The Commission’s Learning Generation vision – and the action needed to achieve it – was the focus of a panel discussion held last week for the Permanent Missions to the United Nations. Hosted by the Missions of Lebanon and Norway at the UN Headquarters in New York, the event drew on the Commission’s findings and recommendations to provide an overview of the current state of global education, and the scale of both domestic and international resource mobilization required to get all young people into school and learning within a generation. The distinguished panelists welcomed the Commission’s report and, in particular, urged Member States to support the establishment of a Multilateral Development Bank Investment Mechanism.
The President of the General Assembly, Peter Thomson, opened the event by emphasizing the importance of investing in education, which he described as “the critical enabler of sustainable development.” President Thomson highlighted the Education Commission’s finding that if current trends continue, by 2030 – the date the international community has set for attaining an inclusive and quality education for all – less than 10 per cent of young people in low-income countries will be on track to gain basic secondary level skills. He outlined three catalysts for achieving the Learning Generation: improved coordination between all stakeholders; scaled up investment to ensure adequate, predictable and sustained finance for education; and enhanced efforts to sustain peace across the world. Quoting Nelson Mandela, President Thomson called on all Member States to recognize that education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.
Commission Director Justin van Fleet explained that the Learning Generation report presents a vision for 2030 that is both “possible and plausible.” Specifically, the Commission calls for a Financing Compact between developing countries and the international community, realized through four education transformations – in performance, innovation, inclusion and finance. As part of this Compact, international financing for education will need to increase from today’s estimated $16 billion per year to $89 billion per year by 2030. Dr. van Fleet said the Commission is now focusing on supporting pioneer countries, establishing the MBD Investment Mechanism and strengthening global accountability for education. He welcomed the opportunity to work with UN Missions in implementing the Commission’s recommendations.
Speaking on behalf of the Government of Norway, Deputy Foreign Minister Laila Bokhari praised the “evidence and results-based approach” of the Commission’s report, and called on the international community to increase financing both in humanitarian situations and for longer-term development. To that end, Ms. Bokhari said Norway sees three instruments as particularly important: the MDB Investment Mechanism proposed in the Commission’s report; the Education Cannot Wait Fund for education in emergencies; and the Global Partnership for Education. Ms. Bokhari described the MDB Investment Mechanism as “one of the boldest and most important recommendations in the Commission’s Report.” She continued: “It is innovative and has the power to leverage billions of additional funds. It will also reduce duplication and fragmentation through better partner coordination and alignment behind country-owned education plans. Multilateral Development Banks have access to policy makers at the highest levels. They also have the required systems and skills to make this happen, linking education into broader policy and systems reforms. We need to encourage them to play their part.”
Omar Abdi, Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF, said that great strides have been made in bringing education to the forefront of the international agenda, thanks for the leadership of Gordon Brown – UN Special Envoy for Global Education – and the work of the Education Commission. He cautioned, however, that crises represent some of the greatest barriers to accessing education. 75 million children across 35 countries are either out of school, or have had their education disrupted, due to conflict and emergencies. 17 million of these children are refugees. Yet financing for education in emergencies is often late, short term and unpredictable. Mr Abdi explained that the Education Cannot Wait fund was founded on a recognition that we can no longer separate humanitarian, development and security needs. He added that “failing to invest in education in emergencies is shortsighted – and risks holding back not only this generation, but the next.”
Sarah Beardmore, Head of Policy at the Global Partnership for Education, welcomed the Commission’s report and emphasized that it would take an “unprecedented effort” to reach those who have until now been excluded from education. Ms. Beardmore noted that the proposed MBD investment mechanism would help in this effort, by leveraging the investment of the multilateral development banks. Alongside the Global Partnership for Education and the Education Cannot Wait fund, Ms. Beardmore said that the MDB investment mechanism forms part of a coherent financing architecture for education. She concluded that the international community “has the means – and now just needs to invest in it.”
Dr. Nawaf Salam, the Permanent Representative of Lebanon, explained that the six-year civil war in Syria has had a significant impact of Lebanon’s education system. Despite having the highest number of refugees per capita in the world, the Lebanese Government has made education for all a priority. Yet Dr. Salam said that this has placed an “enormous drain on an already compromised education system”, leading to school dropouts, child labor, child marriage and the risk of radicalization. He argued that “Lebanon’s commitment to opening the doors of its education system to all must be matched by a serious commitment from the international community to provide finance.”
The event ended with a Q&A session featuring thoughtful contributions from the Permanent Representatives of Iraq and Portugal, Commission Youth Panelist Benedict Joson, and representatives from the UN Foundation and International Rescue Committee, amongst others. The Commission will continue to work closely with UN missions and agencies in the coming months as it seeks to inspire reforms in the financing and delivery of education – and make the Learning Generation vision a reality.
A video of the event is available here through UN Web TV.