Finding Jobs for Millions of Highly Educated but Underqualified Youth Requires Targeted Training to Boost Skills, Economic and Social Council Told

11 July 2012
ECOSOC/6533

Finding Jobs for Millions of Highly Educated but Underqualified Youth Requires Targeted Training to Boost Skills, Economic and Social Council Told

11 July 2012
Economic and Social Council
ECOSOC/6533
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Economic and Social Council

2012 Substantive Session

25th & 26th Meetings (AM & PM)

Finding Jobs for Millions of Highly Educated but Underqualified Youth Requires

Targeted Training to Boost Skills, Economic and Social Council Told

 

Continuing Coordination Segment, Council Members Weigh Challenges

Of Education/Skills Jobs ‘Mismatch’, Begins General Debate on Education

While today’s youth were the most educated generation in history, they comprised nearly half of the world’s current jobless population, due in part to a mismatch between their skills and labour market conditions that demanded problem solving, decision making and teamwork, the Economic and Social Council heard today during a panel discussion devoted to remedying that situation.

“The grim reality is that many young people are leaving the formal education sector underqualified or with qualifications that do not match the needs of the labour market,” Council Vice-President Ahmadein Khalil ( Egypt) said as he opened the meeting.  The gap was particularly notable in developing countries, where curricula and teaching methods had remained largely unchanged and employers were increasingly demanding strong thinking, communication and entrepreneurial skills.  The demand for those skills was often unmet by education systems around the world.

To rectify that situation, partnerships in the education sector must be enhanced, he said.  While Governments had the primary responsibility to provide schools, train teachers, monitor standards and promote equal opportunities for access, the private sector and civil society had become key players, especially in harnessing technology to provide affordable higher education.

Held under the theme of “Addressing the challenges of education, skills and the job mismatch”, the panel examined how to move from theory to practice in closing the skills gap and improving prospects for young people to enter — and thrive — in modern job markets.  Four panellists shared their views on how to engage partners in providing formal and non-formal education and overcoming barriers to employment, particularly for women, without whom labour needs would not be met.  They also fielded comments from delegates that the Arab Spring had, in fact, begun because educated young people could not find job opportunities.  The challenge went beyond a skills mismatch.  Employment must be at the heart of macroeconomic and fiscal policies, many said.

In his presentation, panellist Amr Ezzat Salama, Counsellor at the American University in Cairo, and the former Egyptian Minister of Higher Education, Scientific Research and Technology of Egypt, said that of the 90 million young people in the Middle East and North Africa, one in three was out of work. In Egypt alone, some 790,000 graduates competed for only 200,000 jobs every year — and 15 per cent of employers believed their specializations did not meet labour market needs.  A “180 degree” shift from supply-driven to demand-driven education was required.  Students must be developed as a “whole person” by combining intellectual, physical, emotional, spiritual and professional development.

“We let the demand drive,” said panellist Ron Bruder, Founder and Chair of Education for Employment Foundation, describing his organization’s success in the Middle East and North Africa region.  “We would get nowhere in training youth if we did not take first step — dialogue — to assess labour needs.”  Soft skills also were critical. With that in mind, his organization and McGraw-Hill had developed a programme in Jordan, replicated elsewhere, on résumé writing, critical thinking, etiquette and other talents, such as land surveying, air conditioning repair to round out skill sets.

In Africa, said panellist Abdalla Hamdok, Deputy Executive Secretary, United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), human capital accumulation was paramount. Ten million young Africans arrived in the job market every year – yet youth unemployment was still four times greater than that for adults. Over the last 30 years, African countries had focused on primary education.  While that was important, countries must address the need for tertiary education, research and development, technology and innovation.  “A nation cannot develop with a semi-literate workforce,” he said, especially one venturing into value-added products and services.

Describing his country’s experience, panellist Andreas Koenig, Head of Section, Technical and Vocational Education and Training and Labour Markets, German Society for International Cooperation (GIZ), said Germany had defied current trends with a low 5.4 per cent youth unemployment rate, while most other countries were in the double-digits.  “The way we approach technical and vocational education and training and how we put it into practice explained this relatively comfortable low number,” he said.  Five elements could play a role in any such education system:  cooperation between the State and industry; learning in the work process; acceptance of national standards; qualified vocational training staff; and institutionalized research and consultancy. 

The theme of education was also woven into the Council’s general debate on the United Nations’ role in implementing the Council’s Ministerial Declaration adopted at the 2011 high-level segment on “Implementing the internationally agreed goals and commitments in regard to education”, in which representatives of Governments and United Nations agencies alike acknowledged collective efforts to improve learning outcomes.  Many Government speakers outlined national programmes and strategies to make education accessible to the most marginalized – including girls. Others described how partnerships with global organizations were impacting children in conflict or crisis-stricken areas.

Still other speakers described how partnerships to combat the related issues of hunger and poverty were making a difference.  The Director of the World Food Programme’s (WFP) New York Office emphasized WFP’s partnership with Brazil in establishing a Centre of Excellence against Hunger in that regard, illustrating how school feeding was an investment in national development and a natural market for agricultural produce.

