23 October 2020

Deputy Secretary-General, at Global Education Meeting, Stresses Safe School Reopenings, Inclusion, Connectivity Key for Averting ‘Generational Catastrophe’ in Learning

Following are UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed’s remarks at the extraordinary session of the Global Education Meeting, today:

At the outset, allow me to commend our UNESCO colleagues for taking the initiative to bring us all together today. 

I am greatly encouraged by the commitment we have heard from Heads of State and Government, ministers and development partners.  The pandemic has highlighted the value that every society places on education as a public good and essential public service.  It has demonstrated the vital linkages between education, nutrition, gender equality, health and social protection.  And it has underscored the capacity of systems to undergo rapid transformation.

Over the past eight months, Governments moved decisively to minimize the impact on learners.  Teachers showed flexibility and creativity to maintain bonds with their students and parents.  Caregivers took on frontline roles in supporting the education of children.  Learners persevered and adapted to new realities.  And United Nations agencies worked hand-in-hand with external partners, including through the Global Education Coalition, to deploy support and guidance for Governments.

But as we heard repeatedly over the past three days, these efforts have not been enough.  Since the pandemic hit, at least one third of the world’s students have been deprived of any form of learning.  As we speak, close to half a billion students are still affected by school closures.  The most marginalized — at least 11 million girls — are at high risk of never returning.

The Declaration you have endorsed, which builds on the Secretary-General’s policy brief as well as the white paper launched today, signals your intention to halt such negative impacts and avert a generational catastrophe.  The priority areas for action — financing, inclusion, teachers, safe reopening, connectivity and coordination — provide the focus needed to move forward together during the Decade of Action.  A number of critical ingredients are now required to bring this Declaration to life. 

First, we need political will.  It has been said throughout this meeting that education financing must be an essential component of social protection plans and stimulus packages  Over the coming year, political leaders in national and local governments, donor agencies and financial institutions must ensure that the resolve to support education is backed up with resources.

Second, we need innovation.  Going back to normality is neither possible nor desirable for the education sector.  Doing so would mean ignoring the profound changes we are witnessing in technology sector and in labour markets across the world.  And it would mean accepting the unacceptable fact that even before COVID‑19, some 250 million children were out of school and more than half of primary school age children worldwide lacked basic reading skills.

Implementation of this Declaration therefore requires a reimagining of education; a dramatic push to train millions of teachers, especially in Africa; the urgent scaling up of partnerships to connect every school, teacher and learner to the Internet; and the harnessing of every opportunity for education systems to be more open, flexible and creative in both delivery and content — equipping young people with the skills they need to thrive in a complex and rapidly changing world.

Third and finally, we need effective multilateral collaboration.  This calls for greater solidarity with the most vulnerable countries and transformed coordination among education actors.  Facilitated by UNESCO, the review of the Education Steering Committee is an opportunity to take decisive steps to strengthen the capacity of the international education ecosystem to more effectively support the delivery of Sustainable Development Goal 4 and the implementation of today’s Declaration.

Education is the docking station for all of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) — from providing the springboard for achieving gender equality to learning the vocabulary of human rights; from acquiring new skills to flourish in a digital green economy to developing new tools to nurture tolerance and peace.  Delivering SDG 4 is a great responsibility on us all — led by the education community.  The United Nations family stands with you at the country level, united for education, for a better recovery and achieving the SDGs.  We look forward to working closely with you all in the critical years ahead.

For information media. Not an official record.