Excellencies, colleagues, dear friends,
This month we mark the 75th anniversary of the establishment of United Nations, reminded of the need for strengthened global cooperation and solidarity towards peace and security, human rights and sustainable development for all.
Ensuring the right to education for all has been a springboard for advancing individual and societal gains since the adoption of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. And it has been a key priority for UN agencies and our partners.
Yet today, the world of education is in deep crisis.
The COVID-19 pandemic has posed unprecedented challenges, with nearly three-quarters of the world’s learners affected by school closures.
The lack of resources and local expertise during the school closures has led to exclusion of the most vulnerable and marginalized.
The digital divide has put continued education beyond the reach of those who perhaps need it most.
And the absence of school and learning has left many more without adequate nutrition, support, friendship and much more.
All of this has, of course, both exposed and exacerbated the massive inequities and shortcomings that continue to dominate global education today.
It is an affront to all of us that some 258 million children and youth were entirely out of school pre-COVID-19; and that broader barriers, as outlined last week in UNESCO’s Global Monitoring Report, are disadvantaging millions more.
This is why I welcome the initiative of the Group of Friends for Education and Lifelong Learning to put a focus on the role of education in our response to the pandemic.
I commend all of the education partners for stepping up during this crisis.
It has been heartening to see the sector come together under the UNESCO-convened COVID-19 Global Education Coalition to provide better data, policies, practices and practical advice for governments everywhere.
We have also seen many partners rapidly re-programme existing resources and work with governments and teachers to adapt and innovate to minimize disruption.
UN country teams have drawn on the newly established COVID-19 Fund to support remote learning in Senegal, Bhutan, Mongolia and Nicaragua.
Through UNICEF’s “Learning Unlimited” initiative, partners are coming together to support access to quality learning and skills for every child and young person. The goal is to scale-up digital solutions and greater connectivity to reach every child, which means connecting every school in the world to the internet.
Through his COVID-19 financing initiative, the Secretary-General is working with international partners to secure adequate resources for developing countries to protect interconnected lifelines such as education, health, social protection and water and sanitation services.
At the same time, we are all keenly aware that, as we move forward, returning to the ‘old normal’ simply will not do.
To meet immediate learning needs, accelerate towards our 2030 goals; and equip young people with 21st century skills, we need to reimagine education and ensure it is front and center in our COVID-19 response and recovery efforts.
This means revolutionizing the means of learning, overcoming deep-rooted inequities, embracing innovation, advancing a multisectoral approach and expanding public investment in education as an essential public good and fundamental human right.
This once-in-a-generation opportunity will only be seized if governments, teachers, students and all partners in the education sector work together with common purpose and renewed energy.
Next month, the Secretary-General will issue a Policy Brief on Education and the impacts of COVID-19 that I hope can inform a new concerted push to secure quality education for all over the course of this decade of action.
I look forward to working with all of you to make that happen.