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Can young people’s ideas help to fix a broken global education system?

UN Chief Antonio Guterres & UN Special Envoy Gordon Brown launch the multi-billion dollar finance facility – International Finance Facility for Education – for global education. (UN)
UN Chief Antonio Guterres & UN Special Envoy Gordon Brown launch the multi-billion dollar finance facility – International Finance Facility for Education – for global education. (UN)
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20 Sep 2022 01:09:17 GMT9
20 Sep 2022 01:09:17 GMT9
  • A symbolic declaration aims to spur political commitment to solving the global crisis in education
  • Over 500,000 youth in 170 nations consulted for the document submitted to the UN chief on Sept. 16

Tarek Ali Ahmad 

NEW YORK CITY: Today, 222 million young people living in regions affected by wars and disasters — in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and South America — are without access to uninterrupted or quality education.

According to analysis by Education Cannot Wait, the UN global fund for education in emergencies and protracted crises, 78.2 million of these children are not in school, and 119.6 million are not achieving minimum-competency levels in reading and mathematics despite attending school.

Against this bleak backdrop, a “Youth Declaration on Transforming Education” was presented to Antonio Guterres, the secretary-general of the UN, on Sept. 16 — the first day of the Transforming Education Summit, dubbed “Mobilization Day.”

The document outlines 25 principles, purposes, and demands to create and ensure an education system that is fully accessible and inclusive.

The declaration is the outcome of extensive consultation processes involving nearly 500,000 youth from more than 170 countries and territories. They contributed through over 20 in-person and online surveys and social media campaigns.

“We assert the need for an intersectional, intersectoral, and cross-cutting approach based on the principles of human rights, sustainable development, gender equality, climate justice, inclusion, equity, equality, and solidarity across all actions to transform education and its systems at the global, regional, national, local, and grassroots levels,” the declaration said.

Addressing the signatories of the document, Leonardo Garnier, special adviser to the Transforming Education Summit, said: “You are telling us authorities, experts, adults, I should say boomers, to stop being condescending, to stop being wiser-than-thou, to stop pretending we have all the answers when the truth is we didn’t even get the questions right.

Education Minister Takes Part in “Solutions Day” at Transforming Education Summit in New York. (Saudi Ministry of Education)

“For all this I really commend you and I thank you for keeping the hope alive.”

Guterres’ description of the challenge was couched in even more precise terms. “The problem is that the education systems that we have around the world are not fit for purpose,” he said.

“We need education as a factor to prepare us for the future and not for the past, to learn how to learn and to prepare societies that are societies based on cooperation and solidarity, instead of societies based on blind competitiveness among people.”

He added: “This summit is an important opportunity to introduce a clear vision of this transformative nature of what we have to do about education and your declaration is a very important tool to make us move in the right direction.”

The first day of the summit, which began just ahead of the 77th session of the UN General Assembly, featured ministers of education from a host of countries including Canada, Ecuador, Sierra Leone, Portugal and Chile.

Other speakers included youth leaders and delegates, as well as education-focused NGO heads. Among the youth delegates was Saudi Arabia’s Amani Alkhiami, who spoke of the transformation occurring in the Kingdom under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Vision 2030 reform plan.

“In Saudi Arabia, young people make (up) about two-thirds of the country’s population. These young people are digital natives, fast moving and more enabled and empowered than ever,” she said.

“In Saudi Arabia, under the ambitious 2030 Vision, we are developing, transforming and pushing the boundaries of what’s possible, quickly while collaborating with countries from around the world on issues such as development and sustainability, security and education for lifelong learning.

“This transformation is not momentary, but continuous, which means that we need agile and innovative solutions that are designed to meet the needs of each generation.” 

Dr. Hamad bin Mohammed Al-Sheikh, Saudi Arabia’s minister of education, attended the second day of the summit, dubbed “Solutions Day,” and spoke at a high-level session entitled “Effective Educational Ecosystems: Solutions for Open Digital Contents.”

He highlighted the importance of open electronic resources to support students, teachers and parents.

“Advanced technologies provide effective, equitable and comprehensive access to open electronic resources and platforms for learners with different backgrounds, interests and needs at any time and from anywhere in the world,” he said. The outlets can be “satellite channels, digital platforms, and text messages,” he added.

In the latest Human Development Index, a report released by the UN Development Program, Saudi Arabia ranked 35th out of 191 countries for 2022. The Kingdom also ranked 10th among the G20 countries and made the most progress between 2019 and 2021.

The ministerial sessions aimed to provide a forum for global partners to mobilize support for launching or expanding initiatives related to the summit’s themes — particularly focusing on the monetary crisis affecting education.

“But (to put it) loud and clear, we need more and better financing,” Amina Mohammed, the deputy secretary-general of the UN and chair of the Sustainable Development Group, said in her address on the second day.

“We can’t do this with fresh air, it has to be fueled, and fueling has to come from our domestic resources, from the support that we need in solidarity with the international community.”

Seconding Mohammed’s view, Guterres said the critical issue of finding innovative financing for education needed to be resolved.

The UN campaign is looking to expand the right to free education for all children. (UN)

“Education is the building block for peaceful, prosperous, stable societies,” he said. “Reducing investment virtually guarantees more serious crises further down the line.”

UN Special Envoy for Global Education Gordon Brown, who spoke alongside Guterres and Mohammed at the summit’s joint press conference, announced the biggest ever single investment in global education.

The fund, which is managed by the International Finance Facility for Education, is expected to grow from an initial $2 billion to $5 billion and then to $10 billion over time.

“We believe it can transform the prospects of millions of children,” Brown, a former British prime minister, said, adding that refugees and children growing up in crisis-ridden countries would be the main beneficiaries of the fund.

According to Guterres, the facility is not a new fund, but a mechanism to increase the resources available to multilateral banks to provide low-cost education finance.

“It will complement and work alongside existing tools, like the Global Partnership for Education, that provide grants and other assistance,” he said.

On Monday, the third day of the summit, dubbed “Leaders’ Day,” heads of state and government from around the world were due to present a national statement of commitment to transform education.

They were also scheduled to participate in roundtables and discussions on the learning crisis, financing education, digital transformation of education and living sustainably.

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