NAIROBI, Kenya – Somalia and Haiti are the two worst countries in which to be a school child at a time when $4.6 billion has been cut from education budgets worldwide, a new report released Monday said.
Chronic under-investment in education means that 69 million children are out of school around the world, said the report released by the Global Campaign for Education.
The report — "Back to School?" — said poor countries are "teetering on the brink of an education crisis."
Of the five countries at the bottom of the list, four are in Africa, and three of those are in East Africa. The ranking rated Somalia, Eritrea, Haiti, Comoros and Ethiopia at the bottom five based on access to basic education, teacher-student ratio, and educational provisions for girls.
Even Kenya, considered successful compared to its East African neighbors, had to delay free education to 9.7 million children over the last year due to budgetary constraints, the report said.
The report was produced by Education International, Plan International, Oxfam, Save the Children and VSO.
World leaders meet at U.N. headquarters in New York this week to discuss the Millennium Development Goals.
One of goals was for universal primary education, and the world's school children have seen much progress over the last decade. The U.N. says the number of children not in school has dropped from 106 million in 1999 to 69 million in 2008.
Sub-Saharan Africa has seen its classrooms fill over the last decade, though the continent still accounts for almost half of the total of unenrolled children. In 1999, 58 percent of African children were enrolled in primary school. By 2008 the figure was 76 percent.
The Global Campaign for Education is calling on leaders meeting this week to make education funding a priority so that the target of universal access to primary education is met by 2015.
"If education budgets are not protected from the ravages of the financial crisis all that progress could be jeopardized and generations will be condemned to poverty," Gordon Brown, Britain's former prime minister, said in the report.
"For years the international community has acknowledged the fundamental role education plays in development," he said. "Today it must back these words with renewed action."
The U.N. children's agency said in new research ahead of the U.N. summit that providing services to the world's poorest children is not only the right thing to do, but also more cost-effective than the current policy of mainly helping what it called the "less poor" in more-accessible areas.
UNICEF said its research shows that spending $1 million helping children age 5 and younger in the most remote and disadvantaged areas would prevent 60 percent more deaths then the current approach, what it called "a stunningly higher return on investment."