them an opportunity to look beyond 2015.
"The sustainable development goals that civil societies have been pushing for is that beyond 2015, what should it be like? Before 2015 world leaders did commit to millennium development goals which were to be achieved by 2015, so a number of the goals that they committed to are coming to and end in 2015. Beyond 2015 what should it be like? We are actually to review emerging proposals which are coming from various organizations including the African Union on post-2015 development goals," said Waruku.
Beatrice Njenga, head of the Education Division at the African Union Commission, told VOA that educators are preparing a 50-year education program for Africa and need the support of funding agencies.
"If you want to support Africa, you need to understand Africa's very well articulated vision with priorities in education for 2063 so that all investment is towards a common vision," she said. "So unless we actually sit and put in place strategies to achieve what we need to achieve in 50 years, it will be 2063 and we will be still talking about the same thing."
The education experts say almost all African countries are off track on the Millennium Development Goals for education, but that poverty rates have been declining and comparatively more children are going to school, especially in the more than 30 countries where governments have begun implementing free primary education.