29 June 2022

Deputy Secretary-General's remarks to the Opening of the Youth Forum [as prepared for delivery]

Young people,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Hello, Bonjour,

Good morning to you all.

What a way to get this Pre-Summit up and running! 

Thank you to our amazing contributors and performers.

And thank you Ulises for that kind introduction.

I am delighted to be opening today’s youth forum alongside our amazing partner in crime in UNESCO, Stefania Giannini and one of the true leaders in the world today on education – European Commissioner Urpilainen – thank you Jutta for your incredible personal commitment.

I’m really excited about today’s programme — especially the chance to hear directly from young people and engage across generations. 

So I will be as brief as possible.

I want to share three messages that my boss, the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, shared with me when we were beginning the preparations for the Transforming Education Summit. 

First, he said, aim high. 

Our world is under enormous stress. We face a number of crises – COVID, conflict, climate change, inequality and a breakdown in social and political trust. 

At the same time, our societies and economies are experiencing change at a dizzying pace. 

Technology, urbanization, demographics, and political and social norms are all undergoing fundamental change.

If we want to solve crises, he said, steer our world towards a better future and achieve the goals of the 2030 Agenda, then we need a new outlook, a new approach, and a major push for progress. 

And we need to do it together.

And in many ways, he said, that starts with education.

We know that education is central to human dignity. Central to our individual paths in life. Central to securing peace and building nations. Central to tolerant societies and successful economies.

Yet we also know that education gaps are growing and budgets are shrinking – both made worse by the pandemic. 

And in the midst of these changes, education systems in many parts of the world remain largely the same as when I went to school — and that was quite a while ago!

So we know that simply doing more of the same, better or even faster, just won’t cut it.

It won’t be enough to fundamentally address the root causes of exclusion and inequity in education. 

And it won’t be enough to empower learners with the values, skills and knowledge they need – that you need – to thrive in today’s world.

So let’s all aim high. 

This isn’t the time to tinker with education, it’s the time to transform it.

The second message he gave to me was that this Summit is not just about rethinking the “what” and the “how” of education — it’s about building a movement to make transformation happen.

The education that our societies need today and tomorrow will not come about overnight. 

Nor will it happen without a fight.

One way or another, we have all been in education and we know that there are few sectors more difficult to change and, frankly, more politically volatile than education.

And as the Special Adviser Mr. Leonardo Garnier likes to remind us, across history, no human right – no fundamental change in our societies – has ever been granted graciously.

So we need to build a movement for transformation – governments, business, civil society, the international community and many more.

But perhaps most of all, we need you — the young people of the world. 

We should not be naïve about youth. 

You are not a homogenous group. 

And you are not all angels – as the mother of 6 and the grandmother of 3, I can vouch for that.

But there is nothing naïve about saying that young people will determine whether the transformation of education comes to pass or not.

This is not a cliché. This is the truth. 

Not just because you are the most immediately affected by our education systems.
But because, much like the climate crisis, you will inherit the effects of our failures today.

And because you have the political power to make change happen.

You are more connected than ever before.

You are more empowered than ever before.

And you are more aware of what is possible.

So I want to encourage every young person with us today to help us grow the movement for education transformation.

Share your ideas and your proposals about what from our current education systems needs to be discarded, what needs to be kept and what needs to be developed anew.

Engage your peers in the preparations for the Youth Declaration, in the thematic action tracks and in the critical national consultations that are underway or getting underway in almost 100 countries.

And finally, mobilize with civil society to ensure that when world leaders come to New York in September, they know that you are expecting strong and ambitious national and international commitments to make education transformation happen. 

The United Nations family, our Resident Coordinators, partners like UNICEF and UNESCO, are all here to support you.

Dear friends, the last message that the Secretary-General conveyed to me is a clear one: let’s get to work.

Time is of the essence.

We should act with the urgency that the state of education and the state of the world today demands.

And that all of you deserve. 

So let’s make the most of the opportunity that the Summit and Pre-Summit provide.

Let’s create a new path for education – re-imagining both what and how we learn.

And let’s work together to secure the political commitment, societal engagement, public financing and international cooperation needed to make it happen where it matters most – in the class-room, in the community and in the experience of learners everywhere.

Thank you.