08.11.2010 - Director-General

Why learning is the currency that counts: 40 - 'South China Morning Post', Hong Kong, China

© UNESCO/Michel Ravassard – UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova

This article, authored by UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova, was published on the Opinion section of the 'South China Morning Post' (Hong Kong, China) on 8 November 2010

As political leaders prepare for the G20 summit in Seoul, they are grappling with an agenda dominated by concerns over current account deficits, currency wars and global economic recovery. These are critical issues. But I can't help wondering why the G20 is not doing more to address the great human capital account deficit of our day - the deficit in education.

Education counts. For evidence of its the power to transform a country, look no further than the G20 host nation. The Republic of Korea's extraordinary achievements have been built on sustained growth, underpinned by rising capital investment, industrial policy and strong macro-economic policy. But it was education that fuelled the virtuous cycle of rising productivity, innovation, broad-based economic growth and declining poverty.

In the 21st century, it is human capital - more than financial, natural resources and geographic location - that will shape our common destiny. Human capital comes from education. It is the best way to recovery and sustainable growth, and not only for developing countries. Look at Britain: even in the context of the most austere budget proposal in recent history, education is ring-fenced.
Whatever their differences in economic policy, China, India and Brazil all recognise that, in our increasingly knowledge-based global economy, learning is the real currency of the future.

If the goal of the summit is to "generate strong, sustainable and balanced growth", we need to tackle the shocking imbalances in human capital in our global economy. There cannot be "balanced growth and sustainable recovery" when 70 million children of primary school age are out of school - this figure being just the tip of the iceberg. Today's human capital imbalances are tomorrow's inequalities in income, employment and health, and the source of more troubles.

What has any of this to do with the upcoming G20 meeting? I see at least three reasons why education should be placed at the top.

First, overcoming the global human capital account imbalance would boost prospects for an economic recovery and sustainable growth. With a big push on education, sub-Saharan Africa and many low-income countries can emerge as a growth pole, creating opportunities for investment and expanding markets.
Second, the G20 needs a stronger strategy for development. While the G8 has focused on aid, debt relief and problems in nutrition and maternal health, the G20 agenda has not included these issues. As the balance of power between the two groupings shifts to the larger one, there is a danger that global poverty reduction will drift down the international agenda.

Third, there is good realpolitik involved here. A breakthrough on education is achievable - and the G20 could lead it - whereas getting a deal on the current account deficits and exchange rate valuation will be much more difficult.
Unesco has been working along with Korean authorities to promote innovative education policies, which must be a priority not only in Seoul, but in future G20 meetings.

Irina Bokova
Director General of UNESCO

Copyright (c) 2010. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

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