UN chief urges global support for plan to unlock biggest expansion of educational opportunity in history

18 September 2016

For too long, quality education has been accessible to the privileged few, but as people become more interdependent, quality education and lifelong learning must be available to all, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said today, declaring education a “human right and universal good” at the launch of a United Nations-backed report setting out a plan for the largest expansion of education opportunity in history.

“The report launched today […] is a roadmap to creating the 'Learning Generation.' [It] points to education as the most powerful investment we can make in the future; a fundamental driver of personal, national and global development,” the Secretary-General said at UN Headquarters in New York, where he received the landmark report of the International Commission on Financing Global Education Opportunity, widely known as the Education Commission.

Announced in July 2015 at the Oslo Summit on Education and Development, the Commission is a major global initiative engaging world leaders, policymakers, and researchers to develop a renewed and compelling investment case and financing pathway for achieving equal educational opportunity for children and young people.

Presenting the report just hours ahead of the opening of the UN General Assembly's high-level segment, were the Commission's Co-convenors: Prime Minister Erna Solberg of Norway, President Arthur Peter Mutharika of Malawi, President Joko Widodo of Indonesia [represented today by Education Minister Professor Muhajir Effendy], President Michelle Bachelet of Chile [represented today by Ambassador Milenko Skoknic] and the Director-General of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Irina Bokova, alongside the UN Special Envoy for Education, Gordon Brown.

At a time of multiple global crises, the crisis in education is eminently solvable

The report, The Learning Generation: Investing in Education for a Changing World, and Mr. Ban himself, points out that with more than 250 million children are out of school and another 330 million children failing to achieve the most basic learning outcomes, the world cannot hope to achieve the promise of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

With these shocking statistics in mind and with so much at stake, the report sets out the Commission's four-stage plan that will, among others, aim to generate the reforms and investment that will get every child on track to enter school by 2030 and increase the number of qualified high school graduates in low and middle-income countries from 400 million to 850 million by 2030 – and during the next decade, raise the numbers even further to 1.2 billion:

  • Stage one is to have all countries adopting the reforms of the fastest improvers – the 25 per cent of education performers around the world. Instead of only one in 10 schools being online, all schools would go digital;
  • Stage two of the plan is for every country to see education as an investment in the future and raise spending in low-income countries from three per cent of national income today to five per cent of national income;
  • The third stage of the plan is mobilizing the combined resources of the international institutions. No country committed to reforming and investing should be denied the chance to deliver universal education for lack of funds; and
  • Stage four calls for a Financing Compact between developing countries, donors and multilateral institutions under which overall aid will rise to $35 a year per child by 2030 – significantly less than $1 a week, hardly a wasteful use of the world's resources.

In his remarks today, the Secretary-General said the report makes the case for investment in education as a prerequisite for economic growth, sustainable development and global stability. Hailing the report as a “major piece of research and analysis,” he underscored: “The international community must be ready to support countries that commit to making the reforms and investments needed to transform their education systems.”

Mr. Ban noted that while the crisis of education is eminently solvable, if current trends continue, “we will not achieve universal primary education until 2042, and upper secondary education until 2084. We will miss SDG 4 by half a century.”

Moreover, education is the key to preventing the spread of poisonous ideologies and violent extremism, he continued, adding: “The extremists and terrorists know this. That is why they have repeatedly attacked schools: in Kenya, in Pakistan, in Nigeria. They fear children, and particularly girls, with books.” investment in high-quality education that promotes critical thinking and universal values is a key element of his Plan of Action to Prevent Violent Extremism.

“Education is a human right and a universal good. As the distinguished Commission Member Kailash Satyarthi told the United Nations: 'Freedom and learning are the birth right of every human being,' recalled the UN chief, noting that in the Organization's global survey that led to the creation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), more than five million people said education was their top priority.

Stressing that as borders become less relevant, and we become ever more interdependent, quality education and lifelong learning must be available to all, Mr. Ban said: “Our world is not prosperous, if it is too poor to educate its children. Let us all – Member States, civil society, institutions and partners – take up this great challenge and advance these recommendations to build the 'Learning Generation.' Let us hold ourselves accountable for our pledge to leave no one behind.


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