Volume 15, No.3 - March 2011

Feature articles

Education: Quality, access and innovation


Education is a fundamental factor in achieving success and growth in different aspects of life. Education equips people with the knowledge to achieve all of the Millennium Development Goals by providing the skills to increase income, create employment opportunities, reduce hunger and poverty and enhance socio-economic development.

In the case of women, educating women and girls has proven to lead to higher earnings, improved child and family health and reduced fertility rates.

In 2000, world leaders adopted the United Nations Millennium Declaration where the second Millennium Development Goal (MDG-2) is to “Achieve Universal Primary Education,” ensuring that children across the globe will be able to complete a full course of primary schooling by 2015.

In an effort to improve education, the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) will follow the six goals of “Education for All” of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). These goals are: (1) expand early childhood care and education, (2) provide free and compulsory primary education for all, (3) promote learning and life skills for young people and adults, (4) increase adult literacy by 50 per cent, (5) achieve gender parity by 2005, gender equality by 2015 and (6) improve the quality of education.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has prioritized the issue of equal access to education, empowerment of women through girls’ education and gender equality, education in emergencies and post-crisis education, early childhood development and school readiness and enhancing quality in primary and secondary education. To reach these goals, UNICEF has been working on a series of initiatives, including back on track education, back to school campaigns, child-friendly schools, school readiness, essential learning, learning plus and life skills based education.

Importance of Education

Education provides people with the ability to access tools that improves people’s lives. According to the Millennium Development Goals Report 2010, poverty and unequal access to schooling does not stop the high adolescent birth rates. In fact, unequal access to education jeopardizes the health and opportunities for social and economic advancement for girls and women.

The report also notes the social progress made from education. In particular, contraceptive use is four times higher among women with a secondary education than among those with no education. For women in the poorest households and among those with no education, negligible progress was seen over the last decade.

Children who receive early childhood care and education are more likely to develop basic cognitive and language skills, and be better socially and emotionally equipped. A proper education broadens opportunities for young people and helps develop the skills necessary to stimulate sustainable economic development.

Problems with Education

Some of the education implementation problems across the globe are due to the limited access to education, high drop out rates, grade repetition and poor quality of education. Today, at least 72 million children of school age are still denied the right to education due to financial, social or other challenges, including high fertility rates, HIV/AIDS and armed conflict.

In a report by UNESCO, titled “Education for All—Global Monitoring Report 2010: Reaching the Marginalized”, the publication estimated that achieving MDG-2 of universal primary education and goals of “education for all” across 46 low-income countries by 2015 would require an additional $24 billion per year in addition to the estimated existing national spending on basic education of $12 billion in 2007.

There is a fear that progress made in past 10 years will stall or be reversed as a consequence of the slower economic growth. In fact, many of the world’s poorest countries are not on track to meet the 2015 education targets.

In countries in which accessibility is not a problem, quality of the education available still remains a challenge. Of the students enrolled in school, millions drop out or leave school without having gained the most basic literacy and numeracy skills due to poor quality of education. To ensure schooling is useful, it is necessary to enforce proper infrastructure and a relevant curriculum.

Teachers are necessary to facilitate learning and education; therefore it is vital to make sure there is not a shortage of teachers. Furthermore, a shortage of teachers can be a major barrier to delivering education. To further ensure quality, teachers need to be well trained and motivated.

Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon elaborates on the importance to financing “Education for All” stating, that “aid for education produces great returns for poverty reduction, economic growth, child survival and democracy.”

For example, the abolition of primary school fees in Burundi resulted in a threefold increase in primary-school enrolment since 1999, reaching 99 percent in 2008.

Looking to the future

This year’s theme of the High-level Segment (HLS) of the ECOSOC Substantive Session in Geneva is education. The 2011 Annual Ministerial Review (AMR) will focus on the theme of “Implementing the internationally agreed goals and commitments in regard to education”. The theme aims to bring governments and civil society together to assess progress and challenges to ensure the MDG-2 is met by 2015.

To prepare for the 2011 AMR, ECOSOC is hosting events on the national, regional and global level. The activities include a philanthropy meeting on “partnering with the philanthropic community to promote education for all”, global preparatory meetings, regional preparatory meetings for Asia and the Pacific as well as the Arab region, national workshops and two e-discussions.

The e-discussions focus on “Building a future for today’s youth: improving access to education” and on “Education: Closing the Gap.” The e-discussion on closing the gap will provide an open multi-stakeholder forum for academia, policy-makers and practitioners to discuss the achievement of education and learning for all. The forum also offers stakeholders a venue to formulate concrete, actionable recommendations for consideration by the ECOSOC AMR.

The e-discussion on improving access to education is organized by DESA and the United Nations Academic Impact (UNAI) on Facebook. It intends to provide a platform for the youth to express themselves, mobilize governments and the international community, demonstrate a link between education and the MDGs, and highlight the role of UNAI and its member institutions.

