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UN chief calls for action in 5 areas to transform education


Guterres stressed the need to protect the right to quality education for everyone

United Nations | Xinhua | UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Monday called for action in five areas to transform education.

At the Transforming Education Summit, Guterres stressed the need to protect the right to quality education for everyone, especially girls, everywhere.

“Schools must be open to all, without discrimination. We must recover the years of education lost around the world because of the pandemic,” he said.

“From this platform, I appeal to the authorities in Afghanistan: Lift all restrictions on girls’ access to secondary education immediately. Girls’ education is among the most important steps to deliver peace, security and sustainable development, everywhere,” he added.

As teachers are the lifeblood of education systems, there is a need for a new focus on their roles and skillsets, he said.

Today’s teachers need to be facilitators in the classroom, promoting learning rather than merely transmitting answers, he said. “We also need to tackle the global shortage of teachers, and look at increasing their quality by raising their status and ensuring they have decent working conditions and continuous training and learning opportunities, and receive adequate salaries.”

Schools must become safe, healthy spaces, with no place for violence, stigma or intimidation. Education systems should promote the physical and mental health of all students, including their sexual and reproductive health, said Guterres.

The digital revolution must benefit all learners, he said. “I urge countries to improve connectivity for students and educational institutions.”

None of the above will be possible without a surge in education financing and global solidarity, he warned.

“During these difficult times, I urge all countries to protect education budgets and ensure that education spending translates into progressive increases in resources per student and better learning outcomes. 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.”

The international community has a critically important role to play, he said.

Development partners should reverse cuts and dedicate at least 15 percent of official development assistance to education. International financial institutions should make resources and fiscal space available for developing countries to invest, he said.

Guterres urged international financial institutions to draw on the newly launched International Finance Facility for Education, a new tool that aims to mobilize 10 billion U.S. dollars to help 700 million children in lower-middle-income countries to access quality education.

Education is in a deep crisis. Instead of being the great enabler, education is fast becoming the great divider, said Guterres.

Some 70 percent of 10-year-olds in poor countries are unable to read a basic text. Either they are out of school, or in school but barely learning. Even in developed countries, education systems often entrench rather than reduce inequality, reproducing it across generations. The rich have access to the best resources, schools and universities, leading to the best jobs, while the poor, especially girls, face huge obstacles to getting the qualifications that could change their lives, he noted.

Displaced people and students with disabilities face the highest obstacles of all. The COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on learning worldwide. But the education crisis began long before, and runs much deeper, he said.

Education systems are failing students and societies. Too often, curricula are outdated and narrow. Education systems take little account of life-long learning. Teachers are under-trained, undervalued and underpaid. The digital divide penalizes poor students. And the education financing gap yawns wider than ever, said Guterres.

“We will not end this crisis by simply doing more of the same, faster or better. Now is the time to transform education systems,” he said.

Quality education must support the development of the individual learner throughout his or her life. It must help people learn how to learn, with a focus on problem-solving and collaboration. It must provide the foundations for learning, from reading, writing and mathematics to scientific, digital, social and emotional skills. It must also develop students’ capacity to adapt to the rapidly changing world of work. It must be accessible to all from the earliest stages and throughout their lives. And it must help us learn to live and work together, and to understand ourselves and our responsibilities to each other and to our planet, said the UN chief.

“At a time of rampant misinformation, climate denial and attacks on human rights, we need education systems that distinguish fact from conspiracy, instill respect for science, and celebrate humanity in all its diversity,” he said.

The Transforming Education Summit will only achieve its global goals by mobilizing a global movement, he said. “Let’s move forward together so that everyone can learn, thrive and dream throughout their lives. Let’s make sure today’s learners and future generations can access the education they need, to create a more sustainable, inclusive, just and peaceful world for all.”

The Transforming Education Summit is convened by Guterres on the sidelines of this year’s UN General Assembly high-level week to gaulvinize global action for education. Monday’s leaders’ meeting was preceded by Friday’s mobilization day and Saturday’s solutions day meetings.

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