9 October 2012

Education - ‘Engine for All Progress’ - Needs New Push to Top of Political Agenda, Secretary-General Tells UNESCO

9 October 2012
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Education – ‘Engine for All Progress’ - Needs New Push to Top of Political Agenda,

Secretary-General Tells UNESCO


Following are UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s remarks, as prepared for delivery, to the Executive Board of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), in Paris, 9 October:

Thank you for your warm welcome; it is a pleasure to be here.  I am grateful to the distinguished members of the Executive Board for the opportunity to speak with you today.  I would also like to thank Madame Bokova for her very dynamic leadership.

This is my second visit to UNESCO in less than two years.  Last year, I was here to help launch a vitally important initiative — the Global Partnership for Girl’s and Women’s Education.  I return this year to again about education — and about so much else.  UNESCO has a key role to play in addressing many of the world’s most urgent challenges.

As you may know, UNESCO has a special place not only in the United Nations system, but also in my heart — and in the history of my country.  It was UNESCO, along with UNICEF [United Nations Children's Fund], that brought relief during the depths of the Korean War.  They provided food, medicine and another kind of sustenance:  textbooks. 

To me and so many others, those school books were every bit as important for getting us through the dark days of the conflict — and then for building a brighter future.  So I very much welcome this opportunity to appear before you today to talk about what we can do together to promote peace today in the fullest sense of the idea.

Two weeks ago, speaking to world leaders during the general debate, I felt it necessary to sound an alarm about our direction as a human family.  Too many people live a daily reality characterized by insecurity, injustice, inequality, and intolerance.  People are rightly calling out for more equality, dignity and respect.  They want the dreams of their children to come true.

At this time of global turmoil and transition, the United Nations must do more to help States respond to these aspirations.  That is the goal of my action agenda.  I am committed to advancing five imperatives — sustainable development, prevention, building a more secure world, helping countries in transition and empowering women and youth.

“Sustainability” is the thread that ties this agenda together — sustainable development, sustainable peace, sustainable solutions that put people first.  There is no better place to start than with education.  In August, Director-General Bokova, my Special Envoy on Global Education, Mr. Gordon Brown, and I travelled to Timor-Leste to highlight the importance of education.

Education is a basic human right.  It is the building block for all societies and the engine for all progress.  I know I am preaching to the converted.  I thank UNESCO for its longstanding leadership.  That leadership launched the Education for All campaign. It made education a Millennium Development Goal.  It has generated remarkable progress in school enrolment.

But our gains have stalled.  This is a worrying trend, made worse by the financial crisis and economic slowdown.  That is why we need a new push to put education at the top of the political agenda.

Two weeks ago in New York, I launched a new global initiative to do just that:  Education First.  Over a dozen Heads of State and Government participated.  Civil society leaders, the private sector and young people were also there.  It is a truly broad-based private and public partnership.

Let me be clear:  Education First is not a substitute for Education for All or UNESCO’s global work for education.  On the contrary, it will be an accelerator — to reach the Education for All goals and to rally all partners to make the case for education.  Together, we will focus on three priorities:  first, to put every child in school; second, to improve the quality of education; third, to foster global citizenship. 

UNESCO has been instrumental in developing the initiative, and I am pleased that Director-General Bokova is serving as Executive Secretary of the Steering Committee.  Education First has also been developed with the support of all the Education for All co-sponsoring agencies.  It builds on the six goals set in Dakar in 2000.  It reflects the expanded concept of learning defined in Jomtien, Thailand in 1990.  And it draws on a vision of education that was born here, in these hallways, with UNESCO Member States.

We cannot afford to leave generations of children and young people behind, without marketable skills, without knowledge for the information economy.  Education First had a very promising launch.  Our challenge is to strengthen the partnership, keep the many educational programmes and initiatives from competing with each other — and to truly translate the excitement for the initiative into delivery and concrete results for young people.

In all of this, we are relying heavily on all of you.  Let us make Education First a success.  Let us give strong impetus to education toward 2015 and beyond.

I will also look to UNESCO to help advance the sustainable development agenda.  The Rio+20 Conference and the report by the High-level Panel on Global Sustainability highlighted the need for a stronger interface between science and policy.  This is why I have asked the Director-General to set up a Scientific Advisory Board, hosted by UNESCO, to bring together experts from all disciplines and all regions to advise me and other organs of the United Nations system.

