Ethiopian school children attend a class at a school in Addis Ababa (File Photo)
Ethiopian school children attend a class at a school in Addis Ababa (File Photo)

As the United Nations begins its much anticipated summit to examine global progress towards the Millennium Development Goals, a new report finds mixed results for efforts to improve the quality of education in East Africa. 

World leaders have gathered in New York City to review world progress towards the Millennium Development Goals, an ambitious set of targets aimed improving living conditions worldwide by the year 2015.

With just five years left in the 15-year plan, a new report released by the Global Campaign for Education finds that great strides have been made towards the second goal of universal primary education, but warns that progress is likely to be reversed unless international donors remain focused on education.

The group also highlights the great disparities in education for children across east Africa.  The report found that Somalia was the worst country on earth for schoolchildren, with Ethiopia and Eritrea not far behind, but praised countries such as Rwanda and Tanzania for their concerted efforts to achieve universal primary education during the past 10 years.

According to the Global Campaign for Education, Tanzania has enrolled an additional three-million students since 2000, and Rwanda's focus on primary education has lead to significant improvements in quality of the country's schools.

Kenya was lauded for its drastic increase in school enrollment; the recent move to eliminate primary school fees has allowed 1.5 million more students to receive basic education, but recent budget shortfalls have forced the government to delay education funding for nearly 10-million children.

The head of policy for the Global Campaign for Education, Lucia Fry, warns that due to the global financial crisis similar cutbacks await other east African countries if the international community fails to maintain its commitment to education.

"In east Africa we have seen some of the most remarkable gains in children's enrollment; largely due to a combination of governments prioritizing education in their budget and, of course, abolition of fees in education," Fry said. "What we are worried about for those countries is that their progress is going to be undercut by lack of donor commitments to support them.  Many of these countries have large financing gaps, good plans for education, but are facing severe budget squeezes."

Fry says education funding worldwide faces a "looming crisis" and is likely to be cut by around $4.6 billion during the next two years.

In a report released earlier this year, the U.N. Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization found 72-million children were still without access to education.  The UNESCO report found a nearly $16-billion annual gap in education funding worldwide.

The Global Campaign for Education warns that if that gap is not closed the international community will fall far short of achieving the Millennium Development Goals by 2015.