In final business today, Thomas Stelzer, Assistant Secretary-General for Policy Coordination and Inter-Agency Affairs, introduced the annual overview report of the United Nations System Chief Executives Board for Coordination.

Also speaking in the general debate were the representatives of Algeria, Nepal, Switzerland, Brazil, Norway, Australia, Canada, Ukraine, Argentina, Mexico, Burkina Faso, Venezuela and the United States.

The Economic and Social Council will reconvene at 10 a.m. Thursday, 12 July, to continue and conclude its coordination segment.

Background

The Economic and Social Council continued the Coordination Segment of its 2012 substantive session today with an expected panel on “Addressing the challenges of the education/skills jobs mismatch”, and discussion of the United Nations’ role in support of the Ministerial Declaration of the Council’s 2011 high-level segment on “Implementing the internationally agreed goals and commitments in regard to education”.

For those debates, delegates had before them the Secretary-General’s report entitled Role of the United Nations system in implementing the internationally agreed development goals and commitments in regard to education (document E/2012/66), which presents an overview of the activities carried out by the United Nations in ensuring the follow-up to the Ministerial Declaration adopted by the Council in 2011.  It reviews joint initiatives taken by United Nations entities and their partnerships with other actors.  Those efforts are presented in the context of an ongoing reflection on the international agenda in that area.

Delegates also had before them a note by the Secretary-General on the Periodicity and scope of future reports on the integrated and coordinated implementation of and follow-up to the outcomes of the major United Nations conferences and summits (document A/67/82-E/2012/64), which provides background on the Council’s mandate in that area.

The Annual overview report of the United Nations System Chief Executives Board for Coordination for 2011/12 (document E/2012/67) reviews major developments in inter-agency cooperation within the framework of the United Nations System Chief Executives Board for Coordination (CEB).  Covering the 2011/12 period, it focuses on key system-wide policy, and operational and management activities undertaken by CEB to advance a coherent United Nations response to intergovernmental mandates and priorities. It also highlights main activities of the CEB’s three pillars - the High-level Committee on Programmes, the High-level Committee on Management, and the United Nations Development Group - in promoting inter-agency cooperation on matters of system-wide concern.

Opening Remarks

Opening the meeting, Economic and Social Council Vice-President MOOTAZ AHMADEIN KHALIL (Egypt) declared: “Today’s youth are the most educated generation ever, yet, unfortunately, they make up nearly half of the world’s jobless population.”  The grim reality was that many young people were leaving the formal education sector underqualified or with qualifications that did not match labour market needs.  That mismatch was notable in developing countries, where curriculums and teaching methods had remained largely unchanged over the years, and employers were increasingly demanding strong thinking, communication and entrepreneurial skills.  The demand for those skills was often unmet by education systems around the world.

At the same time, employers were requiring job seekers to have both strong academic backgrounds and practical labour market skills.  “Core” skills for employability — such as problem solving, decision making, responsibility and teamwork — were often a barrier for youth trying to enter the labour force.  Consideration must be given to enhancing cooperation in the education sector.  While Governments had the primary responsibility in education, providing schools and training teachers, the private sector and civil society had become key players, including through harnessing technology to provide affordable higher education.

Panel Discussion

The Council’s panel on “Addressing the challenges of the education/skills jobs mismatch,” featured panellists Amr Ezzat Salama, Counsellor, American University in Cairo, and former Egyptian Minister of Higher Education, Scientific Research and Technology, Egypt; Andreas Koenig, Head of Section, Technical and Vocational Education and Training and Labour Markets, German Society for International Cooperation (GIZ); Abdalla Hamdok, Deputy Executive Secretary, United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA); and Ron Bruder, Founder and Chair, Education for Employment Foundation.

Setting the stage for the discussion, Moderator SIGRID KAAG, Assistant Secretary-General and Assistant Administrator, United Nations Development Programme, said there were an estimated 1.2 billion young people in the world, and 90 per cent of them lived in developing countries.  Today’s young women and men were the most educated generation ever, yet, they made up nearly half of the world’s jobless population.  Many young people were leaving the formal education sector without basic literacy and numeracy skills, under-qualified or with qualifications that did not match the needs of the labour market. 

That mismatch, commonly referred to as “structural unemployment”, was particularly evident in developing countries where curricula and teaching methods seemed to have remained largely unchanged over the years, and employers were increasingly asking for strong thinking, communication, and entrepreneurial skills.  “We have been successful in theory but less successful in practice,” she said, asking panellists to discuss ways to translate theory into practice. 

Speaking first, Mr. SALAMA noted that there were 90 million youths and adolescents in the Middle East and North African region.  That population was growing at an annual rate of 2 per cent, while one of three was out of work. Female unemployment was 10 per cent higher than that for males.  In Egypt alone, some 790,000 graduates were competing for just 200,000 jobs every year.  He said that 15 per cent of employers stated that graduate specializations did not meet the requirements of the labour market, and 30 per cent of graduates believed their specializations were not relevant to the labour market.  More than 60 per cent of employees in Egypt were not working in their specialization field and only 21 per cent of employers said there was a sort of cooperation between their organizations and educational institutions.