UNESCO must continue to be the United Nations system’s clear scientific voice, helping to ground our decisions in facts and knowledge, not ideology.  I also look to UNESCO to contribute to global efforts to protect the health of the oceans and strengthen ocean knowledge, and support Member States in the implementation of the Convention on the Law of the Sea.  This is a major test for the international community.  UNESCO’s Oceanographic Commission is well placed to help sharpen United Nations action to manage and sustain the health of the ocean, so vital for the planet and human well-being.

Nous avons placé le développement durable au cœur de nos activités.

Nous devons donc logiquement nous attaquer à tout ce qui ne peut plus durer: la répression, la corruption, les choix politiques contraires à la volonté des peuples.

Depuis près de deux ans, nous voyons s’opérer des changements majeurs, qui inspirent le monde entier... des transitions démocratiques... des peuples décidés à prendre leur destin en main, comme jamais auparavant - et c'est leur droit.

Ces mouvements représentent un espoir et un défi – pas seulement pour les populations concernées : pour toute l’humanité.

Les Nations Unies doivent y répondre.

Et l’UNESCO peut jouer un rôle important.

Nous savons que les transformations de ce type prennent du temps.

Il ne suffit pas d’investir seulement dans des infrastructures, des bâtiments.

Il faut protéger la dignité humaine.

Il faut encourager une culture de la paix, le dialogue des civilisations.

Dans un monde globalisé, où les images et les mots circulent à grande vitesse, trop de gens prennent prétexte de nos différences pour attiser la haine de l’autre.

Il faut résister à la montée de l’ignorance et de l’intolérance.

Contre l’extrémisme, la majorité modérée doit parler d’une voix forte – appeler au dialogue des cultures, montrer ce que chacune a d’universel.

C’est justement le rôle de l’UNESCO.

Il faut investir dans la liberté d’expression – elle doit nous aider à nous comprendre, et non inciter à la violence.

Et je prends le cas du plan sur la sécurité des journalistes, qui est né ici, et adopté par l’ensemble du système.

C’est un très bon exemple de la contribution d’une agence spécialisée à notre effort collectif.

Il faut investir dans la protection de la culture.

Aujourd’hui, en Syrie, la vieille ville d’Alep est sous les bombes, sans doute totalement détruite.

Les mausolées de Tombouctou, au Mali, ont été saccagés,

Le patrimoine culturel est la cible d’attaques, comme il y a 10 ans, les Bouddhas de Bamiyan.

Le Conseil de Sécurité s’est désormais clairement saisi de cet enjeu et s’appuie sur les recommandations et le travail de l’UNESCO.

Ce qui est en jeu ici, ce n’est pas la destruction de quelques pierres, mais la destruction de valeurs, des repères, des identités.

Ceux qui s’en prennent à la culture savent qu’elle est un moteur de reconstruction, un facteur de résilience, de développement.

L’expérience des pays en transition, l’accélération du rythme des crises nous montre une chose : les sociétés durables de demain sont celles qui misent aujourd’hui sur le capital humain.

Cette vérité n’a pas toujours été prise en compte, mais les temps changent, et c’est une opportunité décisive pour l’UNESCO.

Dramatic change is not just the backdrop to our work; it must also be part of our internal mindset — a daily pursuit within our organizations.

I continue to pursue a wide-ranging programme of managerial and other reforms that seek to strengthen the services we provide to the world’s people.  I will continue to look to UNESCO to do its part to strengthen cooperation so that the United Nations system can deliver as one.  I know that UNESCO is also on the path of major reform, and I welcome the efforts of the Director-General in that direction. 

Together, we are on the path of building a more modern Secretariat, able to respond more effectively and more rapidly to the aspirations of the world’s people.  That should be our goal at all times; during this period of budgetary constraint, it is especially important.  And as part of this effort, I will continue to draw on the ideas and initiatives of UNESCO.

When I was growing up in Korea, there were also many global budget pressures.  But in post-war France as in Korea, the world made the investments despite hard times.  I recall the textbooks distributed during the war by UNESCO and the United Nations Korean Reconstruction Agency. 

I remember teachers telling the students that we had an obligation to work hard as a way to express our great appreciation for the support from people half a world away.  I did so gladly.  And I decided that once peace came to my country, I would repay that gesture with solidarity with of my own — and help others facing a similar plight.  Perhaps just as much as math or science, that is what I learned.

Let us all be true to that mission of common progress for all.  Thank you.  Je vous remercie.

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