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Former Australian PM Gillard to head push for global education

Source: Reuters - Mon, 10 Feb 2014 22:42 GMT
Author: Reuters
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(Adds Gillard comments, detail throughout)

By Michelle Nichols

NEW YORK, Feb 10 (Reuters) - Former Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard was appointed on Monday to lead the Global Partnership for Education, which is working to help get some 57 million children into schools.

The Washington-based initiative brings together developing countries, donor governments, teachers, aid and civil-society groups, private-sector foundations and companies to map out national education programs, from building schools and training teachers to supplying books and food.

Established in 2002, the partnership has allocated more than $3.1 billion in financial aid for quality education for children.

But Gillard voiced concern about a 6.3 percent drop in global aid for basic education between 2009 and 2011.

"The decline really is associated with the stresses and strains that many governments are facing up to as a result of the global financial crisis and what that's done to economic activity and budgets," she told Reuters in an interview.

"One of the things we're particularly concerned about is whilst there's been some growth even in difficult times in aid dollars, education hasn't held its place in that growth," she said. "It's hard for governments to find aid dollars."

The latest U.N. figures show that in 2011, some 57 million children around the world were not in school.

Gillard, who will be chair of the partnership's board, said 250 million children were unable to read, write or master simple math.

Gillard said she hoped the spotlight on the global state of children's education by U.N. special envoy for education, former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, and Pakistani teenager Malala Yousafzai would help win more aid money for the cause.

Yousafzai, 16, was shot in the head by the Taliban in 2012 for demanding education for girls. She is now being educated in Britain as she cannot safely return home, and has become a crusader for education for children.

"Malala is going to stand for all of us as an incredible role model for what can be done for girls' education. Many of the kids that are missing out on education currently are girls and she is one of the great advocates for change," Gillard said.

Gillard was ousted as prime minister by her party in June after three years in the job and left politics in September. She has been writing her memoirs and in October 2013 was named a senior fellow at the Center for Universal Education by the Washington-based think tank Brookings Institution.

Her experience in global education includes co-chairing U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's Millennium Development Goals Advocacy Group in 2012 and 2013. She focused on universal primary education and gender equality and female empowerment. (Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Amanda Kwan)

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