Global Education First Initiative anniversary calls for bold leadership and coordinated financing to achieve a break-through in education

© UNICEF/2013/Susan Markisz

From left to right: Chinese pianist Lang Lang, Prime Minister of Bangladesh Sheikh Hasina, President of Croatia Ivo Josipovic, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

By Daria Ng

At the one year anniversary of the UN Secretary-General’s Global Education First Initiative, global leaders stress the need for more leadership and better coordination of funds to deliver on the global education promise.
 
NEW YORK, United States of America, 26 September 2013 – An event to celebrate the one year anniversary of the Global Education First Initiative (GEFI) brought together governments, youth, activists, education leaders, and artists at the UN Headquarters on 25 September. The event was convened by the GEFI Secretariat and UNESCO and moderated by UN Special Envoy for Global Education Gordon Brown.

While progress has been made to achieve global education goals, 57 million children remain out of school and 250 million children can’t read or write even while attending school.

In a video message to mark the anniversary, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said, “Our efforts are bearing fruit. Education is regaining its rightful place on the global agenda...But we must do more – much more. Educating the poorest and most marginalized children will require bold political leadership and increased financial commitment.”

Leadership to deliver on the global education promise

The first part of the event on leadership asked panelists to discuss access, quality, and global citizenship – the three priorities of the Initiative. A sense of urgency for world leaders to accelerate progress towards achieving global education goals was established from the start.

“Less than 900 days away from 2015, we need a break-through in education,” said Director-General of UNESCO Irina Bokova. “Leadership and partnership are our guides. Leadership for innovation. Partnership between governments, intergovernmental organizations, civil society, and private sector.”

Archbishop Desmond Tutu spoke about education in broader terms with a powerful message on the need to be idealistic and work together: "We've got to dream of a better world. We've got to be people with idealism…When I dehumanize you, I dehumanize myself. If I help you to prosper in a wonderful, wonderful way, I get to prosper as well.”

Young education rights campaigner Malala Yousafzai also stressed the importance of leadership through peace and collaboration. “We can fight wars through dialogue and through peace,” she said. “Instead of sending tanks, send pens. Instead of sending soldiers, send teachers. This is the only way that we can fight for education…And I believe that if we work together, that if we are united for the cause of education, we can achieve our goal.”

The Prime Minister of Bangladesh Sheikh Hasina spoke about the need for political leadership that, “Places education at the top of our political commitments, policy priorities, budget allocations, and in international development partnerships.”

Chinese pianist and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Lang Lang spoke about the leadership that musicians and the world of arts can provide. “Music cuts across cultural and national divides including age, gender, and creed... Through my music, my role with the United Nations, and my foundation, the Lang Lang International Music Foundation, I will continue to advocate for the right of all children to a quality education.”

Youth voice their demand for education

Young people were part of the discussion to share their vision for education. Youth advocate Jamira Burley spoke on behalf of the GEFI Youth Advocacy Group, which is comprised of 15 youth from 15 countries who advocate for education and promote the priorities and voices of young people for the Initiative.

“Education is one of the best investments to…save an entire generation of young people,” said Ms. Burley. She challenged the audience to ask the questions, “Have we engaged young people enough? Have we given an opportunity for young people to lead?” She ended by saying, “Any child out of school is a broken promise, a lost hope, a talent wasted.”

© UNICEF/2013/Susan Markisz

World Bank President Jim Yong Kim (right) opens the roundtable on financing.

Financing to achieve learning for all

The second part of the event was a roundtable on finance that was co-chaired by Mr. Ban, World Bank President Jim Kim, and Mr Brown. Participants included ministers of education and finance, the Global Partnership for Education, and bilateral and multilateral donor agencies.
 
“Globally, leaders must place education at the top of our common agenda…but aid for education has dropped for the first time in over a decade,” said Mr. Ban. "The cost of reaching our goals is far less than the price of failing the world’s out of school children.”

Mr. Kim stressed that learning is one of the important factors for driving economic growth. “This commitment [to education] must also be reflected in domestic budgeting, with governments placing due emphasis on quality education as an essential investment in country competitiveness, job creation, and economic growth.”

Chief Executive Officer of the Global Partnership for Education Alice Albright summed up the proceedings and spoke about the strong need for additional resources. “…We simply don't have enough resources. Will we leave the world's refugees behind because education has fallen to only 1.4 per cent of humanitarian aid?

Throughout the week, “Learning for All” bilateral meetings, including with Afghanistan, Chad, Myanmar, Pakistan, Somalia, and Timor-Leste, took place to discuss the coordination of financing and concrete steps to accelerate progress toward ensuring that all children can go to school and learn.

 “Let us light the way ahead to 2030 and prove that our political will matches our dreams,” said Ms. Albright.