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Secretary-General Stresses Crucial Need to Ensure Greatest Number of Children Get into School, at Education Above All Foundation Event


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Following are the remarks by UN Secretary-General António Guterres, as prepared for delivery by Henrietta Fore, Executive Director of UNICEF, at the Education Above All Event in New York on 27 April:

Your Highness Sheikha Moza, honoured guests, ladies and gentlemen, good evening to you all.  And thank you to everyone involved in the Education Above All Foundation. 

Through your investment, your advocacy and your vision, you are bringing to life the dream that every child has to an education… to a seat in the classroom… to a future.

The Education Above All Foundation is now on track to meet its target of providing 10 million out-of-school children with the education they need, the education that is their right.  An incredible accomplishment — for these children, but also for our world.  Because our dream of a sustainable future cannot be realized if we do not support children’s dreams to gain an education.

Nelson Mandela famously called education “the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”.  He was right.  When we educate a child we give her more than books, papers, pencils or a calculator.  We give her the tools, skills and imagination she needs to shape the world around her, to change the world around her, and to make her community, and her society, a better, more prosperous and, hopefully, more peaceful place in the years ahead.  There is no better definition of sustainable development — and no better pathway to realize this ambition — than by educating every child.

I am proud of the work being done on education by UNICEF, UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) and partners.  But it is clear that, worldwide, there is insufficient emphasis on education, and not enough funding — for educators, for facilities, for our children’s futures.  That is why I commend the work of Sheikha Moza and others, including the Education Commission and its proposed International Finance Facility, to mobilize more funding for education.  As a global community, we must face some sobering facts.

Fact number one: 63 million children of primary school age are not in school.

Fact number two: 250 million children are failing to learn basic literacy and math skills.

Fact number three: 200 million adolescents are out of school.

These are not just statistics — these are hundreds of millions of individual children, individual lives.  We know who they are.  They are the disadvantaged — kept out of the classroom because of poverty, distance, discrimination or lack of government investment.  They are the children of conflict — living through humanitarian nightmares, seeing the worst of humanity, and facing terrible risks just walking through their neighbourhoods.  They are, tragically, girls — made to stay home and carry water or do housework while their brothers go to school.  An injustice — to them, and to all of us who will be denied their talents and ideas in the years to come.

The world cannot afford a generation of children and young people who lack the basic skills they need to compete in the twenty-first century economy.  Nor can we afford to leave behind an entire gender — half of humanity — as a matter of their rights, and our best interests.  Nor can we afford to sacrifice these young lives to disillusionment, despair, and even extremist thought. 

For the peace of our world, the prosperity of our world, the future of our world, there is no better investment than in education.  Which is why Sustainable Development Goal 4 calls on Governments to deliver equitable, quality education for all — including those children still being left behind.  That means doing three things:  starting early, prioritizing the marginalized, and emphasizing quality.

The first priority is starting early — and staying the course over two decades of childhood.  Early-childhood programmes spark children’s curiosity, build their skills, and prepare them for a lifetime of learning.  They are the key to increased equality in societies.  At the same time, today’s 1.2 billion adolescent girls and boys — many of whom have already been left behind — also need skills and training.  At our current pace, in low-income countries, only 10 per cent of secondary-school aged children will master the skills they need by 2030.  No country can be content with only 10 per cent of its young people having the skills they need — especially low-income countries, which are counting on today’s children to build and grow their nations’ economies tomorrow. 

The second priority is to pay special attention to the most marginalized, especially those excluded from education by poverty, conflict, disaster and discrimination.  We must not limit our efforts to the easiest-to-reach, but extend them — first — to the hardest-to-reach, including those whose education has been interrupted by humanitarian emergencies.  Today’s event shows that we can get more children into school, even in the most difficult circumstances.

The third priority is that, as we get more children into school and keep them there, we must also ensure that school equals learning.  The quality of the education children receive is paramount.  We cannot accept 250 million children failing to learn even the most basic skills.

The Education Above All Foundation will continue to be an important part of all these efforts.  Your leadership, your investment, and your vision are essential as we help Governments live up to the promise they made to every child.  Thank you for lending your hands — and your hearts — to this compelling cause:  the cause of children.  Their future is our future.  As we support their dreams today, we support our dreams for a better, more sustainable world tomorrow.  For all people.  Thank you.

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