13.11.2012 - ODG

Putting Education First - Al-Hayat

Published in Al-Hayat, in Arabic, on the occasion of WISE summit, on 13 November 2012.

Education holds the key to the future. And yet, across the world, we are failing to meet its promise. The World Innovation Summit for Education is an opportunity to renew our commitment to quality education for all. This reflects the leadership of Her Highness Sheikha Moza, as UNESCO Special Envoy on Basic and Higher Education and United Nations Millennium Development Goal Advocate – to get every girl and boy into school.

The knowledge societies we need for the 21st century will be built by giving young women and men tools to shape positive change. In many parts of the world, this is a pipedream. UNESCO’s 2012 Education for All Global Monitoring Report on ‘Youth and Skills: Putting education to work’ shines the spotlight on this crisis in the making.

There are today 250 million children of primary school age who cannot read or write, and some 71 million teenagers who are out of secondary school. 200 million young people in developing countries have not completed primary school. Girls are hit hardest, and the poor face the steepest obstacles. All of this fuels adult illiteracy – there are 775 million women and men today who cannot read or write.

The price that societies pay for raising children without basic skills is unacceptable. This is a violation of individual dignity and human rights. It undermines development and tills the soil of unrest.

Governments must do far more to ensure every girl and boy gets the learning they need. This means helping children enrol in primary school and stay the course through secondary school. It means building early ties with the world of work. We need more programmes to train those who have missed out. The business world must also step up and support education systems far more. We need new partnerships between the public and private sector, because we are all in this together.

This does not happen on its own – it requires additional financing. We calculate that countries need $16 billion every year to ensure all children enter primary school by 2015 and an additional $8 billion to ensure universal lower secondary school enrolment. The benefits far outstrip the costs. UNESCO estimates that for every $1 spent on a child’s education, it will yield $10-$15 in economic growth over that person’s working life time. Everyone stands to gain.

For this, we need a breakthrough in education. This is the aim of the UN Secretary-General’s new global initiative, Education First, which UNESCO is helping to steer, with Her Highness Sheikha Moza. The importance of Her Highness’ new initiative, Educate a Child, also lies here -- to ensure every child receives a quality education. Our focus must fall especially on girls and young women. We cannot build knowledge societies on the basis of inequality and exclusion.

We must also redouble efforts to protect the right to education in all situations, including those of conflict. Her Highness Sheikha Moza was the first to raise the flag on this, and the conference on this question, held in the margins of the UN General Assembly on 21 September, was important for catalysing further international action.

To improve the quality of learning, we need a new deal on teachers. We are 1.7 million teachers short of what we need to achieve universal primary schooling by 2015. We must help countries expand their teaching force and support teachers as they deserve.

Most fundamentally, we must transform how we educate and what we educate for -- we need new skills for global citizenship. Education is decisive for nurturing new ways to live together and sustainably.

The challenges we face are clear. To tackle them, we must sharpen our action and develop innovative solutions. This is why the 2012 World Innovation Summit for Education is so important – to build together the future of education.

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