Thursday, 24th of this year, was the first-ever International Day of Education, so proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) says that education must be celebrated for its role in cultivating peace and development.
The Director-General of UNESCO, Audrey Azoulay, in her message to mark this day, reflected on the international situation regarding the potential of education but in particular, the glaring gaps and the tremendous work that needs to be done in order for humanity to fully realize its benefits. Her message is worth presenting in full.
‘Today marks the first International Day of Education, as proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly last December. This significant decision recognizes the capital role of education in “Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
‘Without inclusive and equitable quality education and lifelong opportunities for all, countries will not succeed in breaking the cycle of poverty that is leaving millions of children, youth and adults behind. We will not succeed in mitigating climate change, adapting to the technological revolution, let alone achieve gender equality without ambitious political commitment to universal education.
‘This day is the occasion to reaffirm fundamental principles. Firstly, education is a human right, a public good and a public responsibility. Secondly, education is the most powerful force in our hands to ensure significant improvements in health, to stimulate economic growth, to unlock the potential and innovation we need to build more resilient and sustainable societies. Lastly, we urgently need to call for collective action for education at global level.
‘Headline figures point to the challenges: 262 million children and youth do not attend school; 617 million children and adolescents cannot read and do basic math; less than 40% of girls in subSaharan Africa complete lower secondary school while some 4 million children and youth refugees are out of school, their lives disrupted by conflict and loss.
‘Because the world is not on track to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 4, we need a surge in global cooperation and collective action. Our challenge is to make education work for everyone, by promoting inclusion and equity at every level, to leave no one behind.
‘This calls for special attention to girls, to migrants, displaced persons and refugees; to support teachers and make education and training more gender responsive. It urgently requires scaled up domestic resources and international aid, because the cost of not investing will dig divides, inequalities and exclusion across societies.
‘Invited to facilitate the observance of International Education Day, UNESCO calls on governments and all partners to make education a leading priority.
‘We all have a stake in education; let’s act together to fulfil its promise.’
Azoulay’s reference to Sustainable Development Goal 4, is significant and these ten targets are intended to achieve inclusive and quality education for all and ‘ reaffirms the belief that education is one of the most powerful and proven vehicles for sustainable development’ says the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
The ten targets include: ensure quality education for all; universal primary and secondary education; early childhood development and universal pre-primary education; equal access to technical, vocational and higher education and relevant skills for decent work; gender equality and inclusion. Universal youth and adult literacy; education for sustainable development and global citizenship; effective learning environments; expanding the number of scholarships available to developing countries and increase the supply of qualified teachers complete the ten targets.
These are laudable objectives and according to the UNDP, these has been some global data worthy of celebration. For example, enrollment in primary education in developing countries has reached 91%. But still, 57 million primary-aged children remain out of school, more than half of them in sub-Saharan Africa; in developing countries, one in four girls is not in school; 103 million youth worldwide lack basic literacy skills, and more than 60% of them are women.
Significantly, globally speaking, six out of ten children and adolescents are not achieving a minimum level of proficiency in reading and Math.
International Education day is good time for all of us to consider how we can further the educational enterprise in our capacities as parents, educators and policy makers.