18 February 2022

Deputy Secretary-General Calls Learning Crisis ‘a Disaster’ That Demands Immediate Response, at Briefing on Transforming Education Summit

Following are UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed’s remarks, as prepared for delivery, at the informal briefing on the Secretary-General’s Transforming Education Summit, held virtually today:

It is my pleasure to join you today for this first discussion on the Transforming Education Summit.

Over the past two weeks — in the General Assembly’s thematic consultations on Our Common Agenda — Member States have stated again and again that getting the 2030 Agenda back on track and securing a safer, greener, more inclusive and sustainable world is their top priority.

The Transforming Education Summit, to be convened by the Secretary-General in September, will turbo-charge that effort.  Education is fundamental to the dignity, growth and development of every human being.  It is central to progress across all 17 Sustainable Development Goals; to securing peace and human rights; and to narrowing divides between rich and poor.

In recent decades, we have seen countries at all stages in their development journey take significant strides forward.  This has also been the case during the pandemic when we witnessed the ability of education systems to innovate; the incredible adaptiveness of teachers; and the resilience of learners.  We saw, in many ways, education with fresh eyes and caught a glimpse of the opportunity that now presents itself for change.

At the same, right across the world, many education systems today are under significant pressure.  In some countries, the pandemic has meant a worsening of a crisis in foundational learning.  In other countries, meeting the needs of a burgeoning youth population is proving a massive challenge.  And in almost all countries, education systems are grappling with the rapid change taking place all around us.

The Summit can help us to turn these challenges into opportunities; to renew our collective commitment to education as a pre-eminent public good; and to mobilize the action, ambition, solutions and solidarity needed to transform education.

During last week’s dialogue on Leaving No One Behind, I was encouraged to hear Member States welcome the Summit and express keen interest in shaping its outcomes.  As Member States have primary responsibility to deliver on the right to education, we are committed to your active engagement in every aspect of the Summit.

Today’s meeting is the first of many opportunities to exchange views and share ideas.  I look forward also to directly engaging Member State delegations to UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization), many of whom I know are following online today.

The COVID-19 crisis has dealt a massive blow to the education of children and youth worldwide.  It has reversed decades of hard-won progress.  It has undermined countries’ efforts towards SDG [Sustainable Development Goal] 4.  And it now risks creating a generational catastrophe.

Even before the pandemic, over 260 million children were out of school, and half of all 10-year-olds in developing countries were unable to read a basic text.  That proportion could now increase to as much as 70 per cent, since millions of students have lost months and even years of learning during the pandemic.  An additional 24 million children may drop out of school entirely.  And some 350 million learners are still affected by school closures today.

This learning crisis is a disaster for the world’s young people, especially in developing countries.  And it demands an immediate response.  But the challenges facing education go wider and deeper.  And they have very serious implications for the future of societies and economies everywhere.

When the most disadvantaged are denied access to quality education, this widens inequalities, reducing social cohesion and increasing tensions.  When education reinforces stereotypes, and large number of young women are unable to complete their secondary studies, we cannot hope to tackle gender inequality — a prerequisite for justice and opportunity for half the world.  When education systems, even in the richest countries, are struggling to leverage technology as a force for good or to equip young people with the knowledge, skills and values needed to excel in a rapidly changing world, it imperils the future we all want.

The International Commission on the Futures of Education documented these trends and more in its seminal report last November.  It serves as a clarion call to world leaders and to the public at large to reimagine education.  And, importantly, it provides a framework — not a prescription — for each and every country to re-examine fundamental questions around why we learn, how we learn, what we learn and when we learn.

It is against this backdrop of crisis, uncertainty and opportunity that the Secretary-General decided to convene September’s Summit:  to mobilize political ambition, action, solutions and solidarity to transform education; to take stock of efforts to recover pandemic-related learning losses; to advance the process of reimagining education systems for the world of today and tomorrow; and to highlight plans and commitments to reignite national and global efforts to achieve SDG 4 and accelerate SDG progress during the Decade of Action.

