NEW YORK CITY: Today, 222 million young people living in regions affected by war and disaster — across Africa, Asia, the Middle East and South America — do not have access to uninterrupted or quality education.
According to an analysis by Education Cannot Wait, the United Nations Global Fund for Education in Emergencies and Protracted Crises, 78.2 million of these children are out of school and 119.6 million are below minimum reading and math despite attending school.
Against this bleak backdrop, Antonio Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, was presented with a Youth Declaration on Transforming Education on September 16 – the first day of the Transforming Education Summit, dubbed Mobilization Day.
The document outlines 25 principles, goals and demands for creating and ensuring a fully accessible and inclusive education system.
The declaration is the result of extensive consultation processes involving nearly 500,000 youth from more than 170 countries and territories. They contributed through over 20 in-person and online surveys and social media campaigns.
“We reaffirm the need for an intersectional, intersectoral and cross-sectoral approach based on the principles of human rights, sustainable development, gender equality, climate justice, inclusion, equity, equality and solidarity in all actions to transform education and their systems at global, regional, national, local and grassroots levels,” the statement said.
Addressing the document’s signatories, Leonardo Garnier, special adviser to the Transforming Education Summit, said: “They’re telling us authorities, experts, adults, I should tell Boomer to stop being condescending, to stop being smarter than you, to stop that to pretend we have all the answers when the truth is we didn’t even answer the questions correctly.
“For all of this I really commend you and thank you for keeping hope alive.”
Guterres’ description of the challenge was made even more precise. “The problem is that the education systems that we have around the world are not fit for purpose,” he said.
“We need education as a factor that prepares us for the future and not the past, to learn how to learn and to prepare societies based on cooperation and solidarity rather than societies based on blind competition between people .”
He added: “This summit is an important opportunity to present a clear vision of this transformative nature of what we need to do in the field of education and your statement is a very important tool to move us in the right direction.”
Education ministers from a variety of countries including Canada, Ecuador, Sierra Leone, Portugal and Chile attended the first day of the summit, which began just before the 77th session of the UN General Assembly.
Other speakers included youth leaders and delegates, as well as education-oriented NGO leaders. Among the youth delegates was Amani Alkhiami from Saudi Arabia, who spoke about the transformation taking place in the kingdom under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Vision 2030 reform plan.
“In Saudi Arabia, young people make up about two-thirds of the country’s population. These young people are digital natives, fast-paced, and more empowered and empowered than ever,” she said.
“In Saudi Arabia, as part of the ambitious Vision 2030, we are rapidly developing, transforming and pushing the boundaries of what is possible while collaborating with countries around the world on issues such as development and sustainability, security and education for lifelong learning.
“This transformation is not temporary but continuous, which means we need agile and innovative solutions tailored to the needs of each generation.”
dr Hamad bin Mohammed Al-Sheikh, Minister of Education of Saudi Arabia, attended the second day of the summit, Solutions Day, and addressed a high-level session entitled “Effective Educational Ecosystems: Solutions for Open Digital Contents”.
He stressed the importance of open electronic resources to support students, teachers and parents.
“Advanced technologies provide learners with diverse backgrounds, interests and needs effective, equitable and inclusive access to open electronic resources and platforms anytime, anywhere in the world,” he said. The outlets can be “satellite channels, digital platforms and text messages,” he added.
In the latest Human Development Index, a report released by the UN Development Program, Saudi Arabia was ranked 35th out of 191 countries for 2022. The kingdom also ranked 10th among G20 countries and made the most progress between 2019 and 2021.
The ministerial meetings aimed to provide a forum for global partners to mobilize support for launching or expanding initiatives related to the themes of the Summit – particularly with a focus on the financial crisis affecting education.
“But we need (to put it bluntly) more and better funding,” said Amina Mohammed, the United Nations Deputy Secretary-General and chair of the Sustainable Development Group, in her address on the second day.
“We cannot do this with fresh air, it must be fueled and the fuel must come from our domestic resources, from the support we need in solidarity with the international community.”
Guterres supported Mohammed’s view and said the critical issue of finding innovative funding for education needed to be resolved.
“Education is the building block for peaceful, prosperous and stable societies,” he said. “Reducing investments guarantees more serious crises later.”
UN Special Envoy for Global Education Gordon Brown, speaking alongside Guterres and Mohammed at the summit’s joint press conference, announced the largest single investment in global education to date.
The fund, managed by the International Finance Facility for Education, is expected to grow from an initial $2 billion to $5 billion and then $10 billion over time.
“We believe it can change the perspectives of millions of children,” said Brown, a former British Prime Minister, adding that refugees and children growing up in crisis countries would be the fund’s main beneficiaries.
According to Guterres, the facility is not a new fund, but a mechanism to increase the resources available to multilateral banks to provide low-cost education finance.
“It will complement and work with existing instruments such as the Global Partnership for Education, which provide grants and other support,” he said.
On Monday, the third day of the summit, known as “Leaders’ Day”, world leaders were due to present a national declaration of commitment to transforming education.
They should also participate in roundtables and discussions on the learning crisis, funding education, the digital transformation of education, and sustainable living.