UNESCO Director-General calls on global leaders to unite for Education for All
“We need to act together as this issue goes beyond all our political, cultural and economic differences,” said Irina Bokova, Director‐General of UNESCO, as she opened the High-Level Ministerial Meeting on Wednesday 21 November, part of the 2012 Global EFA Meeting (GEM), which aims to collectively speed impetus to reach the 2015 Education for All goals.
Ms Bokova stressed the importance of equity in education systems as well as the quality of education, including teachers. Improving the relevance of curricula and links between school, society and the workplace was vital, she said. Ultimately, education was the key to inclusive sustainable development, social inclusion, employment and full citizenship, Ms Bokova said She quoted French writer and humanist Victor Hugo, who said that “education is lighting a light in darkness”.
In a video message to the delegates, UN Secretary‐General Ban Ki‐moon urged all the world’s leaders to give priority to his global education initiative, Education First in their national policies, reminding them that its goals were fully aligned with those of Education for All: namely, put every child in school; improve the quality of learning and foster global citizenship.
Sheikha Moza bint Nasser, UNESCO Special Envoy on Basic and Higher Education, asked what we would say to children if the EFA goals were not met. She called for greater ambition, effort, and credibility in order to see concrete developments by 2015. Michaelle Jean, UNESCO Special Envoy for Haiti drew attention to the destruction wrought by Hurricane Sandy that had recently destroyed over 100 schools. She was alarmed at the fact that half a million youth still had no access to education and were thus denied opportunities for jobs and growth? Pascal Canfin, Minister responsible for Development at the French Ministry for Foreign Affairs spoke about girls' education in Africa, emphasizing that French assistance aimed to address girls' exclusion from a holistic standpoint, from schools to sanitation to transport. All three drew attention to the importance of better skills for jobs.
“Our generation is not a lost generation! “
To mark the official launch of the Youth Version of the 2012 EFA Global Monitoring Report (GMR), two of its 12 young authors addressed the meeting. Lubna Sadek from Egypt declared “Our generation is not a lost generation! That’s why we called the report Be Skilled, Be Employed, Be the Change Generation”. Another, Romain Oria from France, held up a pen and called it “a weapon of mass education”. He drew applause when he said “If you think EFA is too expensive, think of military budgets… put pens in the hands of your citizens, not guns!”
The Global EFA Meeting is bringing together around 80 global leaders to review collective efforts to reach the EFA goals and reassess how the EFA movement is coordinated. According to the 2012 GMR, about 61 million children of primary-school age and 71 million children of lower secondary-school age are still out of school. At least 250 million children cannot read or count, even if they have spent four years at school.
The meeting is expected to result in clear commitments from the international community and build on support for Education First to mobilize awareness of EFA and the role of education in achieving the other international development goals.
Following the opening ceremony, Mr Placido Domingo was designated UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador. The evening closed with a concert.
Senior officials and side events
The High-Level Ministerial Meeting was preceded by a Senior Officials’ Meeting, at which Qian Tang, UNESCO Assistant Director‐General for Education, reminded participants of the need to accelerate joint action towards the EFA goals and address post-2015 education and development scenarios. “Education stakeholders must shape the post-2015 development agenda and ensure that education features prominently,” he said.
Participants noted the progress documented in the 2012 GMR and regional EFA reports; discussed key issues related to education, skills and youth employment; and considered how to overcome obstacles to progress on EFA.
Side events at the GEM organized by EFA partners are addressing learning metrics, repetition and dropout, EFA and the MDGs, gender equality, early childhood education, teacher challenges, and the GMR findings. Partners included the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, the GMR team, UNGEI, UNICEF, OECD, Global Partnerships for Education, the Consultative Group on ECD and the International Task Force on Teachers for EFA.
A second Senior Officials’ Meeting will follow the High-Level Ministerial Meeting, in order to discuss the implementation of the GEM recommendations and identify the next concrete steps towards EFA.