Following are UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed’s remarks, as prepared for delivery, at the Global Campaign for Education sixth World Assembly, in Kathmandu, Nepal, today:
It is a pleasure to join for you for this important gathering. I thank the people and Government of Nepal for their warm welcome and for their support of the work of the United Nations. I also commend the Government of Nepal for its unwavering commitment to the right to education. In recent years, against tough economic hurdles, it has significantly advanced the provision of universal primary education, ensured that children and youth continued their education in post-conflict and post-disaster situations, improved the literacy rate of the population and modernized its teachers’ professional development.
Let me also stress how much I welcome the work of the Global Campaign for Education. As it happens, we have crossed paths often, in my current capacity and as a member of the Government in Nigeria and in efforts ranging from Education for All to my service as a special advisor on education. So, it is a pleasure to be with you all once again as we drive this vital work forward. The theme of this assembly is apt: with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, our shared aim is to transform our world.
Today, the world’s pursuit of sustainable development faces profound tensions and contradictions. Globalization has brought remarkable gains and helped to lift many millions of people out of poverty. But, we are also keenly aware that the benefits have yet to reach all people and indeed that the patterns and pressures associated with globalization are aggravating environmental stress and fuelling climate change. While poverty has declined, inequality is on the rise within and among nations. And while we live in an increasingly interconnected world, intolerance and discrimination continue to drive people apart.
The 2030 Agenda is our universal response to ensure that we address these challenges by pursuing the 17 Sustainable Development Goals for a world that leaves no one behind. Education is indispensable to the achievement of all the goals. Our aspirations are clear: equitable and inclusive access to lifelong quality education for all; ensuring that people, especially women and youth, have the skills that match the twenty-first century global yet local marketplace; enabling people with the knowledge and competencies for participation in social, economic, political and civic life; empowering teachers and educators; and strengthening public education systems, including with adequate funding.
The Education 2030 Framework for implementing Sustainable Development Goal 4 and its targets enshrines these collective commitments. Now we have to deliver. Ensuring the means of implementation will be crucial. That means a whole-of-society approach. It means building and fortifying the necessary institutions, in keeping with Sustainable Development Goal 16. And it means a strong global partnership for development, as envisaged in Goal 17.
Three years along the path of implementation, where do we stand in our efforts towards transformation? While there has been progress in many areas, we still have a long way to go. Indeed, this is one key message coming out of the Voluntary National Reviews in the High-level Political Forum, in which a great many countries have participated. Despite remarkable improvements in literacy and a narrowing of the gender gap, 750 million adults ‑ two thirds of whom are women ‑ remained non-literate in 2016. While out-of-school rates and numbers have fallen, they remain high. In 2016, 263 million children and adolescents ‑ one of every five ‑ were out of school. Moreover, millions of children and adolescents who are in school are not acquiring minimal skills owing to overcrowded classrooms, inadequately trained teachers, or because students drop out.
Improving the working conditions of educators is of utmost importance if countries are to attract the best candidates into the teaching profession and keep them there. The lack of sufficient and equitable funding for the education sector is a persistent problem in many countries. Households, in particular in low‑income communities, bear a disproportionate share of the cost of education. The poorest and most marginalized children and youth are often denied their right to free primary and secondary education, thus reinforcing existing patterns of exclusion.
To achieve the Sustainable Development Goal for education, a scaling up from $1.2 trillion to nearly $3 trillion annually by 2030 will be required. The international community must be willing to help address national funding shortfalls. Even with countries’ optimal efforts to improve their tax bases, increase spending on education and improve value for money, a funding gap for education will persist, rising to almost $40 billion by 2020 and $90 billion by 2030.
Transformation also means recognizing that education should not be seen as a stand-alone goal. It plays a key role across all the other Sustainable Development Goals. It increases the productivity of individuals and strengthens the potential for economic growth. It helps to eradicate poverty and hunger. It contributes to improved health. It promotes gender equality. More broadly, it can instil the values and mindsets that enable people to be agents for sustainable development. And it promotes peace, the rule of law and respect for human rights.
Education is therefore a powerful catalyst, but this can only happen if it is equitable. This means making special efforts to ensure that all children, young people and adults, regardless of family income, gender, ethnicity, where they live or whether they are disabled, can benefit. But, for education to be transformative, education itself must be transformed.
First, we must embrace a broad view of education as a collective social endeavour. This is particularly true at a time when education systems are focusing on measurable learning outcomes, with stronger emphasis on individual performance, market-driven aspirations and competition. This narrows our ambitious vision of the purpose of education and our efforts to strengthen social responses to sustainability. As United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has stressed, “sustaining and enhancing the dignity, capacity and welfare of the human person in relation to others, and to nature, should be the fundamental purpose of education in the twenty-first century.”
Second, we must strengthen our support for education as a public good and a human right. This is particularly true with the rise of private provision. Transformative education can only be achieved when we all shoulder our shared responsibility. This requires mutual transparent public accountability in our efforts to ensure the right to education and the empowerment of all individuals and communities.
Third, we must focus greater efforts on educating our girl children who still face too many obstacles, including distance to schools, adequate sanitation facilities, harassment and the burden of care. We know that educating a girl has important consequences for global poverty reduction. Each additional year of schooling can raise a girl’s future earning power by up to 20 per cent, decreases the likelihood of early marriage and death in child birth, decreases the gender pay gap and has knock-on impacts on the next generation. An educated woman is more likely to send her own children to school, thus helping to stop the cycle that keeps so many families in poverty from one generation to the next.
The spirit of transformation must also extend to the realm of partnerships. Global cooperation will be crucial for promoting innovation, mobilizing resources and disseminating educational technology and best practices. Local authorities should also be empowered to contribute. Their unique knowledge of their communities, and the respect with which many are held, are critical ingredients in enabling relevant education to take root.
Civil society also has a critical role to play. This, too, is recognized in the Education 2030 Framework, which underscores that “Civil society organizations need to be engaged and involved at all stages, from planning through to monitoring and evaluation, with their participation institutionalized and guaranteed.” In particular, civil society can help strengthen accountability and give voice to those who face discrimination and other traditionally excluded groups.
The right to quality education and to learning throughout life require ambitious strategic approaches and policy measures to make our education systems more equitable and inclusive. Your deliberations here are therefore especially timely as we prepare for the High-level Political Forum Review next year on “Empowering people and ensuring inclusiveness and equality”, a review that will examine progress on education as part of our collective commitments for a fairer and more just world for all.