VOGUE Australia - - Contents -

For­mer Prime Min­is­ter Ju­lia Gil­lard writes about why in­vest­ing in ed­u­ca­tion is not only the right thing to do, but the smart thing to do.

For­mer Prime Min­is­ter Ju­lia Gil­lard has taken her pas­sion for ed­u­ca­tion in­ter­na­tional. As chair of the Global Part­ner­ship for Ed­u­ca­tion, she re­cently teamed up with mu­sic icon Ri­hanna to visit Malawi and fight for more than 260 mil­lion chil­dren world­wide who aren’t in school and hun­dreds of mil­lions more who are barely able to read or write. Here, Ms Gil­lard writes about why in­vest­ing in ed­u­ca­tion is not only the right thing to do, but also the smart thing to do.

Srei, a young Cam­bo­dian third grader from Takéo prov­ince, of­ten misses school be­cause she has to help her mother with the cows. She is in the af­ter­noon shift at her pri­mary school, walk­ing al­most two kilo­me­tres with her sib­lings in the heat, wear­ing a school uni­form cov­ered in holes. She is one of mil­lions of girls around the world who come from a dis­ad­van­taged fam­ily and drop out of school some­where along the way – sim­ply be­cause of poverty.

To many who live in de­vel­oped coun­tries like Aus­tralia, it is un­set­tling to grap­ple with the truth that get­ting a ba­sic ed­u­ca­tion is not a given for every child, es­pe­cially not for chil­dren who come from poor fam­i­lies, for girls or for the grow­ing num­ber of school-age youth whose once-in-al­ife­time op­por­tu­nity for learn­ing is shat­tered by a hu­man­i­tar­ian disas­ter or rag­ing conflict.

For th­ese and other rea­sons, mil­lions of chil­dren world­wide barely com­plete pri­mary school and more than 260 mil­lion chil­dren and youth – about 11 times the to­tal pop­u­la­tion of Aus­tralia – aren’t in school at all.

De­vel­op­ing coun­tries around the world un­der­stand that ed­u­ca­tion is es­sen­tial to the well­be­ing of their cit­i­zens and the fu­ture of their so­ci­eties. Of­ten they are putting more of their own re­sources into ed­u­ca­tion, but lack enough fund­ing and tech­ni­cal in­fra­struc­ture to de­liver qual­ity ed­u­ca­tion to all their chil­dren, par­tic­u­larly the poor­est and most re­mote.

The re­sult is that hun­dreds of mil­lions of young peo­ple are left be­hind, never able to ac­quire the skills they need to break out of poverty, be­come a con­tribut­ing part of their so­ci­ety, and com­pete suc­cess­fully in an in­creas­ingly glob­alised, tech­no­log­i­cally driven world. Their coun­tries are de­prived of the hu­man tal­ent es­sen­tial to build­ing eco­nom­i­cally dy­namic, sta­ble and sus­tain­able so­ci­eties.

When chil­dren miss out on school, we all end up feel­ing the im­pact. In­equal­ity of op­por­tu­nity drives dis­con­tent and conflict, which in turn can spill over na­tional and re­gional bor­ders.

Our mis­sion at Global Part­ner­ship for Ed­u­ca­tion (GPE) is to con­front this enor­mous prob­lem and help solve it. I am proud to be GPE’s chair and de­lighted su­per­star Ri­hanna is our global am­bas­sador, a role she has taken on to im­prove the ed­u­ca­tion of young peo­ple all over the world.

To see with our own eyes what it takes to ed­u­cate some of the poor­est chil­dren on earth, Ri­hanna and I vis­ited Malawi. Even though Malawi passed a law in 1994 man­dat­ing free uni­ver­sal ed­u­ca­tion, schools are over­crowded, there are not enough qual­i­fied teach­ers and drop-out rates are high.

Most peo­ple know Ri­hanna for her mega hits and glam­orous life­style, but be­neath the celebrity im­age lies a woman deeply pas­sion­ate about giv­ing girls the same op­por­tu­ni­ties as boys. She re­lates per­son­ally to the strug­gles that poor fam­i­lies face based on her own fam­ily back­ground in Bar­ba­dos. As she said on our trip: “It’s one thing to read sta­tis­tics, but I want to see it first-hand and find out all that can be done, and where to start first.”

Malawi gave us such a warm wel­come and we were able to meet with stu­dents and teach­ers in sev­eral schools. In Muzu, in the Li­longwe Ru­ral West dis­trict, we joined Ms Makuwira’s maths class and Ri­hanna sang

Pam­chenga with the chil­dren, a pop­u­lar Chichewa song all Malaw­ians are taught to help them learn the al­pha­bet.

