– As delivered –

Statement by H.E. Mr. Volkan Bozkir, President of the 75th session of the United Nations General Assembly

25 January 2021


Distinguished guests,

Ladies and gentlemen,

It is my pleasure to join you to celebrate the third International Day of Education and Lifelong Learning.

Today I congratulate the global education community who are championing education at this difficult time. I commend our courageous teachers who are adapting their classrooms according to social distancing guidelines in order to provide safe learning environments for their students. I also applaud all parents who are doing their best to facilitate learning at home.

To the students tuned in around the world, do not be disheartened. This pandemic will pass, you will return to school with your friends, and you will be equipped with the skills you need to navigate a rapidly changing world and pursue your dreams.



Today’s event is a testament to the agility and relevance of the General Assembly. Just three years ago this international day was created by Member States of the United Nations who believed that education is key to unlocking the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. No one could have imagined that we would soon face the greatest threat to education in history.

The education of 1.6 billion learners has been disrupted since the onset of the global COVID-19 pandemic, with over 300 million students still out of school today. Under-privileged learners have been disproportionately impacted as they tend to have fewer educational opportunities beyond school and their parents may be unable to facilitate learning at home.

Moreover, the digital divide prevents those furthest behind from accessing online resources to continue their education. In Western Europe and North America, at least one in seven students do not have access to the internet at home. This figure rises to 80% in sub-Saharan Africa, and 88% in Least Developed Countries. Unless we take urgent action more than 24 million children are at risk of dropping out of school.

The COVID-19 pandemic has taught us that we need to urgently reimagine and invest in education, if we are to achieve the targets of Sustainable Development Goal 4. In this Decade of Action to deliver the SDGs we must create inclusive systems that are resilient to shocks and accessible to all.

This begins with data. Despite progress, many countries still do not collect, report, or utilize data on those furthest behind.

Next, we need to adequately finance recovery packages for education which should include: safe and inclusive school re-openings; supporting teachers; investing in skills development; and ensuring connectivity for all learners. We also need to ensure the fair and equitable distribution of #VaccinesforAll, which includes teachers working on the frontline of communities. These efforts must go beyond our own borders – if we are to make progress, donor countries will need to utilize multilateral channels and allocate an increased share of ODA to global education efforts.

In order to recover better, we must address the social and economic inequalities that hamper our efforts towards ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education for all. If we are to meet the needs of the learners of this generation, we must invest in teacher training, infrastructure, and harness all available technologies.

Furthermore, we cannot leave half of our learners behind. Since the adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action twenty-five years ago, 180 million more girls have enrolled in primary and secondary school, and enrolment in third level education has risen three-fold.

However, the COVID-19 pandemic threatens to erase these hard-earned gains. The Global Education Monitoring Report estimates that 11 million girls and young women may never return to education. Now that they are out of school, girls are more likely than boys to shoulder the burden of household chores, and are at greater risk of gender-based violence, early and forced marriage, and early and unintended pregnancy.

We cannot rebuild and recover from this global pandemic if we only include 50% of our population. We will need this upcoming generation of women to develop the science behind the next vaccine we need, to teach the next generation, and to design the climate-resilient infrastructure and technology that will allow us to reach those furthest behind.

The COVID-19 pandemic has taught us that we need to urgently reimagine and invest in education, if we are to achieve the targets of Sustainable Development Goal 4. In this Decade of Action to deliver the SDGs we must create inclusive systems that are resilient to shocks and accessible to all.  

Volkan Bozkir

President of the UN General Assembly


At the SDG Summit of 2019, Heads of State and Government committed to,

“…promote and support quality education and lifelong learning to ensure that all children, youth and adults are empowered with the relevant knowledge and skills to shape more resilient, inclusive and sustainable societies that are able to adapt to rapid technological change.”

This Political Declaration is key to accelerating action on education as part of COVID-19 recovery efforts.

Let me be clear: SDG 4 is not just about a classroom – it is about society.
Inclusive education is the foundation for building a more equal, just and safer society. Education has the power to break the cycle of poverty and conflict. Education can also build media and information literacy, producing global citizens who are better able to engage critically in the world.

Indeed, none of us would be participating in this event today if we did not have access to education. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights proclaims that ‘Everyone has a right to education.’ At this time of crisis, it is our duty to uphold this right for everyone, everywhere.

The world has suffered enough as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, we cannot afford to lose a generation of students now.

I thank you very much for giving me the opportunity of participating in this very important meeting.