Across the world of education, there are amazing innovations taking place every day.  And there are practices and interventions that have proven incredibly effective at overcoming the most stubborn of education challenges.  Innovation, collaboration and evidence-based solutions will be at the core of all three work streams.

Earlier this week, I shared with you a note on the preparatory arrangements for the Summit.  Let me focus on three key features.

First, Summit preparations will be advanced along three work streams:  national consultations; thematic action tracks; and public engagement.  The backbone of Summit preparations will involve country-led, inclusive national consultations aimed at developing a shared vision and commitment to transform education between now and 2030.

This could include an immediate focus on targeted actions to recover pandemic-related learning losses.  It could also look at identifying national solutions through open dialogue and collaboration for reimagining education.  And it could look to mobilize financing commitments and benchmarks for accelerating national SDG 4 efforts.

National consultations will be complemented by four to five thematic action tracks at the global level.  These tracks will identify evidence-based, innovative solutions that facilitate progress at speed and at scale.  They can also help mobilize concrete initiatives, commitments, and actions to drive progress at country level.

And I look forward to hearing your proposals for their thematic focus.  Both national consultations and thematic action tracks will inform work around the third work stream:  public engagement.  Here, we will seek to encourage greater public reflection and engagement by youth, civil society and others on the meaning of quality education now and into the future, and on the place of education within the national social contract.

The outcomes from these preparations will inform the Secretary-General’s Summit Summary, which will in turn feed into the work of the SDG4 High Level Steering Committee and the preparations for the 2023 High Level Political Forum under the General Assembly and the proposed United Nations Summit of the Future.

Second, Summit preparations will be based on several fundamental principles.  They will be country-led — with Member States leading national processes, coming together in Summit action tracks and being consulted throughout the entire process.  They will be transparent and inclusive — with young people, policymakers, teachers, academia, the private sector, foundations and other education partners engaged throughout.  They will build on existing efforts, guided by the 2030 Agenda and Incheon Framework, as well as the outcomes of the UNESCO Global Education Meetings.

The Summit will also draw on the aforementioned report on the Futures of Education and leverage the ongoing review of SDG 4 in the context of this year’s High-Level Political Forum.

Third, Summit preparations will be anchored in a number of support arrangements.  We are establishing a Summit Advisory Committee to serve as a sounding board for the Secretary-General as we advance preparations.  The Committee will include Member States, leading education agencies, youth representatives and other key stakeholders.  The note shared with you for this meeting sets out the process for selecting the Committee’s 11 Member State representatives who will ensure the expectations of Member States are always to the fore.

I will soon be writing to the chairs of the regional groups in New York to begin the nomination process for the five seats allocated to New York delegations.  And I will inform Member States once the nominations of the Co-chair and five members from the Paris-based process have been confirmed.

The Secretary-General will appoint a Special Adviser on Transforming Education to help shape the Summit preparations and actively engage Member States and other key constituencies.  The Special Adviser and I will be supported by a dedicated Summit Secretariat hosted by UNESCO.  I am pleased that we are joined today by Assistant Director General of UNESCO Stefania Giannini, who will lead the Summit Secretariat and will brief us in greater detail.  Finally, a dedicated United Nations Task team is being set up to ensure the entire UN system, especially at the country level, is fully mobilized in support of the Summit.

We have just seven months until September.  Together, we can make the Transforming Education Summit not just a gathering about education, but a turning point for education; and a hefty boost for SDG 4.  This will require the full commitment of all of us.  I hope that through our engagements over the coming weeks, we will be able to begin the preparatory process in earnest by mid-March.

Significant progress can be made between March and the end of June — when we will convene a pre-Summit with ministers of education in Paris.  That meeting will allow us to harness some of the emerging findings from across the Summit work streams and focus efforts for the final stretch.

Today, however, our focus is on getting the basics right.  It is an opportunity for us to hear your expectations and your feedback on the proposed approach.  I very much look forward to your contributions.

For information media. Not an official record.