“Education is not a process that results in a graduate not finding a job,” he said.  “If, after years of education, graduates are destined for unemployment or non-productive jobs, then they are not educated”.  The labour market needed the most up-to-date and relevant knowledge, and the skills to use that knowledge and mitigate and manage the challenges of work and life.  It also needed positive attitudes to work and develop individually and within groups and communities and probably within the world as a whole. 

There was a need for “180 degree” shift from supply-driven to demand-driven education.  Mr. SALAMA said that educational institutions had to ensure that they developed students as “a whole person” by combining intellectual, physical, emotional, spiritual and professional training.  Policy options included putting in place student evaluation systems measuring the knowledge and skills needed by the labour market rather than measuring a student’s ability to memorize.  In order to reduce structural barriers for young men and women, he said there was a need for merit-based rather than seniority-based systems and for a change in employers’ recruitment and promotional policies.

Taking the floor next, Mr. KOENIG noted that Germany was considered by many as an exception to the current trend, with a rather low youth unemployment rate of 5.4 per cent while most other countries were in the double-digit range.  “The way we approach technical and vocational education and training and how we put all that into practice explains this relatively comfortable low number,” he said.  In general terms, technical and vocational education and training lasted from 2 to 3.5 years.  It took place three to four days a week on the job in companies and one to two days a week in vocational schools.  In 2011, 1.4 million trainees were trained in this dual system.

The German approach and experience could not be copied as it depended very much on a rather unique social and economic context and a consensus that had grown literally over hundreds of years, he said, stressing, however, that its example could still provide insight to other countries.  When working with partner countries, such as Indonesia, Lebanon, Ghana and Tajikistan, Germany emphasized such principles as vocational education and training enabling individuals to continue developing on a lifelong basis the professional and social capacities required for a skilled occupation.  And five elements could play a role in any relevant training system were: cooperation between the State and trade and industries; learning as part of the work process; acceptance of national standards; qualified vocational training staff; and institutionalized research and consultancy.  “These five principles all spread the spirit of dual training,” he said.

Next, Mr. BRUDER said the sobering scope of the youth unemployment crisis was widely recognized.  Each country was familiar with the mismatch between skills and those needed in the employment sector.  As a group, countries had learned that the skills gap could not be isolated from issues like the systemic exclusion of youth on the basis of gender or other discriminatory criteria.  That had a pernicious effect on youth and employers alike.  Remedying that crisis would only happen when the roots of the mismatch were understood.  In that regard, it was critical to “start local”.  The Education for Employment Foundation operated on the ground, primarily in the Middle East.

With youth unemployment averaging 26 per cent in the region, and spiking to 65 per cent in some areas, “the system was broken”, he said, noting that the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) estimated that Arab economies must create 25 million jobs over next decade just to keep employment at current levels.  An employment boom would remain elusive because of the skills gap.  Only 54 per cent of Arab Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) believed new graduates carried the right skills, a scenario that left employers without retainable employees and youth excluded from the dignity of sustainable employment.  The issue had moved from the margins of international debate to become a headliner.  As never before, recent events had directed the world’s attention to the young, in large part for reasons of geopolitical stability.

Public and non-profits were not alone in calling for a solution.  Increasingly, businesses were expressing a desire to be involved in workplace development in a hands-on manner.  Sharing three lessons, he said local and global stakeholders must be brought together in novel ways.  For example, his organization was a “networked platform” of locally-run non-profits that built partnerships with the public sector and others to determine labour market needs, train youth and link them with companies looking for the right skills. Marshalling the agility of affiliates as recruiters and engaging companies in meaningful ways had been a key to its success.  “We let the demand drive,” he said.  “We would get nowhere in training youth if we did not take first step – dialogue – to assess labour needs.”  Soft skills also were critical.  With McGraw-Hill, it had developed a programme in Jordan, replicated elsewhere, on résumé writing, critical thinking, etiquette and other skills, such as land surveying, air conditioning repair.

Rounding out the panel, Mr. HAMDOK said education impacted both economic outputs and social returns.  The social return aspect made education a public good and “human capital accumulation” was vital in that regard.  The State’s role in economic transformation required investment in education as a public good.  As such, development planning must comprise a vision for education.  It must be addressed in a systematic manner and be essentially led by the State.

On the supply demand of education services, he said that in Africa, 10 million young people arrived in the job market every year.  But youth unemployment was still four times greater than adult unemployment.  There was debate about whether to pursue mass education with low quality, or to focus on quality.  A balanced approach was needed.  Over the last 30 years, African countries had focused on primary education.  While that was important, it could not be an exclusive focus.  Countries must address the need for tertiary education, research and development, technology and innovation.  “A nation can not develop with a semi-literate workforce,” he said.  Once a country ventured into value-added products and services, a skilled labour force would be needed.

As for policy options, he said the nature of unemployment – whether it was structural or cyclical – would determine policy; it was linked to the state of the economy. Targeted policies were needed for making informed choices.  Africa had seen high growth rates, but the nature of that growth was “jobless”.  Policy makers need to guard against this, he said, by examining issues of equity and employment creation.  Active labour market policies could look into public work programmes, skills training, job search assistance and self-employment.  Financing education was also a key issue.  There were many trade-offs.  Efficiencies were needed to maximize returns and public-private partnerships could help in that regard.

