From "The State of the World's Children 1991," a report by the United Nations Children's Fund:

After almost four decades of rapid advance, the idea of education for all has now been brought to a halt in many nations of the developing world by the debt crisis and consequent cuts in government spending. . . .

The overall position in 1990 is that approximately 100 million 6- to 11-year-olds are not attending school (60 percent of them girls), and one in four adults in the world -- almost a billion people -- cannot read or write (two-thirds of them women).

Against this darkening background, the World Conference on Education for All opened in Jomtien, Thailand, in March 1990. Sponsored by the World Bank, the United Nations Development Program, UNESCO and UNICEF, the conference brought together almost 2,000 education leaders from over 150 countries to try to find ways and means of reaccelerating progress.

As many delegates to Jomtien pointed out, there is still an intimate connection between whether the burden of debt is reduced or not and whether children go to school or not. But it was also widely agreed that school enrollment and literacy could be improved, even within existing budgets, by a relatively small tilt in spending to favor primary schools for the many rather than higher education for the few.

Dollar for dollar, investments in primary education not only yield greater equity but also greater economic returns. By the same token, aid for education also needs rethinking. At present only 1 percent of all the industrialized world's educational aid goes into primary education.