Speech given by Save the Children International CEO Helle Thorning-Schmidt at the Education World Forum on 23 January 2017

Education is the most empowering force in the world. It creates knowledge, builds confidence, and breaks down barriers to opportunity.

For children, it is their key to open the door to a better life.

However, it is a sad reality of our world today that millions of children will never receive this key.

They are destined to stay locked in cycles of disadvantage and poverty.

I think Malala described this heart-wrenching situation best when she said:

“In some parts of the world, students are going to school every day. It’s their normal life. But in other parts of the world, we are starving for education … its like a precious gift. Its like a diamond”.

This cannot continue.

All children deserve to receive the ‘precious gift’ of education. In fact, we have promised to give it to them. It is time to deliver.

Under the Sustainable Development Goals, the blue print for progress the whole world has agreed, we are committed to give all children an inclusive and quality education by 2030.

To get the 263 million children currently out of school, back in.

To make sure the 130 million children currently reaching Grade 4 without learning basic reading and maths skills, become masters of both.

To stop girls being excluded, or married off.

Right now, one girl under 15 is married every 7 seconds. They should be starting a new year of school, not starting a new life of disadvantage.

I know this sounds a bit bleak. But we have to face up to the fact that we are in the midst of an education crisis and are running well behind on our promise to the world’s children.

I have just returned from the World Economic Forum in Davos where I gave world leaders this same message.

However, instead of acting fast to address this crisis, our efforts are slowing down. Development dollars spent on education have declined in the past decade — from 13 per cent to 10 per cent since 2002.

The challenge is also not getting any easier. Two billion jobs will be lost to automation by 2050. Access to quality education will therefore be even more critical to prepare young people for the challenges of a changing world.

If we continue with our glacial pace of action, up to half of the world’s 1.6 billion children will still be out of school or failing to learn by 2030, and we would need an extra 50 years to reach our global education goals.

Yet, as we face up to this crisis, we should not be tempted to despair.

We can turn things around if we are prepared to step up now.

I am proud to be part of group doing just that, the Education Commission. We are a group of government, business and cultural leaders who have produced a roadmap for how we can live up to the education promise we have made under the global goals.

A vision for how to create a Learning Generation.

Click here to read the rest of Commissioner Helle Thorning-Schmidt’s speech.