In the discussion that followed, delegations raised the issue of the informal sector and cited the difficulties in coordinating different priorities of Government entities and in engaging resource-strapped small and medium-size enterprises in the process of addressing skills/jobs mismatch.  For instance, an Education Ministry focused on long-term goals, but Labour Ministries generally placed priority on short-term results, one speaker explained.  Delegations also expressed concerns about the impact of the global economic crisis, particularly budget cuts in education and health in many countries, and stressed the need for a systematic approach to partnerships.

In response, Mr. SALAMA said the global economic crisis had impacted Egypt as well, with each 1 per cent decline in economic growth equalling a loss of perhaps 100,000 jobs a year.  Mr. KOENIG said Germany encouraged partner countries to establish a national agency dedicated to technical and vocational education and training to coordinate policies of different Government agencies.  As for small- and medium-sized enterprises, he said that in Germany, a trade and industry chamber assisted those entities if they did not have capacity or resources for conducting training. 

Mr. HAMDOK pointed out that there was always tension between Government agencies, especially with finance ministries seeking to rein in expenditures but other agencies demanding – and competing for – more money.  Mr. BRUDER added that the absence of a bankruptcy law — which reduced risks of entering the formal sector —had prevented informal-sector entities from registering with the Governments in many countries. 

In a second round of questions and comments, Croatia’s delegate described national programmes, policies and institutions to attack the problem of youth unemployment.  She emphasized that investment in education and research, as well as awareness-raising and capacity-building in formal and non-formal education would help youth enter formal labour markets.

Respondent CHRISTINE EVANS-KLOCK, Director, Skills and Employability Department, Employment Sector, International Labour Organization (ILO), said young people were staying out of the labour market for longer periods of time, and to attract them back, they must be able to earn.  Youth were not “looking for a job at any price”.  They were looking for decent earnings, opportunities to continue learning, and protected rights.  “This is the decency of work they are looking for,” she said and opportunities to learn on the job were important.

As for policies, she said it was critical to link each stage of education to labour market employability.  There also was a need to better connect employers to trainers, have better information about labour market needs and anticipate the skill needs for tomorrow.  Finally, there must be coordination among Ministries.  “We need to have institutional mechanisms that link skills development to the actual productive sides of the economy,” she said.  All economic sectors would face bottlenecks if they did not take into account the need for human resource development.  The challenge went beyond a skills mismatch.  Employment must be at the heart of macroeconomic and fiscal policies.  She reminded the Council that the Arab Spring had begun because those with skills and training could not find opportunities.

Respondent PHILIPPE KRIDELKA, Director of the UNESCO Liaison Office in New York, said the primary task of technical and vocational training was to bring supply and demand into balance. He encouraged the development of training programmes with employers, labour organizations and workers’ unions alike. Policymakers must ensure that the right mix of curriculums was found, so that graduates would become effective and independent-minded citizens.

He said that with China, UNESCO had organized the Third International Congress on Technical and Vocational Education and Training, and among its recommendations was to develop tools to identify future skills needs.  Another recommendation was to include education for “green societies”, as well as climate-resilient growth and development.  Information and communications technologies also should be promoted to reflect the changes taking place in the workplace. Local needs must also be taken into account.

Adding to those comments, Mr. KHALIL pointed out that much of the day’s focus had centred on training and education for the job market, but missing was the fact that the Government was the “biggest employer in town.”  What about improving skills for Government service?  What about integrating women into the job market?

In response, Mr. SALAMA said ILO training for young job seekers was running well in Egypt and had been transferred to other countries.  “Green education” was a new topic, which had not been addressed and he urged working together on it.  To comments about the Government being the largest employer, he said Government used to be a large employer in Egypt, with more than 5 million employees.  But, since 2004, the Government had stopped taking on new employees, a decision that had reduced the public employee base and encouraged the private sector to take the lead in the market.  As for women, he said they had fewer job opportunities than men, a problem which must be addressed.

Mr. KOENIG said Germany was working with the ILO on active labour market policies which included career opportunities for girls to ensure they understood how much they were needed in the country’s economic and social development. As for Government jobs, he said “these are the jobs to go, not to stay with us”.  He closed by saying that entering vocational training early was not a dead end.  In Germany and elsewhere, it was just a start.  Vocational training was an important contribution that had opened a whole new world of opportunities for society.

On that point, Mr. SALAMA countered that in Egypt and elsewhere, vocational training was seen as a “low-class citizen”, an idea that must be changed.

Mr. HAMDOK said “the days when we have a mushrooming public sector are gone”. Efficient, well-trained policy making was needed, whether at the sectoral or macroeconomic level.  On gender, he said much discrimination could be traced to the education system itself in some countries, a problem that must be addressed.

Mr. BRUDER, on the importance of ministerial coordination, said it had been an opportunity lost.  Many times, ministries competed with one another, a dynamic that must change if the youth unemployment scenario was to improve. Generally, unemployment led to social unrest.  Employment drove stability.  In Ireland, for example, the political situation changed radically when the “Celtic Tiger” roared. Women were a key component of social change.  The benefit from placing a woman in the workplace must be reaped, he said, noting that 40 per cent of graduates in Yemen were women.  In Jordan, 80 per cent of the enrolees in his organization’s entrepreneurship programme were women.  They were less concerned about failure.

