UNGA77: Education transformation needed for ‘inclusive peaceful world’-UN chief

Antonio Guterres, UN chief

By Cecilia Ologunagba

UN Secretary-General António Guterres says education transformation is needed for inclusive peace in the world, saying that no society can enjoy peace without education.

Guterres said this on Monday at end of the 3-day Transforming Education Summit organised on the margins of the 77th session of UN General Assembly in New York.

“I regard myself as a lifelong student…Without education, where would I be? Where would any of us be?,” he asked.

“Because education transforms lives, economies and societies, “we must transform education”.

Instead of being the great enabler, the UN chief pointed out that education is fast becoming “a great divider”, noting that some 70 per cent of 10-year-olds in poor countries are unable to read and are “barely learning”.

According to him, with access to the best resources, schools and universities, the rich get the best jobs, while the poor – especially girls – displaced people, and students with disabilities, face huge obstacles to getting the qualifications that could change their lives.

Meanwhile, COVID-19 has “dealt a hammer blow to progress on SDG4”, the Sustainable Development Goal targeting equitable quality education.

“But the education crisis began long before – and runs much deeper,’’ citing the International Commission on the Future of Education report card, which clearly stated: “Education systems don’t make the grade”.

Dependent upon outdated and narrow curricula, under-trained and underpaid teachers, and rote learning, he maintained that “education is failing students and societies”.

At the same time, the digital divide penalises poor students as the education financing gap “yawns wider than ever”.

“Now is the time to transform education systems,” the UN chief said.

With a new 21st century education vision taking shape, he highlighted that quality learning must support the development of the individual learner throughout their life.

To make the vision a reality, he highlighted five commitment areas beginning with protecting the right to quality education for everyone, everywhere – especially girls and those in crisis hotspots.

Emphasising that schools must be open to all, without discrimination, he appealed to the Taliban in Afghanistan: “Lift all restrictions on girls’ access to secondary education immediately”.

As “the lifeblood of education systems,” Guterres next called for a new focus on the roles and skillsets of teachers to facilitate and promote learning rather than merely transmitting answers.

Third, he advocated for schools to become “safe, healthy spaces, with no place for violence, stigma or intimidation”.

To achieve the fourth target, that the digital revolution benefits all learners, he encouraged governments to work with private sector partners to boost digital learning content.

“None of this will be possible without a surge in education financing and global solidarity,” the UN chief said, introducing his final priority.

He urged countries to protect education budgets and funnel education spending into learning resources.

“Education financing must be the number one priority for Governments. It is the single most important investment any country can make in its people and its future.

“Spending and policy advice should be aligned with delivering quality education for all,” the secretary-general said.

Meanwhile, Catherine Russell, who heads the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) drew attention to the effect of war on children’s education, calling on governments to “scale up support to help every child learn, wherever they are”.

Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of UNAIDS, highlighted the devastating impact of HIV on adolescent girls and young women in Africa, informing the participants that in sub-Saharan Africa last year, 4,000 girls had been infected every week.

“This is a crisis!” she said. “Because when a girl is infected at that early age, there’s no cure for HIV, that marks the rest of their lives, their opportunities”.

She told the summit that 12 African countries have now committed to Education Plus, a bold initiative to prevent HIV infections through free universal, quality secondary education for all girls and boys in Africa, reinforced through comprehensive empowerment programmes.

Audrey Azoulay, leader of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) reminded that “there can be no economic development and no peace without education,” and underscored that Afghan girls must be able to go back to school. “It is their right”, she upheld. Watch here deliver her address here.

Other distinguished speakers included UN Messenger of Peace Malala Yousafzai who called on world leaders to make schools safe for girls and protect every child’s right to learn.

“If you are serious about creating a safe and sustainable future for children, then be serious about education,” she said.