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Source: United Nations 4

Following are UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohamed’s remarks, as prepared for delivery, to the observance for the International Day of Education, today in New York:

I would like to thank the President of the General Assembly for putting education not only at the beginning of the year, but also of the Decade of Action.

Today we recognize the remarkable power of education.  Education has the power to shape the world.  Education protects men and women from exploitation in the labour market.  It empowers women and gives them opportunities to make choices.  Education can help change behaviours and mentalities and thereby fight climate change and unsustainable practices.  Education promotes mutual respect and understanding in our human family.  Education on media and information literacy can help combat misperceptions, prejudice and hate speech, and prevent violent extremism.

Indeed, without education, we cannot achieve any of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  And yet, with 2030 looming on the horizon, the world is lagging behind.  This is why the Secretary-General has issued a global call for a Decade of Action, to accelerate the implementation of the SDGs.

The situation in education is alarming.  Alarming because of the crisis in the number of children, young people and adults who are not in education.  Alarming also because of the crisis in the number of children, young people and adults who are in education, but not learning.

According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), 258 million children and young people between the ages of 6 and 17 are still out of school.  At the upper-secondary level, school completion rates are only at 49 per cent.  Around 770 million adults are illiterate, most of them are women.

Young people with disabilities face additional challenges.  So do refugees and migrants.  According to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the proportion of refugees enrolled in secondary education is 24 per cent, with only 3 per cent of refugees having access to higher education.  Older adults are also being left behind.

Beyond these numbers, there is also a qualitative crisis.  More than half of all children and adolescents do not meet minimum proficiency standards in reading and mathematics.  At the current rate, by 2030, 420 million of the 1.4 billion school-age children in low- and middle-income countries will not learn the most basic skills in childhood; 825 million will not acquire basic secondary-level skills.

Over and above basic skills, education and training are not preparing students to meet the demands of a globalized, digitalized world, perpetrating existing inequalities and fuelling further injustice:

Young women have low participation rates in science, technology, engineering and mathematics studies, meaning they risk being left behind in fast-changing labour markets.  Marginalized groups, including refugees and persons with disabilities, receive education that does not respond to their needs and abilities, or their unique realities and identities.  Indigenous peoples are not all able to attend culturally appropriate schools, led by trained indigenous teachers, using teaching materials in indigenous languages and based on indigenous culture.

Education must not reinforce inequality; it should lift up the marginalized and those left farthest behind.  Equitable, quality education must really be available to everyone.

If education has the power to shape the world, we also have the power to shape education.  This means considering the needs of individuals, which vary across contexts.  It means reflecting on today’s world while ensuring that knowledge is passed through the generations.  It means tapping into learning technologies and digital infrastructures.  It means changing the way we value knowledge and learning in our societies.  In short, this means transforming the way we think of education.

First, it means a social transformation, which paves the way for more peaceful, cohesive and fair societies.  As part of these efforts, the United Nations Secretary-General has launched a strategy that will tackle hate speech, drafted by the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, in partnership with UNHCR and UNESCO.  The Secretary-General has also tasked UNESCO with bringing together education ministers on this topic.

Second, it means an environmental transformation, which ensures that ecological issues are included in education.  This is why, at the United Nations Youth Climate Summit in New York, UNESCO called on all Governments to integrate education for climate action in national education policy and planning.  I call on all Member States to respond to join this initiative.

Third, it means an inclusive digital transformation.  The growth of technology, and the increasingly broad range of partners providing learning opportunities, brings with it the potential to deliver learning opportunities, anywhere, to anyone, at any time.

I would like to stress that equal access to women and girls to the digital world will demand a devoted effort.  As we recognize and celebrate Beijing + 25 and the Generation Equality, it is crucial that digital access for women and girls play a prominent role.

Artificial intelligence, for instance, creates both challenges and opportunities for tomorrow’s world.  Artificial intelligence can be used to personalize learning and improve access to education.  For persons with disabilities, for instance, telepresence robotics can provide access for students with special needs, or students unable to attend school due to emergencies or crises.

However, because of its sweeping impacts, artificial intelligence gives rise to many questions.  We need to ensure that technology respects the universal values enshrined in the United Nations Charter.  Last November, UNESCO was tasked with working on the first global normative instrument on the ethical principles of AI.

We have the power to shape education, but only if we work together and really bring the partnerships that are necessary to provide quality education.  There is an urgent need to invest in education.  The financing gap has been estimated at $39 billion per year, and it is particularly stark in Africa.  We need better data so that we know where people are and to ensure we leave no one behind.

We also need multidisciplinary solutions.  Great efforts are being made with many partners under strong initiatives such as the Global Partnership for Education, Education Cannot Wait and the International Finance Facility for Education.

I welcome the ongoing work led by Special Envoy on Global Education Gordon Brown, together with Singapore’s former Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmurgaratnam, my dear sister Graça Machel, as well as UNESCO and the World Bank, to strengthen coordination and collaboration between global actors, assess progress and key bottlenecks and help deliver support to transform education and mobilize additional finance.

This International Day must be a call to action.  We have a duty to the millions of children and adolescents for whom school remains an empty promise.  We have a duty to the millions of women and men who cannot realize their full potential.  We have a duty to step up our efforts, so that quality education for all is no longer a goal for tomorrow, but a reality.

For information media. Not an official record.

MIL OSI United Nations News