As for social stigma, he agreed that there were many jobs to be filled but society had deemed them unworthy.  He cited the nursing situation in many countries in that regard.  In Gaza, Education for Employment Foundation organized a mini-MBA programme and, due to the harsh economic conditions in Gaza, decided to take the majority of graduates to the Gulf for work.  Sadly, a high percentage of female graduates, after agreeing to go to the Gulf, did not in the end, because of family pressures.

General Debate

LARBI DJACTA (Algeria), speaking on behalf of the Group of 77 developing countries and China, said that more efforts were strongly needed to realize the right of everyone to education, while assisting countries in improving the quality of education and ensuring a greater focus on learning.  The Group emphasized the primary responsibility of each Government for determining the national priorities and strategies required for social and economic development.  It also reaffirmed the need for Governments to take the lead in education while emphasizing that the challenges could be taken up only through coordinated and integrated approaches in support of national development plans involving all relevant stakeholders.

The Group further reiterated the importance of the role of the United Nations system, in close collaboration with stakeholders, and called for stronger coordination among the relevant United Nations entities and financial institutions in order to support national efforts.  Reiterating also the importance of social protection measures to remove barriers to access to education for all children and adults – including the poorest children, children with disabilities, migrants, refugees and other vulnerable groups — he expressed the Group’s concern over the persistently high levels of youth unemployment worldwide, and recognized the need to design education and training programmes that improved employability and individual capacities through skills development.

Those efforts included, among others, enhancing school-to-work transition for both youth and adults through the development of technical and vocational education and training programmes.  He said that the Group called, finally, on the international community, including the United Nations system and especially the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), to strengthen the coordination and implementation of existing policies, programmes and follow-up mechanisms for Education for All, and to translate commitments into action and redouble efforts to accelerate progress towards realizing the implementation of the agreed goals and commitments on education.

MANI PRASAD BHATTARAI ( Nepal), speaking on behalf of the least developed countries, said human resources were key assets in those countries and they were equally important to achieving sustainable development.  Educated, skilled and qualified human resources would contribute to reducing poverty and promoting broader development.  Despite considerable progress made in universal primary education and gender equality, many least developed countries were lagging behind in meeting most of the internationally agreed-upon development goals, including the Millennium Development Goals on education.

Despite their efforts and domestic investments, the least developed countries’ education systems were not up to the standard to meet the demands and overcome the challenges of today’s digital age, he continued.  It was disheartening to note that there had been a sharp decline of official development assistance (ODA) to the least developed countries in 2011.  In that context, he called on donor countries to fulfil their ODA commitments of 0.15 to 0.2 per cent of GDP to the least developed countries without further delay and to align the allocation of such aid to their priorities.  An effective implementation of the Istanbul Programme of Action for the Least Developed Countries (2011-2020) and the outcome of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) was also essential.

NICOLAS MATHIEU (Switzerland) said that the Rio+20 summit, the Human Rights Council and the 2011 high-level segment of the Economic and Social Council had all stressed the need for States to establish appropriate policies to ensure the fundamental right of full and equal access to educational for everyone throughout their lives.  The concepts of access to and quality of education belonged together and should not be separated either in theory or in practice, he stressed.  In that vein, the financial crisis had shown the fragility of what had been achieved so far and revealed a tendency towards reduced investment in social sectors.  As such, equality, when divorced from access, could lead to an increase in social inequality in terms of disparities in discrimination.

In order to not exclude young people from the labour market, inclusive policies needed to be implemented that enabled young people to move without restrictions between basic education, professional training and other non-formal and informal models of education.  “The provision of democratic, humanist and civic education is an investment for peace and an investment against conflict,” he said.  In that sense, Switzerland recognized the importance of the three pillars on which the Global Initiative on Education of the Secretary-General was based: access, quality and citizenship.  It was also convinced that the post-2015 United Nations development agenda must include education.

At the same time, he said, the organization’s coordination mechanism must be renewed, aiming to ensure the consistency of political support at a higher level, strengthen the holistic approach to life-long education and economic and social objectives, establish an intersectoral political dialogue and define a clear distribution of roles and responsibilities between actors and partners.  That new architecture should be founded on the principle of responsibility and on wide participation, and an opening towards civil society and non-State actors was also essential.

SERGIO RODRIGUES DOS SANTOS ( Brazil) said “education constitutes a fundamental driving force for equitable, inclusive and sustainable development”.  Indeed, no other tool could play a more decisive role in poverty eradication and economic and social inclusion.  Brazil was firmly committed to investing more and better on education to promote inclusive economic growth and overcome the historic barriers to development his country still faced.  Brazil’s educational policy was an integral part of a wide-ranging social development agenda anchored in programmes such as “Bolsa Familia” and “Brazil without Extreme Poverty”, which were described in detail on its National Voluntary Presentation to the Council last week.

