Education systems must provide basic knowledge, skills youth need to thrive – UN officials

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
UN Photo/Evan Schneider
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

Education systems must provide basic knowledge, skills youth need to thrive – UN officials

While universal access to education is indeed crucial, ensuring that it is of high quality must also be a top priority to ensure young people have the skills needed to succeed and help their nations develop, United Nations officials said today.

“There can be no development breakthrough without quality education for all,” said Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in remarks to a high-level discussion on ‘Moving from access to learning in the post-2015 dialogue: Why indicators matter and how we can use them well.’

The event, at UN Headquarters in New York, was co-organized by the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the Permanent Mission of Denmark, in support of the Secretary-General’s Global Education First Initiative (GEFI).

Launched in September, the Initiative seeks to put every child in school, improve the quality of learning, and foster global citizenship.

In remarks delivered by Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson, Mr. Ban said: “Education empowers people and transforms lives. It is the key to creating equitable, inclusive and prosperous societies and the building block of sustainable development and lasting peace.”

Mr. Ban recognized that there has been much progress on this issue, but underlined that the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) to provide universal primary education by the year 2015 has not yet been achieved.

“The battle for universal access is not yet won,” he said. “As we approach the 2015 deadline for the MDGs we need to raise the level of international commitment, we need not only to ensure that every child goes to school but that he or she also receives quality education and the skills relevant to becoming a global citizen and a productive member of society.”

He noted that education is also catalytic force to achieve other MDGs, including the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger and achieving gender equality, as it provides millions of young people with a chance to start a career and fulfil their aspirations.

“In the midst of a communications revolution […] education is a fundamental requirement for young people to fully form their lives and to influence their future,” he said, adding that new generations need to acquire knowledge and learn to think strategically.

The Director-General of the UNESCO, Irina Bokova, underlined that countries need to be more ambitious when it comes to education.

“We need to widen our focus from access, to access and learning,” she said. “To build the future we want, we must give every woman and man skills to escape poverty and unemployment and to live lives of their choosing.”

Ms. Bokova called on countries to put education at the top of their political agenda, stressing it is not just a fundamental human right but also a crucial component of achieving security and sustainability in the long-term.

Poor quality education has often reproduced and exacerbated social inequalities, even reinforcing discrimination, Ms. Bokova said, noting that this puts social cohesion and stability in jeopardy.

“This is a crisis that undermines education’s transformational power,” she said. “This is why access and quality must move together.”

Governments must work to ensure more children transition to secondary school, build ties between schools and workplaces, provide adequate training and compensation for teachers, and update a curriculum that provides students with transferable skills, Ms. Bokova said.