A new report from UNICEF says 46 countries have fallen short in getting as many girls into school as boys by 2005. The report, ?Gender Achievements and Prospects in education,? says poverty, gender discrimination, poor governance and disease are some of the reasons children are denied an education. Others include conflict and natural disasters. Cream Wright is a top UNICEF official on education. From Beijing, China, where the report was released, he spoke to English to Africa reporter Joe De Capua about education in sub-Saharan Africa.

Cream Wright describes sub-Saharan Africa as a ?mixed bag,? adding, ?It is the worst affected region in the world in terms of getting children into school overall. But South Asia fares slightly worse in terms of percentage of girls gotten into school. However, the story for Africa is one that suggests there has been progress because Africa started from such a very low base?So, some progress has been made from that very, very low base. Unfortunately, there have also been major obstacles along the way so that problems like HIV/AIDS, and war and various other civil conflicts have disrupted that kind of steady progress that was made in the early years. And so Africa still has a long way to go, sub-Saharan Africa, in getting as many girls into school as boys.?

Mr. Wright says, however, it?s not just about numbers. ?It?s getting girls to experience education in as positive a way as boys so that they go on to help build societies that are just and equitable,? he says.

The UNICEF report recommends abolishing school fees and other charges as national policy; providing scholarships and other financial incentives for disadvantaged children; placing a cap on school charges for uniforms and other fees; treating countries with low enrollment as ?emergency? countries and offer immediate funding and technical support; and finally using the school system to deliver other essential services such as good nutrition, immunization and hygiene education.?