Financing played a central role in educational policy and the Government had been working to increase the availability of domestic resources in the area, he said.  In 2007, its Congress had approved the Basic Education and Teacher Support Fund.  As a result, the federal resources allocated to education had been increased by more than ten fold and expenditure was allocated primarily to regions, states and municipalities where investment per student was significantly below the national average.  In addition, from 2011 to 2020, the Government had proposed to Congress a new National Education Plan establishing specific strategies for the inclusion of minorities, children with disabilities, indigenous people, afro-descent communities, as well as students in rural areas.  The country’s goal was to expand public investment in education over the next 10 years.  Today, more than 95 per cent of all Brazilian children were enrolled in primary schools and the Government had managed to reduce income, gender and regional disparities with regard to access to and equality of education.

HEGE HAALAND, (Norway), said there was one group of children that were lagging behind in the overall progress made on achieving the second Millennium Development Goal target (universal education) — children living in areas affected by crisis and conflict.  They made up half of those 61 million children that still did not have access to education.  They had the same rights as anyone else to learn to read and write, and to have access to knowledge that might save their lives.  However, in those situations, such rights were often violated.  Providing education in conflict zones and humanitarian emergencies was challenging, but not impossible; many lessons had been learned in that respect.  For example, Nepal’s experience in declaring schools as zones of peace was one such lesson, he said, calling Nepal a “trailblazer” with regards to Millennium Development Goal 2.

In addition, he said, it was time to intensify international efforts to promote education as part of humanitarian responses. Support for educational measures during humanitarian crises contributed to the protection of children, prevented the recruitment of child soldiers, reduced sexual violence and contributed to a sense of peace and normalcy.  Norway therefore supported the Inter-Agency Network for Education in Emergencies in establishing education as a key component in emergency response, and the development of quality measures to ensure the right to education for children and young people affected by conflicts and emergencies.  The current economic downturn was forcing countries to reduce their public expenditures and threatened the continued advancement of the education agenda, he said.  However, education was the path to a prosperous future. As the international community turned to the post-2015 agenda, it would be fundamentally important to interact, share lessons learned and propose workable solutions for the realization of “Education for All”.

ALISON CHARTRES (Australia) acknowledged the efforts of Governments, United Nations agencies, international and regional organizations, the private sector and civil society, who had rallied together to increase access to education and skills development and improve the quality of learning outcomes.  Such programmes must be expanded and strategies must be devised that made education accessible to the most marginalized – including girls.  Describing one experience, she said she had met a young man from the autonomous region of Bougainville in Papua New Guinea, who was in primary school.  He was in his 20s and his classmates were nine years old. He was just one of many around the world who lacked an education because of conflict.

For its part, Australia was investing $5 billion in education in the five years to 2015, she said, making it among the largest bilateral donors in the education sector, supporting school construction and curricula development, among other things.  Australia was also committed to enhancing partnerships – its $270 million multi-year support to the Global Partnership for Education was a clear sign of that.  “Education is a right but it is not an end in itself,” she said, encouraging the United Nations and its partners to improve learning outcomes.

GILLES RIVARD ( Canada) said his Government had a long-standing commitment to the Millennium Development Goals and Education for All targets.  It considered that basic education was the foundation for lifelong learning and employment, and was a main driver for reducing poverty and promoting sustainable development.  Canada’s relevant strategy — “Securing the Future of Children and Youth” – focused on ensuring that girls and boys had access to quality basic education.  That programme was supporting developing countries to improve the quality of education and to promote learning achievement with a particular focus on teachers and teacher training, relevant curriculum, and teaching and learning materials.

Canada recognized that the Global Partnership for Education was key for accelerating progress towards the Millennium Goals and agreed education targets in low income countries.  He said that Canada currently shared a seat with the United Kingdom on the Global Education Project Board, and appreciated that initiative’s role as the preeminent global mechanism for fostering policy dialogue, promoting aid effectiveness, and focusing on achieving results in education.  New collaboration across multiple sectors – in particular, education, health, and nutrition – would be critically important to holistically address the development of children and youth.  Canada was committed to facilitating partnerships, for example, in the area of school feeding to meet the health, nutrition, and educational needs of children and youth.  Canada would also fully engage with new partners, including the private sector. 

HANNA PROROK ( Ukraine) said that, given the crucial role of education for sustainable development, her delegation felt that the issue should have a prominent place in the process of defining the post-2015 sustainable development agenda.  She stressed the crucial role of the “Education for All” movement as the main United Nations mechanism mandated to promote quality basic education for all children, youth and adults.  Since the adoption of the Council’s 2011 Ministerial Declaration, there had been important advances in terms of strengthening the movement’s coordination structure and convening power, as well as linkages between national, regional and global activities.  In the time of an economic crisis and massive youth unemployment, it was essential to build strategic alliances to improve the supply of relevant education opportunities for youth and the demand for a skilled labour force.  Strengthened cooperation between UNESCO, the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) and the World Bank was also needed for greater articulation between technical and vocational training and education, higher education and the world of work.