My ad­mi­ra­tion for the work of teach­ers grew even more see­ing Ms Makuwira teach more than 120 first graders every day. They sit on the floor and bring bot­tle caps from home to use as aids for count­ing ex­er­cises in maths class.

My ad­mi­ra­tion grew for Ri­hanna, too. Not con­tent with just watch­ing and learn­ing, she set out to make a prac­ti­cal dif­fer­ence by paint­ing a class­room and mak­ing bricks for school con­struc­tion. In­stead of strut­ting a stage look­ing daz­zling, Ri­hanna was ca­su­ally dressed, felt hot and was muddy. Yet she seemed in her el­e­ment, happy to be mak­ing a dif­fer­ence.

The life of a ma­jor celebrity is so dif­fer­ent to our own – fash­ion shows, con­certs, pa­parazzi, a per­sonal trainer, your own chef – it must be easy to get car­ried away by all the hype. But what struck me about Ri­hanna was how hum­ble and easy­go­ing she is. She never pre­tended to be an ex­pert in ed­u­ca­tion, rather, she treated ev­ery­one she met with re­spect and eas­ily struck up con­ver­sa­tions with them be­cause she was so hun­gry to see the world through their eyes.

And the chil­dren loved her. At the Li­longwe Girls Sec­ondary School, hun­dreds of teenage girls squealed with de­light when they saw her. They knew and loved Ri­hanna and her mu­sic. Watch­ing her be­ing mobbed, I thought how truly con­nected our world is. Th­ese girls are poor but they know about the world be­yond Malawi. They know that other chil­dren don’t need to worry about go­ing hun­gry, go to great schools and have choices and op­por­tu­nity as they live their lives. Th­ese Malawi school­girls want that too.

At GPE we are try­ing to bring the hope that comes with a great ed­u­ca­tion to 65 coun­tries, in­clud­ing Malawi. We are sup­port­ing th­ese na­tions to plan and im­ple­ment long-term ef­forts to strengthen their ed­u­ca­tion sys­tems. And we are mak­ing strong progress, in­clud­ing in our re­gion of the world.

For ex­am­ple, with GPE sup­port Cam­bo­dia is now well on its way to en­rolling more than half of its chil­dren aged three to five years – about 122,000 and count­ing – in preschool in seven prov­inces around the coun­try. And GPE funded the vi­sion screen­ing pro­gram, which has ben­e­fited from ad­vo­cacy ef­forts by Aus­tralian or­gan­i­sa­tions in­clud­ing the Fred Hol­lows Foun­da­tion. It has reached many thou­sands of Cam­bo­dian chil­dren and trans­formed many lives.

Since 2010, GPE has also helped Pa­pua New Guinea re­build a ba­sic ed­u­ca­tion in­fra­struc­ture that had been bat­tered by years of un­rest. Through pro­grams such as the READ PNG, for in­stance, hun­dreds of thou­sands of chil­dren now have the read­ing skills they need for their life­long learn­ing jour­ney.

GPE is cur­rently ap­peal­ing to donor coun­tries to pledge $US2 bil­lion per year by 2020 to sup­port our work.

With those funds, GPE can help drive im­proved qual­ity and ac­cess to ed­u­ca­tion for as many as 870 mil­lion chil­dren and youth.

Aus­tralia has his­tor­i­cally been a strong and com­mit­ted mem­ber of GPE and gen­er­ous sup­porter of in­vest­ment in ed­u­ca­tion, con­tribut­ing A$140 mil­lion be­tween 2015 and 2018. Now we need the gov­ern­ment to make a new pledge and in­crease sup­port.

Fund­ing ed­u­ca­tion is not only the right thing to do, but the smart thing to do. Our lives – even in de­vel­oped coun­tries like Aus­tralia – are in­creas­ingly af­fected by what hap­pens else­where. By in­vest­ing in ed­u­ca­tion not only will the lives of hun­dreds of mil­lions of chil­dren around the world im­prove, but we will also be tak­ing a big step closer to build­ing a more pros­per­ous and sta­ble world for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions.

You can help by fol­low­ing Ri­hanna’s lead and take a stand on the im­por­tance of ed­u­ca­tion: write to your lo­cal mem­ber and make a noise on so­cial me­dia or write to the Prime Min­is­ter or For­eign Min­is­ter. In our democ­racy, every voice counts. Trust me – when peo­ple start de­mand­ing change, lead­ers lis­ten! Please think about Srei, think about the kids who clus­tered around Ri­hanna, and take ac­tion.


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