TORONTO - Hip-shaking songstress Shakira is among the high-profile figures lending their voices in support of basic education for the world's children.

The Grammy-award winner is honorary chair of the Global Campaign for Education Action Week, which kicked off Monday to highlight the plight of some 72 million children and 226 million adolescents around the world who are currently not in school.

Shakira, 31, who hails from Colombia, spoke about growing up in the developing world where parents are desperate to provide education for their children.

She said education is a great strategy to reduce poverty and to deal with many development issues.

"I know this is a challenge, but it's also a historic opportunity for all of us," Shakira said from Washington, D.C., where she is slated to meet Tuesday with members of U.S. Congress.

"We know how to address this and it is within our reach, and we can truly be the architects of change and be the first generation in our history to bring education to all children so that no child is left behind."

As part of the campaign, non-governmental organizations in 120 countries are asking governments to keep "education for all" promises to achieve Millennium Development Goals, a set of development standards on education, health, literacy and poverty.

On Wednesday, 96 schools across Canada will join millions of other children taking part in the "World's Biggest Lesson."

At the highlight event in Toronto, students will lead peers, teachers and MPs in a lesson about the right for children to access quality education, and schoolkids across Canada will also take part in the Guinness World Record challenge.

Shakira was joined by World Bank president Robert Zoellick on a media conference call Monday to discuss the initiative, along with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown whom she praised for his "strong leadership" in universal education.

As British treasury chief in 2006, Brown pledged $15 billion over 10 years for education in the developing world - the largest offer of aid from a Group of Eight industrialized nation.

When asked if Canada was pulling its weight on funding, Gene Sperling, chair of the U.S. chapter of the Global Campaign for Education, said while both Canada and the U.S. have made progress there's more to be done.

"Our goal is to push everybody to go further in meeting the education for all promises that they've made and to commit their share of the probably $10 billion that is needed," said Sperling, an ex-White House economic adviser to former U.S. president Bill Clinton.

Brown said he will push to make education one of the major issues at the European Union summit in June, and urged members of the G8 to do the same when they meet in July.

"We know that delivering education for all is a test of our resolve to keep our promises. We know we must act out now," he said from London.

"If we meet our goals on education, we won't just transform those children's lives for good. By consigning childhood illiteracy to history, we will make poverty history, too."

-With files from The Associated Press


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