Ukraine remained staunchly committed to attaining educational development goals by 2015.  In 2011, its Government adopted the State Social Programme of Pre-School Education until 2017.  Last year also saw an increased number in the early childhood development and pre-school institutions, thus reversing a trend of recent years.  Secondary education was mandatory and free of charge.  Coverage could be considered complete as 99 per cent of children aged 6-18 years were enrolled in school.  In addition, vocational education and training was making increasingly important contributions to Ukraine’s economic development.  The Government was also working with civil society organizations to elaborate a draft law on higher education, which would bring the education system up to the level of the highest European standards.

INES FASTAME ( Argentina) said her delegation considered it very important to achieve the full implementation of the Council’s 2011 Ministerial Declaration.  Her Government was happy to report that a conference was held in its capital in 2011 to discuss key challenges in the region.  It was vital to work together to achieve development, goals including those related to education, by 2015.  It was important for all Government agencies to coordinate and scale up their efforts.  Programmes must be evaluated thoroughly, and incentives and subsidies should be focused and technical assistance should deal with national and subnational contexts. 

She went on to say that coordination and cooperation was necessary to attain the aims of the Education for All initiative.  All boys and girls around the world should complete primary education.  For its part, Argentina introduced a national education law that made secondary education obligatory.  As stated in various instruments, “education is a human right,” she said.  Education must train all people and help them participate in democratic and pluralistic society.  Her Government participated in various regional and international institutions.

LORENA LARIOS ( Mexico) said that today the Council was debating a follow-up to the achievement of a Millennium Goal and she stressed the importance of recognizing that all men, women and children, regardless of their status, origin or situation, had the right to education.  Last year, Mexico had carried out a special study in that respect, presenting it to all Member States of the Council, and had benefitted from their comments.  Moreover, in order to guarantee universal education, action was required from all members of society.  Actors must help individuals as they moved from their present level of education to a higher level, and States must work together to promote the international agenda on education.

States did, in fact, have a responsibility to give special attention to those on the sidelines of education.  To that end, gender, age, disabilities and other special circumstances must be taken into account.  Mexico’s national development plan 2007-2012 stated, as one of its key objectives, that regional and gender inequalities must be reduced, and that all social groups must be helped to enjoy equal rights.  The collective efforts to achieve such aims had been adversely affected by the global economic and financial crisis.  The world must therefore truly join together, with the United Nations and the Economic and Social Council acting as the “nerve centre” of its efforts.  Education was not just a fundamental right, she reminded the Council, but was also a catalyst that helped to achieve all other rights.

DER KOGDA (Burkina Faso) said that since the launch of the Education for All initiative in 2000, progress had been made in that sphere thanks to the efforts of various organizations, including UNESCO and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).  Solid and concrete progress had been made in Africa as well.  Some African countries achieved gender equality in education.  From 1999 to 2009, Burkina Faso’s primary school enrolment increased by 25 per cent, he added. 

But some constraints existed, such as poor quality of education, crowded classes, a high drop-out rate, low enrolment in rural areas, as well as low capacity to manage and guide the education system, he said.  In response to some of those challenges, the Government had drawn up a national strategy to improve the literacy rate in the country.  He commended the Secretary-General’s effort to place education at the heart of development agenda.  Burkina Faso would explore multi-stakeholder partnerships.  Education was a fundamental basis to empower people to participate in productive activity. 

JORGE VALERO BRICEÑO ( Venezuela) agreed that countries had a leadership role in determining national objectives in the field of education.  Education was not something to be negotiated, as if it were a business; instead, the private and public sectors should “live in harmony” with regard to education.  Moreover, education should be public, free and universal.  UNESCO had noted that Venezuela was a country without illiteracy.  Additionally, it was the second leading county in its region with regard to higher education enrolment.  Like other countries of the global South, Venezuela had been affected by the global financial and economic crisis; nonetheless, the living conditions of the people had improved. Indicators in health, education, employment and housing were all rising.

Countercyclical policies could make it possible to overcome the crisis, he continued.  It was not true that first a country had to grow, and then redistribute wealth.  Instead, certain pro-growth policies had only led to disasters across the world, devalued university diplomas and raised serious complaints among young people.  Developed countries were not abiding by their commitments to development, he stressed, endorsing the points made by the representative of Nepal in that regard.  Venezuela continued to believe that education was a human right.  In addition, he concluded, 90 per cent of young people in the country were politically active — a statistic that was unique in the world.

ELIZABETH COUSENS United States said that her delegation remained committed to building the practical partnerships necessary to promote education for all.  Education was critical to growing economies, ensuring sustainable development and building equitable societies.  The United States remained committed to expanding educational opportunities around the world; in 2012, it would invest over $1 billion to that end.  Within that strategy there were three main targets, she said:  improved reading skills in primary education, the improvement of tertiary education for the creation of relevant skills, and equitable access to education for children who could not attend school due to conflicts and crises.

The United States believed that that United Nations played a crucial role as a forum for best practices and an advisor on education policy, among other roles. She further underscored that the Secretary-General’s report had repeatedly highlighted the need for “finer-grained” data, which was disaggregated, so that efforts in improving access to education could be more informed, targeted and effective.  Finally, she welcomed the announcement of the Global Initiative on Education, and hoped that it would further unite the United Nations system’s work on education.  The United States looked forward to working with it.

