New York

26 September 2012

Secretary-General's remarks on Launch of Education First Initiative [as prepared for delivery]

Let me begin by thanking the Heads of States and Government who have agreed to serve as Champions for Education First and who are here today representing Australia, Bangladesh, Brazil, Croatia, Denmark, Guyana, South Africa and Tunisia.

Thank you for your leadership.

I also want to recognize the many partners and leaders from throughout the UN system including UNESCO, UNICEF and so many others. 

Allow me to pay a special recognition to UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova for the outstanding leadership UNESCO has brought and will bring to the success of Education First.

I thank my Special Envoy for Education, Gordon Brown, for his strong voice for global education. 

And to Mr. Chenor Bah, thank you for delivering a call to action from youth around the world – and for your powerful personal message.

I must say, your story hit home for me.  It brought back many memories.

I did not have to read about education-deprivation in a newspaper or a text book. 

I had no text books. 

In my small village after the war, I had no school building.  Our class gathered under a tree. 

But whatever we lacked in supplies, we made up for in our passion for learning.

Growing up, I saw the power of education to transform people and whole societies. 

And so when I say education is my priority, it comes from deep within me. 

I know what Nelson Mandela means when he says “education is the most powerful tool …to change the world.”

That’s my life. 

Every one of us stands on the shoulders of our teachers, our communities, our families who believed in us and invested in our education.

We are here today because we know every child everywhere deserves that same chance.

Education is hope and dignity.

Education is growth and empowerment.

Education is the basic building block of every society and a pathway out of poverty.

More education means less vulnerability to extreme poverty and hunger.   More opportunities for women and girls.  More health and basic sanitation.  More power to fight HIV, malaria, cholera and other killer diseases.

Indeed, progress on education brings progress on all of the Millennium Development Goals.  And we must spare no effort to achieve the MDGs by 2015.  We have three years and three months.  We must intensify our work.  This is our collective responsibility.

Education First seeks to answer the call of parents everywhere for the schooling their children deserve—from the earliest years to adulthood.

Our new global initiative will focus on three priorities.

First, we must put every child in school.

Every child – regardless of gender, background, or circumstance – must have equal access to education.

No society can afford for any child to drop out, be left out or pushed out.

Just one more year of schooling for a girl could increase her future wages by up to 20 per cent -- wages which she is more than likely to return to her family and community.

This is the virtuous circle we need to create.

Second, we must improve the quality of learning.

Many children are in school but learning very little year after year. And too many young people graduate without the tools and skills for today’s job market. 

We must bridge this gap through stronger skills development and the power of technology.

Third, we must foster global citizenship. 

Education is about more than literacy and numeracy – it is also about citizenry.

Education must fully assume its central role in helping people to forge more just, peaceful and tolerant societies.

Ladies and gentlemen,

From here, we must take our message to every continent …  every country …every community.

We cannot stop until every child, youth and adult has the opportunity to go to school, learn and contribute to society.

This is our assignment.  This is our homework.

Let us pass the test for the world’s children.

Let us put Education First.