Opening of the SDG High-Level Action Event on Education

As delivered

Statement by  Peter Thomson, the President of the UN General Assembly, at the Opening of the SDG High-Level Action Event on Education

 28 June 2017 


Official Opening of High-Level SDG Action Event on Education. General Assembly President, Peter Thomson speakingMinisters

Deputy Secretary-General Mohammed

Director-General Irina Bokova of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization


Distinguished guests,

Ladies and gentlemen,

Welcome to today’s High-Level Event on Education! Especially to those who have travelled long distances to be here; welcome to the United Nations!

I want to acknowledge the presence with us today of members of the SDG Education 2030 Steering Committee, the global coordination mechanism for SDG4. Your participation will, I am sure, mean that we will be discussing ideas that will serve as a push for global efforts to implement Sustainable Development Goal 4.


I would also like to take this opportunity to welcome all of you who are watching this event live on UN Web TV, YouTube or Facebook.


This is the first High-Level General Assembly event to be streamed live on all three of these platforms, so I want to encourage all of you here in this Chamber, or watching us live, to share the SDG Action Event on Facebook and amplify the reach of our messages to all corners of the world.


Excellencies, Ladies and gentlemen,

Today’s event is the last in the series of SDG Action events that have been convened by my office during the 71st Session of the General Assembly.

Each of the Action Events has focused on a key driver of sustainable development – namely sustainable peace, climate action, financing, innovation and now education.

I am confident you all agree that inclusive, equitable and quality education goes to the heart of the 2030 Agenda, as a key enabler of sustainable development.

Access to quality education is not only a goal in itself, but a fundamental building block to creating a better world of sustainable peace, prosperity, and development; for in the act of investing in education, we are realizing the potential of our greatest asset – the potential inherent in the people of this world.

It goes without saying that inclusive and equitable quality education is a pre-requisite for access to open opportunity and gainful employment. It holds the key to fueling sustainable growth, building social cohesion and stability, and promoting human rights and equality.

And it is the golden thread that runs through the implementation of all 17 SDGs, including overcoming poverty, ending hunger, and improving health and wellbeing outcomes for all.

Excellencies, Ladies and gentlemen,

Realizing education’s great potential requires a massive scaling-up of our efforts to achieve inclusive, equitable and quality education for all. We have to do no less than transform the way we think, invest, partner, and deliver on education.

Around our world, more than 263 million children and young people are out of school, with the number of primary-school aged children not attending school increasing each day.

Incredible as it may seem in this day and age, one third of the world’s children do not have basic literacy and numeracy skills.

On the other hand it is easier to comprehend that young people living under the grip of conflict or in the aftermath of natural disaster are particularly vulnerable. Children in fragile or conflicted-affected countries are three times more likely to miss out on primary schooling compared to children in other developing countries.

Excellencies, Ladies and gentlemen,

We are committed through the universality of SGD4 to ensure inclusive, equitable and quality education for all. If we are to succeed in meeting the targets of SDG4 in their entirety by 2030, we are going to have to get the wheels of implementation turning faster than they have been. To do so, I suggest the following steps have to be prioritized.

Firstly, specific strategies to ensure universal completion of early childhood education have to be developed through inclusive events such as today’s gathering.  We need coherent, practical strategies for the development of children’s physical, cognitive, and emotional skills to set up positive adult productivity and behavior.

Next, we must invest in our teachers and give them the tools they need to shape the next generations of creative and critical thinkers. The tools exist, the worldwide web exists, our teachers need to be given the resources.

And then, very importantly, education must seize on innovation. We have to unleash innovative ways of delivering quality education, and to tap into technological advances to ensure educational opportunities reach all our young learners, including those in rural and remote communities, not forgetting conflict zones.

Emphasis has to be placed on teaching science, technology and innovation so that young people are equipped with the skills they need for the jobs of tomorrow, along with the problem-solving capabilities needed to tackle our global challenges.

We must also invest in lifelong learning to support the ongoing training of adults, to equip them with the knowledge they need to adapt to, and participate in, our rapidly-changing workplaces.

We have to ensure equal opportunity to quality education for girls and women. Increasing women and girls’ access to education has been shown to contribute directly to higher economic growth, but girls continue to be one and a half times more likely than boys to miss out on primary school learning. We must therefore look at ways to end gender discrimination, including restrictive social expectations and other impediments that stop girls from accessing education.

And finally, since it is the youth that have the most invested in the success or failure of the Sustainable Development Goals, we must educate young people about the logic of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. They must be taught to take ownership, to serve as agents for change, and to be drivers of  innovative ways of achieving the SDGs. To advance this push, I have already written to all Heads of Government to encourage the inclusion of the SDGs on the curricula of every school and university around the world.

Excellencies, Ladies and gentlemen,

Today’s SDG High-Level Action Event brings together key stakeholders from across Governments, civil society, teachers’ organizations, institutions of higher learning, and the private sector, along with the SDG-Education 2030 Steering Committee. We are confident that your presence coupled with candid discussions will elicit meaningful ways to drive action on the scale and speed necessary to achieve the targets of SDG4 by 2030.

I encourage to use today to share experiences, to develop new ideas, and learn about cutting-edge research, innovation and analysis.

I encourage you to use today’s opportunity to forge new networks and partnerships to help drive this action forward.

Excellencies, Ladies and gentlemen,

A few months ago, I had the privilege of meeting three extraordinary young women who had been kidnapped from a boarding school in Chibok, Nigeria by Boko Haram militants in 2014.

Despite the horrific violence that these young women had endured, they remained resolute in their determination to achieve higher education, and in calling for the international community to step up its efforts to ensure that all girls across the world have access to schooling.

The courage and commitment of those young women was profoundly moving. I urge you to let it serve as an inspiration for us all as we look to strengthen access to education  in the shared interest of a safer, more prosperous and more equitable world for all.

I wish you every success in your discussions today.


I thank you.

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