PEDRO MEDRANO, Director, New York Office, World Food Programme (WFP), said quality education was actively supported by his agency through school feeding programmes.  Although Governments were the main providers for the approximately 330 million children who received daily meals or snacks in school, WFP programmes fed 26 million beneficiaries in 2011.  This was, he pointed out, a proven and essential component in children reaching their full learning and cognitive potential.  Further, school meals were a “social protection intervention and tool to safeguard advances made in education”, as seen during the 2008 crisis.  Several countries increased their school feeding schemes during this time, as school meals conferred an “income transfer” and represented a “productive safety net” that shielded poor families from shocks and price fluctuations.

Continuing, he said that in 2011, WFP had partnered with the Brazilian Government, establishing the Centre of Excellence against Hunger, illustrating how school feeding was an investment in national development and a natural market for national agricultural produce.  Another programme, “Let Agogo” (Milk in Abundance), a pilot programme in Haiti supported by the Brazilian Government and other WFP partners such as the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), demonstrated how school meals and nutrition programmes were essential for sustainable development.  An example of “positive global synergies”, he stated in conclusion, was the Focusing Resources on Effective School Health (FRESH) Framework, where WFP, along with other United Nations agencies and the World Bank, promoted and provided guidance on school health policies.

Introduction of Report

THOMAS STELZER, the Assistant Secretary-General for Policy Coordination and Inter-Agency Affairs of Department of Economic and Social Affairs, introduced the Annual overview report of the United Nations System Chief Executives Board for Coordination for 2011/2012 (document E/2012/67).

A key priority of CEB this year had been the development of system-wide contributions to the Rio+20 summit in support of Member States’ efforts to advance economic growth, social development and environmental sustainability in an integrated manner.  Sustainable development was a core objective and a major activity of the United Nations system, and was of paramount concern to CEB.  Building on the extensive experience and expertise of the United Nations system on sustainable development, CEB issued two joint statements in November 2011 and April 2012, to provide substantive input to the preparatory process.

The Board also accelerated the mainstreaming of cross-cutting issues in the United Nations system’s work.  For example, it had developed practical tools, instruments and processes to step up coordinated system-wide actions in such areas as human rights and disaster risk reduction.  Building on intergovernmental mandates, the CEB’s three subsidiary bodies — the High-level Committee on Programmes, the High-level Committee on Management, and the United Nations Development Group (UNDG) — also continued to work closely to strengthen coordination across the system on programmatic, administrative and operational issues.

It had become clear that the United Nations system had benefited from increased and interactive dialogue with representatives of Member States.  Over the last year, the CEB held regular briefings in the Economic and Social Council, the General Assembly, and in other for a such as the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Durban.  The Board had also striven to enhance the quality and quantity of information provided in official reports and through an ongoing redesign of its website which would be launched later this year.

Question and Answer Session

During the question and answer period that followed, many speakers praised the work of the Board as well as Mr. Stelzer’s presentation.  Agreeing that the Board was an important tool in strengthening the coherence of the United Nations system, for example, the representative of Brazil said that the recently launched United Nations Action Plan on Gender Mainstreaming was yet another instance in which the Board was playing a strong coordinating role.  However, he said, there was much to be done to deepen the Board’s dialogue with Member States; as the United Nations was a member-driven organization, the role of the Board should ultimately be to support the priorities set by States themselves. 

The representative of Cuba agreed, raising similar concerns. How did the Board plan to ensure that its work did not “go astray” or become diluted, or become involved in activities that did not have to do with the Agencies’ work?, he asked.

The representative of Bangladesh also asked how the Board could engage with Member States in a more detailed manner.  Noting that many United Nations system organs, in his opinion, were not going far enough in implementing the 2011 Istanbul Programme of Action on Least Developed Countries, he asked for Mr. Stelzer’s comments on what could be done to reverse that trend.  He also wondered how Mr. Stelzer felt about competition between United Nations system agencies on the ground, as well as countries that were still taking a “silo approach” to their efforts instead of “Delivering as One”.  Meanwhile, the representative of the United States commended the recent inclusion of human rights into the Board’s agenda, as well as the integration of human rights in the system’s wider advocacy measures.

Mr. Stelzer responded saying that the Integrated Implementation Framework was a “work in progress” and a huge challenge, and that it was aimed at increasing transparency and therefore accountability in the United Nations system. Progress continued on that front, he said, inviting States to follow along with the process on the Board’s website.  In the follow up to the Rio+20 summit, the process of ensuring coordination and coherence faced new challenges.  Such challenges included brining Member States more closely into the processes that had begun at that summit, many of which had tight timeframes.  The United Nations country teams would play an important role in that respect, he added.

With regard to the Istanbul Plan of Action, he recalled that 55 per cent of Rio+20 participants had been from least developed countries, landlocked developing countries or small island developing States.  Part of the outcome document discussed the follow up to Istanbul, he said, and the Board stood ready to assist in that respect.  With regard to overcoming silos and “Delivering as One”, he said that many countries were participating in the delivering as one programme voluntarily.  There had been significant progress made on that front.

* *** *

For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.