Introduction of the Reports of the Secretary-General
(2011 Annual Ministerial Review and the Thematic Discussion)
Remarks by Mr. Sha Zukang, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, Secretary-General of The 2012 UN Conference on Sustainable Development
Geneva, 5 July 2011, 3:00pm
H.E. Mr. Lazarous Kapambwe, President of ECOSOC,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am pleased to introduce the reports of the Secretary-General for the fifth Annual Ministerial Review and for this year’s thematic discussion. Both of these reports concern the broad theme of education.
The AMR Report reviews progress made on the education-related Millennium Development Goals and the Education for All goals. The reports indicate substantial but uneven progress. Allow me to share some specific achievements during this period.
Significantly, the right to basic education has been built into most national legislation. About 90 per cent of all countries have implemented legally-binding regulations, requiring children to attend school.
Over the past decade, some of the world’s poorest countries have rapidly increased primary enrolment. An additional 52 million children were enrolled in primary school during the last ten years. In sub-Saharan Africa, the primary-school net enrolment ratio increased by 31 per cent. And this was despite a strain on school infrastructure and other resources.
Much progress has also been made in reducing gender disparities in education. Gender parity has been achieved in many regions. Although the rate of progress varies, developing countries as a whole are moving in the right direction.
Finally, efforts are underway to better target children and young people at risk of marginalization. Many countries are using school grants and stipends, and are reducing the indirect costs of schooling. Cash-transfers, school feeding and other incentive programmes are becoming integral to ensuring access to education.
Despite these important advances, the reports point to a number of challenges that continue to hinder progress in this sector.
First, we have learned that quality education is just as important as universal access. Despite completing a full cycle of primary education, many children have not acquired basic literacy and numeracy skills. A recent survey of 21 developing countries showed that young adults with five years of basic education still had a 40 per cent chance of being illiterate.
Without quality education, young people and adults often don’t have skills needed by labour markets. Too often, education and training curricula are also outdated and irrelevant. Therefore, young people leave school early or without marketable skills.
The acute shortage of qualified teachers in many countries continues to challenge efforts to improve quality and access. High pupil/teacher ratios are disproportionately concentrated in rural areas, as well as poor communities. Inadequate teacher recruitment and training only adds to the problem.
Despite advancements in gender parity, there are still more girls out-of-school worldwide. These barriers to progress are unacceptable.
Increasing the rate of progress on the internationally agreed education goals is vital. Otherwise, we risk jeopardizing achievement on other development goals. Reproductive health child mortality productivity and entrepreneurship and sustainable development are all impacted by education.
Societies without quality education are at a huge disadvantage. It makes achieving the internationally agreed development goals - including the MDGs - much more difficult. The report for the Thematic Discussion presents recent trends and explains the challenges in this regard.
Our world has been shaken in recent years. The series of global crises have also impacted education.
The global economic recovery continues to be uneven and fragile. Although current data is limited, we know periods of economic hardship can negatively impact enrolment rates, especially for girls.
Furthermore, faced with rising food prices, the poorest households are forced to spend a greater proportion of income on food. This can negatively affect households’ ability to invest in children’s education. Food insecurity can also lead to serious implications for children’s nutrition and learning ability.
Add to this, challenges in access to energy - which impede advancement in education.
Natural disasters and the effects of climate change also have profound implications for access to quality education. In addition to the risk of physical injury and death, such crises retard students’ educational progress.
Finally, the rights of the 40 per cent of out-of-school children living in conflict-affected states must be addressed. In these extreme situations, children’s access to quality education is routinely threatened. Students and teachers are often deliberately targeted by armed groups.
We must overcome these challenges through concerted policy interventions.
In that context, I would like to briefly mention the National Voluntary Presentations. The reports for the High-Level segment are complemented by eleven reports prepared by countries as part of the National Voluntary reporting. Many of these reports reinforce the messages of the Secretary-General’s reports, particularly on the importance of quality in education.
I congratulate the NVP countries.
Their reports, by focusing on national efforts in education will greatly support Council discussions. They present innovative examples of Governments meeting the challenges before them.
We must use this and other information to harness the momentum on progress made since 2000.
There is urgent need for a reinvigorated global partnership for development and strong political commitments. And there is need for innovative thinking on how education can be improved to serve the needs and aspirations of people in the 21st century.
Each of us in this room has benefited from knowledge and skills acquired through education. We have an obligation to ensure that those opportunities are made available to everyone.
I look forward to renewed commitment on the education-related MDGs and EFA goals.