Amid global ‘learning crisis’, Parliaments can ensure adequate resources for education, says UN Assembly President

17 February 2020

Education is the “great equalizer” and Parliaments have a major role to play in scaling up action to ensure that adequate financial resources are allocated to education, girls’ education and technical and vocational training throughout in national budgetary processes, the President of the UN General Assembly said on Monday.

In his address to the annual Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) hearing at UN Headquarters in New York, Tijjani Muhammad-Bande said that education is a key priority of the Assembly’s 74th session, he was am encouraged that the IPU has taken this opportunity to highlight the importance of implementing Sustainable Development Goal 4 on quality education.

Opening the hearing, Mr. Muhammad-Bande underscored that to provide youth with “the best possible start in life” the fourth Sustainable Development Goals (SDG 4) must be implemented and adequately financed.

He pointed out that at least one-in-four countries do not allocate four per cent of their gross domestic products (GDP) and at least 15 per cent of their public expenditures to education – both SDG 4 benchmarks. 

“If we are to address the learning crisis and for students to meet the minimum levels of literacy and basic proficiency in mathematics globally, we must invest in our people, in particular our youth”, he stressed.

Equal education opportunities

Mr. Muhammad-Bande maintained that to learn, students require a safe, bully-free environment, sanitation facilities, clean running water, electricity and internet connectivity.

“It is, therefore, clear that we can only make gains on implementing SDG 4 if we approach it as a cross-cutting area which spans multiple government portfolios”, he affirmed.

“A strong curriculum taught by well-trained teachers is essential to ensuring a high level of learning which meets the needs of students, indeed the needs of society”.

He also stressed that every student must have equal opportunities to study all subjects, especially girls in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

Noting that only 35 per cent of students in STEM are female, he highlighted the need to “encourage our best and brightest girls and boys to pursue careers” in these fields “if we are to succeed in building a resilient, climate-smart world”.

Vulnerable youth

For children trapped in conflict, school provides stability and hope for a brighter future with each year of education reducing the risk of a youth’s involvement in conflict by 20 per cent. And graduates of secondary education exhibit more tolerance towards people of a different race, religion and migration status than their primary-level education peers.

“We must provide young people with the tools they need to become peacebuilders”, Mr. Mohammad-Bande said. “To fail to do so, would be to fail a generation”.                                

He called on the parliamentarians to implement SDG 4, saying “there is no justifiable reason for 265 million children to be out of school at this very moment.

“If we fail to invest in our people, especially our youth, we will fail in implementing the primary mandate of the United Nations, which is to uphold peace and security for all”, concluded the President of the General Assembly.

A global learning crisis

For her part, Gabriela Cuevas Barron, President of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, painted a picture of a global “learning crisis”.

She detailed an array of challenges, statistically outlining that 670 million adults are illiterate; 258 million children will be out of school in 2030; 69 million teachers are needed worldwide; and $39 billion are required globally to build schools and improve capacities

Acknowledging that inequality prevails today, the IPU President cited education as “a key element” to reach a more inclusive, equal planet.

She maintained that if children receive a quality education, near their homes with the proper infrastructure, they will be better placed for a more prosperous life.

“The real issue of inequality is not only a woman’s fight”, she flagged, “it is a fight for all”.

“We need to understand a real cultural change is only going to happen when we go through education for girls and boys, and we include men into making a more inclusive planet”, explained the IPU chief.

She went on to say that: “Governments negotiate and sign international agreements…but in order for real implementation, we need to translate them into national law, into budgets” and “our homework is to improve our capacity to deliver”, said the IPU chief.

In closing, she highlighted that the IPU can be “an important bridge between international commitments and local realities”.

‘An essential pillar’

Education is “an essential pillar” for achieving all the SDGs, according to UN Chef de Cabinet Maria Luiza Viotti.

Investment in quality education wil...support us in tackling the greatest challenges of our time – UN Chef de Cabinet

Moreover, it has long been recognized as a necessary precondition for sustainable development in its economic, social and environmental dimensions.

Ms. Viotti told IPU that millions of young people leave school without “the advanced skills that match today’s labour market”, which she underscored “are vital for navigating the digital world in the fourth industrial revolution”.

She pointed out that this is approaching fast: “Automation will displace tens of millions of jobs by 2030”.

Urging everyone to “steer technology for positive change”, she stressed the importance of learning how to learn “across a lifetime”.

“We need to redesign education systems and rethink the concept of work”, she asserted.

“Innovation and investment in quality education will, in turn, support us in tackling the greatest challenges of our time, including climate change, rising hatred against minorities, migrations and others, fracturing societies in protracted conflict”.

 

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