Experts at UN-backed forum stress lifelong learning as cornerstone for development

A student writes on a chalkboard at a school in Bamako, Mali. Photo: UNICEF/MLIA2012-00888/Tanya Bindra

20 March 2013 – Access to education and lifelong learning must be at the heart of the development agenda, global experts stressed at a United Nations-backed conference in Dakar, Senegal.

“Inequalities limit education and learning opportunities for the most disadvantaged and excluded children,” said the Deputy Executive Director of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Geeta Rao Gupta, at the Global Consultation on Education in the Post-2015 Development Agenda.

“Girls, children with disabilities, children living in conflict zones, nomadic children and children forced to work to help their families make ends meet are among the key vulnerable groups,” she said. “We must place equity and inclusion front and centre in our post-2015 plans.”

Over 100 representatives from UN agencies, donors, academia and civil society organizations attended the two-day conference, which was co-organized by UNICEF and the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and which wrapped up yesterday.

During the conference, participants mapped out ways to ensure all children, youth and adults – especially the most disadvantaged – are able to realize their right to learn.

While access to education has increased over the past 20 years, there are still some 61 million children of primary-school age who are left out and many of them live in poor communities and impoverished neighbourhoods.

“Education is not only a human right, it’s also an enabler for realizing other rights. We know that education is key in reducing mortality and morbidity rates; eradicating poverty and hunger; strengthening resilience to natural hazards; and ending abuse, violence and armed conflict,” said UNESCO’s Assistant Director-General for Education, Qian Tang.

The conference is part of the ‘global conversation’ to discuss development goals as the 2015 target date for achieving the anti-poverty targets known as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) approaches.

Conference delegates unanimously agreed that education for all remains an “unfinished agenda” and recommended further commitment from the international community, with a stronger focus on equity and quality, to shape the global development agenda beyond the 2015 deadline.

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