High-Level SDG Action Event on Education - Part 1

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28-Jun-2017 03:40:40
Increased support for education crucial to reaching Sustainable Development Goals, speakers tell High-Level General Assembly Event.

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Education was the key for achieving all 17 Goals in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, but realizing that Goal’s full potential would require increased financing, smarter use of technological innovations and greater access to learning opportunities, especially for women and girls, speakers told the high-level General Assembly event on education today.

The event, last in a series focusing on drivers of sustainable development, aimed to generate ideas for advancing global efforts to implement Goal 4 of the Agenda — ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education and promoting lifelong learning opportunities for all. Participants included ministers, senior Government officials and other high-level representatives.

General Assembly President Peter Thomson (Fiji) emphasized in his opening remarks that inclusive, equitable and quality education fuelled sustainable growth. However, Goal 4 would require a massive scaling-up of efforts. More than 263 million children worldwide were out of school, while one third of the world’s children lacked basic literacy and numeracy skills. Those living amid armed conflict and natural disasters were most vulnerable. “We are going to have to get the wheels of implementation turning faster than they have been,” he said.

It was critical to ensure investment in teachers, technological advances, and an increase of women and girls’ access to education, he said. Recalling his meeting with three young women who had been kidnapped by Boko Haram militants in Nigeria, he recounted how they spoke of their resolve to achieve higher education and their mission to call on the international community to step up its efforts for all girls around the world to have access to schooling. Those girls, he underscored, should serve as an inspiration for the meeting.

Amina Mohammed, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, said inclusive and equitable quality education would prepare the world’s young people to shape a more peaceful and prosperous society for everyone. Goal 4 was the world’s promise to deliver on equitable and quality education for all, she said, describing it as a “docking station” for all the other Sustainable Development Goals.

However, she emphasized that much work remained to be done on education in many countries, villages and communities. There must be a focus on several areas, including financing for education, which remained insufficient in many developing countries, greater use of technology, girls’ education, lifelong learning, and extending educational opportunities in humanitarian situations.

Irina Bokova, Director General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), pointed out that in developing countries, least developed countries, small island developing States, and refugee camps alike, when children were asked what they wanted most, the answer was education. Recalling that the 2030 Agenda had promised to leave no one behind, she said “that must start at the benches of schools”. Nonetheless, some 200 million adolescents worldwide, mostly girls, were still out of school and most of the illiterate adolescents were girls. Because of continuing discrimination, they dropped out of secondary education.

Moreover, some 50 per cent of refugees had no access to secondary education, she said. If all adults completed secondary education, 420 million people could be lifted out of poverty. However, funding to education had fallen for the sixth consecutive year. Governments should allocate 4 to 6 per cent of their gross domestic product (GDP) to education, and wealthier nations should support those countries in need. For its part, UNESCO would continue to lead “from the front”, she said, highlighting the various ways it was supporting education initiatives at the national and regional levels.

“The status quo is not acceptable,” she stressed, emphasizing the need for awareness-raising and placing education at the heart of international and national agendas. Financing, particularly at the national level, was essential. Partnerships were critical in attaining all the goals. “No one today can act alone,” she said. Education remained a prerequisite in the attainment of all 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

“My parents have never been to school, but they understand the importance of education,” said Saul Mwame, founder of Building Africa’s Future Foundation. His parents had worked hard their whole lives so that he could achieve his dreams of becoming an aeronautical engineer. His aim now was to ensure that not only boys got to go to school but girls as well, including his younger sister. It would not be possible for someone like him, born in the United Republic of Tanzania, to share his story had it not been for the work of the United Nations and civil society.

Education had an immense positive impact on the well-being of individuals, he continued, emphasizing that sustainable development could only be realized through quality education. His goal was to create awareness among young people on the critical role of education. Young people must be inspired to use their minds to solve the many problems the world faced. Human beings were created to help one another. “Nothing is impossible but what has been achieved is not enough,” he stressed. No matter what path one came from, he or she had a role to play in making education accessible to all people.

As the event drew to a close, Dessima Williams, Special Adviser, Sustainable Development Goals, Office of the President of the General Assembly, said today’s discussions were encouraging. She also welcomed the several initiatives announced today, including by the ministers of Norway and Ghana, for continuing to finance education initiatives and providing high school education for free, respectively.

Also presented during the day-long event were panel discussions focusing on four themes: what it would take to achieve Goal 4; innovation in education; education in vulnerable and humanitarian situations; and education for sustainable development and education for global citizenship.

Panel Discussions

A ministerial-level dialogue was held on “What will it take to achieve SDG 4?” moderated by Alice Albright, Chief Executive Officer, Global Partnership for Education. Panellists included Koumba Boly Barry, Special Rapporteur on the Right to Education; Ju-ho Lee, Former Minister for Education, Republic of Korea; and Helena Barroco, Diplomatic Adviser to Former President of Portugal Jorge Sampaio.

Joining in on the discussion, several ministers for education shared their countries’ experience and challenges.

Several speakers continued to underscore the need for financing in education.

In the ensuing discussion, ministers offered their national perspective.

Also participating in the discussion was Olga Nachtmannova, Deputy Minister for Education, Slovakia; John McLaughlin, Deputy Minister for Education of New Brunswick, Canada; Tilaye Gete, State Minister, Ethiopia; Mercedes Miguel, Minister for Education, Argentina; and Aishath Shiham, Minister for Education, the Maldives.

A panel was also held on “Innovation in Education”, moderated by Vikas Pota, Chief Executive Officer, Varkey Foundation. Panellists included Leslee Udwin, founder and Chief Executive Officer, Think Equal; Shai Reshef, President and founder, University of the People; Maggie MacDonnell, Winner of the Global Teacher Prize 2017; and Asmaa Alfadala, Director of Research and Content Development, World Innovation Summit for Education. It also featured Muhammad Usman, Executive Director, Centre for Renewable Energy and Action on Climate Change.

A panel discussion was held on the theme “Education in vulnerable and humanitarian situations”. Moderated by Dean Brooks, Director, Inter-Agency Network for Education in Emergencies, it featured presentations by Omar Abdi, Deputy Executive Director, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF); Yasmine Sherif, Director, Education Cannot Wait; Carolyn Miles, Chief Executive Officer, Save the Children USA; Geoffrey Loane, Education Adviser to the Director of Operations, International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC); and Fahad Al-Sulaiti, Chief Executive Officer, Education Above All, Qatar. Speaking as respondents were Petra Němcová, Happy Hearts Fund, and Dor Akech Achiek, Settlement Services International.

In the ensuing discussion, participants offered their national perspectives.

Also speaking were Leila Bokhari, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Norway and a representative of Australia.

Another panel, “Education for Sustainable Development and Education for Global Citizenship”, was moderated by Dankert Vedeler, Assistant Director-General, Ministry of Education of Norway and Co-Chair of the Education 2030 Steering Committee. Panellists included Hahn Choonghee, Co-Chair, Group of Friends on Education for Global Citizenship; Susan Hopgood, President, Education International; May East, Chief Executive, Gaia Education; and Fran Siracusa, Member, Global Goals Educator Task Force. Participating as respondents were Sanaya Bharucha, Teach for India, Senior Manager, Student Leadership and Musarrat Maisha Reza, Director of Programme Design and Development, Be the Peace-Be the Hope.

Also speaking today were representatives of Bulgaria, Namibia, Bolivia and Canada.
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