ECOSOC hopes to finalize the session with a Ministerial Declaration on “Implementing the internationally agreed goals and commitments in regard to education”.

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International migration and development


More people live outside their country of birth today than at any time in history. In 2010, the number of international migrants was estimated at 214 million, up from 195 million in 2005. Females account for 49 per cent of the total. Six out of every 10 international migrants (128 million) reside in a developed country, and the majority of those (74 million) come from a developing country.

Impact of the economic crisis

The recent economic and financial crisis reduced, but not halted, the growth in the number of international migrants. In developed countries, the number of international migrants increased by 10.5 million from 2005 to 2010, down from 12.8 million from 2000 to 2005. In developing countries, the number of international migrants almost doubled from 2000-2005 (4.0 million) to 2005-2010 (8.2 million) partially as a result of the increase in the number of refugees.

Migrant workers have been hard hit by rising levels of unemployment, partially because they are concentrated in economic sectors, such as construction, manufacturing and tourism, that have been seriously affected by the economic downturn. Despite rapidly rising levels of unemployment among migrants, the arrival of new migrants has continued. Large-scale returns of migrants have not taken place, because the majority of migrants are well integrated in their countries of residence.

In 2009, remittances to low- and middle-income countries fell for the fist time since 1980 reaching $316 billion dollars; $20 billion less than in 2008. Yet, remittances have been more resilient to the effects of the crisis than other types of financial flows.

An increasing number of Governments of both countries of origin and countries of destination of international migrants are committed to finding effective ways of leveraging the beneficial aspects of international migration for development. In 2010, multilateral projects on international migration and development totalled some 250 million US dollars. Policies to maximize the developmental impacts of international migration range from lowering the transfer costs of remittances and leveraging remittances for development to encouraging expatriate communities to invest in their home countries, lowering the costs of migration and promoting circular migration.

Protecting the rights of migrants

The recent financial and economic crises have contributed to a resurgence of xenophobia and thus underscored the importance of taking effective measures to protect the rights of all migrants. By June 2010, 82 Member States had ratified at least one of the three international instruments relative to migrant workers, namely, the 1990 International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, the 1949 International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention concerning Migration for Employment (Revised) (No. 97) or the 1975 ILO Convention concerning Migration in Abusive Conditions and the Promotion of Equality of Opportunity and Treatment of Migrant Workers (Supplementary Provisions) (No. 143). Combined, those Member States hosted 32 per cent (69 million) of all international migrants worldwide.

International migration and development at the United Nations

The issue of international migration and development remains high on the agenda of the United Nations. In 2006, the General Assembly convened the High-level Dialogue on International Migration and Development, the first high-level event at the United Nations exclusively devoted to international migration. Participants recognised that international migration, development and human rights were intrinsically interconnected and that international migration, supported by appropriate policies, could be a positive force for development in both countries of origin and destination.

Since the High-level Dialogue, activities of the United Nations system that seek to maximize the opportunities of international migration for development and to limit its negative impacts have multiplied. In 2006, the Secretary-General established the Global Migration Group (GMG), which aims to coordinate the work of 14 United Nations entities, the World Bank and the International Organization for Migration (IOM). The GMG has been tasked to promote the wider application of all relevant international and regional instruments and norms relating to international migration, and to encourage the adoption of more coherent, comprehensive and better coordinated approaches to the issue of international migration.

As follow-up to the 2006 High-level Dialogue, the General Assembly decided in 2008 to organize an informal thematic debate on international migration and development in 2011 and to hold a second High-level Dialogue on international migration and development in 2013.

The 2006 High-level Dialogue also established the Global Forum on Migration and Development (GFMD), an informal, state-led, voluntary and non-binding process providing a platform for Governments to share good practices and lessons learnt. The Global Forum is linked to the United Nations through the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on International Migration and Development. The Global Forum, which has held four annual meetings since 2007, has attracted delegates from over 150 Member States and numerous observers from the United Nations and other international organizations.

Improving the evidence base: data on migrant stocks by age and sex

In response to the growing demand for policy-relevant data on international migration, the Population Division has produced, for the first time, estimates of the number of international migrants by age and sex, for every country in the world. The publication International Migrants by Age, Population Facts, No. 2010/6 provides some highlights of these estimates.

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UN launches year-long celebration of vital role of world’s forests


Recognizing the role that forests play in everything from mitigating climate change to providing wood, medicines and livelihoods for people worldwide, the United Nations kicked off on 2 February a year-long celebration to raise awareness of the value of this important resource.

In his speech at the launch ceremony, Sha Zukang, the Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, noted that political interest in forests has been rising, and stressed that that interest should be translated into action. “We have to make sure that the billions of dollars pledged towards forests and climate change financing is actually released and applied to sustainable forest management,” Mr. Sha said.

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