New York

25 September 2019

Deputy Secretary-General's remarks at event on “Reimagining Education: Preparing the Next Generation with Skills for the Future” [as prepared for delivery]

Ladies and gentlemen,
Welcome and thank you for being here today to talk about the crisis in education. Because believe me, it is a crisis, and we need to sound the alarm.

Worldwide, more than 1 in 5 young people are not in employment, education or training.

750 million adults lack basic literacy skills, a majority of whom are women.

Unless we act now, by 2030, an estimated 825 million children are expected to leave school without secondary level education.

And one-third of students between the ages of 13 and 15 report bullying from their peers.

All this is happening at a time when education and training are more important than ever, to prepare for the challenges and opportunities of the future: new technologies, changing labour markets, migration, and environmental and political changes.

Some studies conclude that 1 in 10 jobs could become obsolete because of automation - and most of those jobs are performed by less educated workers.

We are already witnessing the polarisation of labour markets in developed countries. Routine mid-level jobs, like clerical work or data analysis, are being replaced by technology and outsourcing.

This could lead to a new form of inequality; a division around skills that could contribute to poverty and exclusion.

The rise of new forms of nationalism and extremism also require a response from education systems. Human rights education can counter misogyny, xenophobia and discrimination of all kinds.

Education and training can improve access to opportunities and hope of a better future, while places of learning can strengthen social bonds, preventing the alienation associated with vulnerability to extremist narratives.

There is an urgent need to expand, rethink and transform education and learning systems to provide all children and young people with quality learning opportunities while countering hateful narratives and bolstering the resilience of individuals and communities.  

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

Reimagining education starts with SDG4, which commits all countries to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.”

That means curricula that are designed to address the needs of young people, communities, and the public and private sector. Schools and colleges should anticipate and prepare students for the new world of work and changes to the labour market. Teachers must be part of this transformation.

Better use of analytical tools can forecast which skills will be in short supply. But we already know that a large spectrum will be needed, from foundation skills through to social, emotional and communications skills that enable people to work collaboratively and flexibly, and specialist skills to work with technology or on the green economy.  

Second, education systems themselves need to be fit for the future and prepare students for accelerating globalization, climate change and technological developments. Cloud computing, blockchain, virtual reality and artificial intelligence have great potential to help students with personalized learning based on their unique needs. Massive Online Open Courses – MOOCS – and digital credentials have a role to play.

Education systems will need to adjust to lifelong learning: from quality early childhood education and care, to improving schools and excellence in teaching, to providing ways for adults to improve their skills.
Early childhood development is one of the most cost-efficient investments in human capital, but many children already lag behind by the time they start school. This requires special attention. We must find ways to reach the marginalized children who are not getting the support they need, and use new approaches to bring them back on track, including by teaching them in their own languages.
Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

We will not be able to make this transformational change without mobilising across sectors. That is why events like this are so important.

Providing the next generation with the skills they need for learning, work and engaging in their communities will require new public-private partnerships based on shared objectives.

The private sector can bring its unique voice, capabilities, resources, and innovations to work with governments, communities and young people and unlock new solutions.
Specifically, alliances with the tech sector can provide an entry point for new approaches.  Tech companies can help to improve learning environments and boost critical thinking. They can also demonstrate the importance of teamwork, and encourage girls to study science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Finally, educational opportunities must be open to all. A reimagined education is an equitable education.

Education must not reinforce inequality; it should lift up the marginalized and those left farthest behind, particularly girls and women. 

I thank you all for your support.
Let’s all do everything we can to make sure the children of tomorrow are successful lifelong learners who contribute to their communities and societies.
Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

This is the speech that my team prepared for me today. It is a good speech, but it is also more or less the same speech that I have been reading for the past five years.

Because education has been in crisis for a long time now and we still haven’t been able to find a solution.

Let me give you a personal example: I grew up and went to school in the North-East of Nigeria – the same region where Boko Haram is now. What happened? What happened to the same education system that was good enough for me to become Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations but has now given way to terrorism and extremism? We have clearly not addressed all the issues our children were facing – and left them behind.

So I want all of us gathered in this room today to be accountable and hold each other accountable so that we do not deliver the same speeches next year – and really reimagine a successful education for all.

Thank you.