World leaders and education activists met at the United Nations today for a high-level event to mark the inclusion of education as a transformative stand-alone goal in the new 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
Achieving quality education for all is Goal 4 of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that make up the new Agenda that world leaders adopted on Friday with the aim of ending extreme poverty, fight inequality and tackle climate change over the next 15 years.
“You meet at an historic moment,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a message to the Global Education First Initiative (GEFI) event, which was delivered by his wife, Ban Soon-taek.
“The world has just adopted a new global vision for sustainable development. Leaders pledged to finish the job started with the Millennium Development Goals. And they recognized that education is essential to building a better world.”
He noted that around the world, 59 million children are out of school; a quarter of a billion children are not learning the basics. SDG 4, he said, aims to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education – and to promote lifelong learning opportunities for all people.
“The Global Education First Initiative can help us reach this goal. That will unlock progress across the new agenda,” he stated, referring to the initiative he launched in September 2012 in order to put every child in school, improve the quality of learning and foster global citizenship.
Irina Bokova, Director-General of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and Executive Secretary of the GEFI Steering Committee said the Initiative has helped shape a new vision of education; as a human right essential to dignity and empowerment, and as a transformational force for inclusion, gender equality, and poverty eradication.
“The Initiative has widened the lens away from access to the quality of education, to lifelong learning, to skills, to teaching and content, to education for sustainable development, and to global citizenship education.”
Speakers at the event, which featured the First Lady of China and UNESCO Special Envoy for the Advancement of Girls and Women’s Education, Peng Liyuan, as well as Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai, highlighted education as the major driving force for building more inclusive, resilient societies and achieving lasting peace.
Over the past 15 years, the internationally agreed Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) prompted unprecedented progress in the expansion of educational opportunities. Despite the achievements, the UNESCO Institute for Statistics found that 124 million children and youth are out of school and 757 million adults, two thirds of whom are women, cannot read or write.
UN Special Envoy for Global Education Gordon Brown highlighted the plight of displaced children and child refugees, whose education needs must not be forgotten.
“There are 30 million displaced children around the world today; 10 million of them are refugees exiled from their countries. Most of them are not receiving a school education. Many of them, unless we act, will never go through a classroom door for all their school-age years, and we must give them hope…
“So putting education first means, as we have said today, that every single child has the right to education,” he added. “Putting education first means that we must break through this barrier which denies millions of young people the chance of education in refugee contexts today. And putting education first means that we must… find the finance so that the words of politicians, who say they want to do something about education, are turned into reality with the investments we need so that every single child has a decent education.”