By Benedict Joson
Sixty dollars for public transportation a month. Six hundred dollars for textbooks a semester. Six thousand dollars for tuition a year. These curated figures, modest approximations relative to national projections, illustrate some of the costs associated with public higher education in the United States.
As a commuter college student at Hunter College of the City University of New York (CUNY), these numbers are all too familiar. However, I know that these numbers are not solely monetary units; they are investments in me and my future.
Tragically, not all of my generation and younger have this privilege. In fact, 58 million children around the world are unable to benefit from such investments in their development through education, while hundreds of millions more in school are failing to meet basic literacy, math, and skills proficiency. Conflict, gender inequality, and lack of adequate resources are among the barriers to schooling, self-realization, and success.
On Monday, May 4th, 2015, I, along with colleagues, had the honor of convening education and youth champions at Roosevelt House in New York City for a forum on global education themed “Toward A World at School,” where they discussed these very impediments to achieving the Education For All and Millennium Development Goals, as well as explored challenges and opportunities beyond 2015 toward international education and sustainable development.
Dr. Lisa Belzberg, an Advisory Board Member of the Global Business Coalition for Education, moderated the panel. She reflected on the progress made in the past 15 years since the Goals were set in 2000, when over 100 million children were out of school. However, she stressed that further investment in education is an imperative — to close a 22 billion US dollar annual education financing gap — if we are to see every child in school.
Min Jeong Kim, Head of the Global Education First Initiative (GEFI) Secretariat at UNESCO based in New York, added that although getting the 58 million children in school is critical to international sustainable development, peace, and security, ensuring that they and their peers actually learn is just as important. To achieve this and the forthcoming Sustainable Development Goals, which call for life-long learning, global mobilization must be amplified.
Leslie Engle Young, Director of Impact at the non-profit organization Pencils of Promise (PoP), drew a parallel by acknowledging that “building schools is easy and it is not enough.” Hence, PoP is not only active in building schools, but also working with local communities and governments on curriculum and instruction, leveraging technology, to tackle learning gaps in developing countries and communities they serve.
Hindering the work of GEFI and non-profits such as PoP are sociopolitical turmoil. According to Diya Nijhwone, Director of the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack, in 70 countries, 30 of which have seen repeated attacks on education, students, schools, and scholars are not only caught in the crossfire of conflict, but are specifically targeted, leading to fear and trauma adverse to teaching and learning.
Children, especially girls, and their families are disproportionately impacted by these conflicts. Bijan Kimiagar, Research Associate at the Children’s Environments Research Group at the CUNY Graduate Center, underscored the role of children — enshrined in the Convention on the Rights of the Child — in addressing injustices their communities face and hurdles to education their peers encounter.
In this endeavor, United Nations Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth Ahmad Alhendawi is empowering youth globally. He touched upon the reality that millions of youth from Europe to Syrian refugee camps are underemployed or unemployed. In meeting a female Syrian refugee while visiting his native Jordan, she told him that the “Only job vacancy I have is to join the fight, because no programs are offered to young people in refugee camps.”
In recognizing this challenge, he called on donor states to increase and sustain investments to ensure youth not only access primary education, but have the vocational opportunities and skills development necessary for their overall growth and well-being.
Monique Coleman, United Nations Foundation’s Girl Up Champion, followed by highlighting her advocacy, stating that an investment in education for girls and women is a compounding investment in their broader communities. Her words are a call to action for all of us: “Just as regular people, as part of civil society, we have an obligation and responsibility to care.”
In the end of the day, despite our diplomas and designations, titles and affiliations, we are regular people — we are regular people who can make an extraordinary impact on humanity and the planet. Therefore, we have a responsibility to care for and invest in global education — to ensure children and youth have the opportunity, resources, and education to live, learn, and thrive.
Watch the panel discussion. Join the #UpForSchool and #YouthNow movements.