Cre­at­ing a learn­ing gen­er­a­tion

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE -

Over the last 15 years, the num­ber of stu­dents world­wide has in­creased by some 243 mil­lion, a re­flec­tion of gov­ern­ments’ com­mit­ment to ex­pand­ing ac­cess to ed­u­ca­tion. But some coun­tries have made far more progress than oth­ers, not only by in­creas­ing the share of young peo­ple in school, but also by guar­an­tee­ing the qual­ity of that ed­u­ca­tion. Clos­ing this ed­u­ca­tion gap must be a top pri­or­ity.

The In­ter­na­tional Com­mis­sion on Fi­nanc­ing Global Ed­u­ca­tion Op­por­tu­nity, of which I am a proud mem­ber, is work­ing to do just that. Led by for­mer Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter Gor­don Brown, who is cur­rently the United Na­tions Spe­cial En­voy for Global Ed­u­ca­tion, the Ed­u­ca­tion Com­mis­sion op­er­ates on the strong be­lief that ed­u­ca­tion is a fun­da­men­tal hu­man right, and the route to sub­stan­tially im­proved liv­ing stan­dards.

The Com­mis­sion is co-con­vened by Nor­we­gian Prime Min­is­ter Erna Sol­berg, Chilean Pres­i­dent Michelle Bachelet, In­done­sian Pres­i­dent Joko Wi­dodo, Malaw­ian Pres­i­dent Peter Mutharika, and the direc­tor-gen­eral of UNESCO, Irina Bokova. And it draws on the ex­pe­ri­ence of many types of lead­ers – in­clud­ing for­mer heads of state, leg­is­la­tors, suc­cess­ful en­trepreneurs and busi­ness­peo­ple, artists, and aca­demics – from around the world.

There is also a youth panel that elic­its the per­spec­tives of dis­tin­guished young peo­ple. That panel is chaired by Kenya’s Kennedy Od­ede, who de­vel­oped an ed­u­ca­tional model that com­bats ex­treme poverty and gen­der in­equal­ity through ed­u­ca­tion, and Guyana’s Rose­marie Ramitt, an ad­vo­cate for young peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties. Also on the panel is Pak­istan’s Malala Yousafzai, the youngest-ever No­bel Peace Prize lau­re­ate, who coura­geously de­fied the Tal­iban to cam­paign for girls’ ac­cess to ed­u­ca­tion.

This im­pres­sive group of lead­ers and thinkers has worked tire­lessly to as­sess the state of ed­u­ca­tion world­wide, with an eye to iden­ti­fy­ing the par­tic­u­lar chal­lenges that con­front dif­fer­ent coun­tries. The re­sult­ing re­port, “The Learn­ing Gen­er­a­tion: In­vest­ing in Ed­u­ca­tion for a Chang­ing World,” pro­vides a series of rec­om­men­da­tions that will en­able lowand mid­dle-in­come coun­tries to boost ed­u­ca­tion qual­ity and en­roll­ment rates within a gen­er­a­tion. It was pre­sented this week to UN Sec­re­tary-Gen­eral Ban Ki-moon, who has al­ready agreed to act on the rec­om­men­da­tions it con­tains.

The re­port’s rec­om­men­da­tions fo­cus on sev­eral fun­da­men­tal ob­jec­tives, in­clud­ing in­no­va­tion, in­clu­sive­ness (with the low­est-in­come ci­ti­zens get­ting par­tic­u­lar at­ten­tion), and a com­pre­hen­sive, long-term in­vest­ment plan for ed­u­ca­tion.

Of course, achiev­ing these goals will cost money. That is why the Ed­u­ca­tion Com­mis­sion calls for a fi­nanc­ing com­pact be­tween de­vel­op­ing coun­tries and the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity, whereby wealth­ier coun­tries of­fer in­creased fi­nance and guid­ance to de­vel­op­ing coun­tries that com­mit to ed­u­ca­tional re­form and in­vest­ment.

There is cer­tainly space for de­vel­op­ing coun­tries to boost in­vest­ment in ed­u­ca­tion. Fuel sub­si­dies are wide­spread in de­vel­op­ing coun­tries, con­sum­ing some 25-30% of gov­ern­ment rev­enues – much more than ed­u­ca­tion spend­ing, in most cases. These sub­si­dies do not just un­der­mine ef­forts to re­duce en­vi­ron­men­tal dam­age from emis­sions; they also tend to ben­e­fit the rich sig­nif­i­cantly more than the poor.

Elim­i­nat­ing en­ergy sub­si­dies would free up public funds for sci­en­tific re­search and ed­u­ca­tion, gen­er­at­ing ben­e­fits for the en­vi­ron­ment and im­prov­ing the well­be­ing and prospects of the poor. Though re­duc­ing sub­si­dies can be po­lit­i­cally chal­leng­ing, Ghana and In­done­sia have shown that re­al­lo­cat­ing funds to so­cial sec­tors can help build pop­u­lar sup­port for it. I plan to do my part to by push­ing for sub­sidy cuts in my own coun­try, Mex­ico.

As I have ar­gued be­fore, if money for en­ergy sub­si­dies were re­al­lo­cated to ed­u­ca­tion, the en­vi­ron­men­tal ben­e­fits would be com­pounded. Af­ter all, the bet­ter peo­ple un­der­stand the sci­ence of cli­mate change and its ef­fects, the greater their ca­pac­ity to help mit­i­gate it. With the right knowl­edge, peo­ple can build re­silience to cli­mate change, thereby safe­guard­ing their liveli­hoods. More­over, they can help to ad­vance im­por­tant in­no­va­tions, such as clean en­ergy and so­lar power, and de­velop tai­lored cli­mate-smart so­lu­tions that bring so­cial and eco­nomic ben­e­fits to their com­mu­ni­ties.

There is no jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for ne­glect­ing ed­u­ca­tion, the foun­da­tion on which so­cial and eco­nomic devel­op­ment is built. By com­bin­ing the re­sources and ca­pa­bil­i­ties of na­tional and sub-na­tional gov­ern­ments, the pri­vate sec­tor, and civil so­ci­ety, we can cre­ate a learn­ing gen­er­a­tion: chil­dren with the knowl­edge and skills they need to lead lives of mean­ing and pur­pose.

Only then will we be able to re­alise the hope of a more just and sus­tain­able world.

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