Malala Yousafzai and other activists call for action at the United Nations Education Summit

FILE PHOTO - Malala Yousafzai attends a ceremony after being selected a United Nations messenger of peace in New York.

FILE PHOTO - Malala Yousafzai attends a ceremony after being selected a United Nations messenger of peace in New York.

Published Sep 22, 2022


At the recent Transforming Education Summit in New York, activists, including Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Malala Yousafzai, called for world leaders to prioritise school systems and restore educational budgets that had been cut.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres convened the summit, which saw more than 130 countries commit to “rebooting” their education systems and “accelerating” action to end the learning crisis.

The summit, led by the UN secretary-general and Unesco, the UN specialised agency for education, rallied world leaders around actions to achieve the global objective of quality education for all by 2030.

It was convened in response to a global crisis in education – one of equity and inclusion, quality and relevance, against the backdrop of a learning crisis caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Yousafzai urged countries to devote 20% of their budgets toward education and implored the world leaders not to make “small, stingy and short-term pledges”.

“Seven years ago, I stood on this platform, hoping that the voice of a teenage girl who took a bullet in standing up for her education would be heard,” she said. “On that day, countries, corporates, civil society, all of us committed to work together to see every child in schools by 2030. It is heartbreaking that halfway through that target date, we are facing an education emergency.”

Unesco data shows that worldwide, 244 million children and youth are still out of school. It is estimated that globally, six out of every 10 children are unable to understand a simple text by the age of 10.

In this context, the UN Sustainable Development Goal of quality education for all by 2030 (SDG4) is at risk of not being achieved.

The summit mobilised leadership and commitment to expand the reach and the depth of education; to make schools safe, healthy and inclusive; to advance gender equality in access to education and opportunities; to value and empower teachers; to get every learner climate-ready; to harness the digital revolution for the benefit of every teacher and learner; and to commit to action to unlock far greater financial commitments towards education.

Member states and partners seized the opportunity of the UN secretary-general’s Transforming Education Summit to respond to the calls for action, including addressing the learning crisis, digital learning, advancing gender equality and financing education.

Among some of the key initiatives launched at the summit was the International Financing Facility for Education, which is expected to provide an initial $2 billion (about R35bn) in additional affordable funding for education programmes.

Other initiatives announced during the summit included the Gateways to Public Digital Learning – a global multi-partner initiative to create and strengthen inclusive digital learning platforms and content, launched by the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco) and UN Children’s Fund (Unicef).

A Commitment to Action on Education in Crisis Situations launched by member states and partners seeks to transform education systems to better prevent, prepare for, respond to, and recover from crises.

Another initiative, a Greening Education Partnership, aims to prepare learners to acquire the knowledge, skills, values and attitudes to tackle climate change and to promote sustainable development.

The commitments are the result of 115 national consultations where leaders, teachers, students, civil society and other partners developed collective recommendations on the most urgent asks.

According to the UN, nearly half of the countries prioritise measures to address learning loss. A third commit to supporting the psycho-social well-being of students and teachers.

Two in three countries reference “measures to offset the direct and indirect costs of education for economically vulnerable communities”, and just as many highlight the importance of gender-sensitive policies and approaches to education.

The three-day event took place at the UN headquarters in New York and included a youth-led Mobilisation Day, where youth advocates shared a Youth Declaration, laying out youth’s commitments for action on education and recommendations to policymakers on the transformation they want to see, such as including youth in education policy design and implementation as partners, not just beneficiaries, and investing in youth leadership and in gender-transformative education.

The Solutions Day featured stakeholders from civil society and the private sector, and other education actors, highlighting solutions around five “Thematic Action Tracks”.

These are inclusive, equitable, safe, and healthy schools; learning and skills for life; work and sustainable development; teachers, teaching, and the teaching profession; digital learning and transformation; and financing of education.

The Leaders Day comprised countries announcing their national commitments to transforming education.

Addressing the Summit, UN Secretary-General António Guterres highlighted five areas for attention:

1) Protect the right to quality education for everyone, especially girls.

2) Focus on teachers’ roles and skillsets.

3) Ensure that schools become safe, healthy spaces, with no place for violence, stigma, or intimidation.

4) Ensure that the digital revolution benefits all learners.

5) Boost education financing and global solidarity.

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