updated 12/18/2006 3:57:53 AM ET 2006-12-18T08:57:53

Two of the nation’s largest charitable foundations announced plans Monday to work together to improve education in developing countries in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation announced a $40 million grant to the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, which in turn would add another $20 million toward their collaboration.

Much work has already been done by other groups to boost school attendance in Africa and South Asia, so the foundations plan to focus on improving the quality of education these children receive.

Despite efforts to improve teacher training and to give kids food and health care, millions remain illiterate in these regions, even those who are attending school, Hewlett president Paul Brest said.

The $40 million grant to the Hewlett Foundation would mostly likely be a one-time award, because the Gates Foundation has no plans to create a global education program, officials said.

The Hewlett Foundation is adding global education to its portfolio, Brest said.

Brest said the Hewlett Foundation made its first grants in global education about three years ago — mostly to pay for preliminary research — but the foundation’s board recently voted to explore a bigger commitment.

“We are looking for signs that we can develop pilot programs that have a good chance of being brought to scale by governments,” Brest said.

The foundations — which have collaborated before on U.S. education reform and global development — would be looking for other partners, including governments and organizations such as The World Bank, said Sylvia Mathews, president of the Gates Foundation’s Global Development Program. But she said it was too early to say who these might be.

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