Commission Chair Brown’s keynote starts at 16:05. The full transcript of his speech is below.

It’s a real pleasure to speak to the WISE conference – to thank the Salzburg Global Seminar and WISE, particularly Sheikha Moza for organizing this, and to say that I thought that the initial remarks that we had from Asmaa and from Stavros were inspirational about the role that education can play in our future.

And before I talk about the problems – because I want to concentrate on the problems and what we do about it – I think we should remember that as a result of the work of WISE and all the educational pressure groups, as a result of the coming together of so many institutions at a global level, and as a result of the efforts that have been made by you in individual countries, we have achieved more in the progress to universal primary and secondary education in the last 20 and 30 years than we did in 2000 years before we had compulsory education at all. And I still have the hope that we can be the first generation in history where we can genuinely say that every child goes to school. I still harbor the aspiration that instead of developing just some of the potential of some of our young people we will be in a world soon where we are developing all of the potential of all of our young people.

But we have to face the fact that while we have a health crisis – and I feel so sorry and sad for those people who have been sick and those people who have lost their lives and those families who are affected by that as a result of it, a disease that has mainly affected elderly people – but we now have not just a health emergency, we also have to recognize we have an education emergency that will mainly affect, and affect in a long lasting way unless we do something about it, the life chances of millions and millions of young people around the world.

You will have heard some of the facts but let me recap what I think are the important ones:
1.6 billion children who weren’t at school for some time; perhaps 1.2 billion not at school now; we have sadly 50 million children who are displaced forcibly, some of whom have been displaced as a result of the pandemic, and most of them are not in school and cannot hope that even if the ordinary schools get back they themselves will have an education.

And what happens in a crisis, and we know from experience, is that child marriage goes up – it doubled in Sierra Leone during the Ebola crisis – that child labour becomes more common because children don’t go back to school and to keep family incomes up many of them are forced to join the 150 million children who are in child labor at the moment; child trafficking increases; and all these problems we know from experience around the world are rising and they mean that the humanitarian response as well as the educational response is going to be at the forefront of our minds.

And we know also that when learning stops a lot of other things happen as a result. When we looked at Pakistan in 2005 – and I’m grateful to Kevin Watkins of Save the Children – we found that although schools were back within 14 weeks (3 and a half months) after the earthquake, many of the affected children lost a year and a half in their education because there was no catch-up facility, because they’d lost ground, because some were disheartened, because some didn’t come back quickly enough. One and a half years of learning was lost simply because of 14 weeks in which the schools had been closed. And we know already that 800 million children in the world are learning poor, that they can’t read and write at the age of 10 in the way that we would expect, and at 16 half the children of the world, half the young people will leave school or not be in school and will have no qualifications whatsoever.

But we know then from the experience of Ebola and the experience of Pakistan and other seismic events in the world that the numbers of people out of learning grow and the time it takes for them to recover unless there is catch up being done is of course far longer than the time they’re officially out of school and then as it’s been said eloquently by Asmaa we’ve got to deal with the other result, which is the inequality of opportunity rises. So some children, 500 million children perhaps are on the Internet; others are not and have no access to online learning.

But already we know that what we spend on the education of a sub-Saharan child is $180 a year only, whereas we are spending five, six, seven thousand dollars on the education of a child in many of the Western countries and other countries that have narrowed their standards. And then think of what happens to the chances of children getting into higher and further education. We know already that 70, 80% of the age group in some countries – Korea, Taiwan, Japan, Singapore – are able to go into some form of a higher education. But we know that in an African country it is less than 5%, less than the replacement numbers needed for teachers and doctors and nurses and so on and we know that universities will struggle to find funding and some may even go bankrupt as a result of what is happening.

And what happens then is something that was mentioned at the beginning – it’s not just about education, it’s about what happens to children and young people as human beings. It’s said that you can survive for 40 days without food, and you can survive for eight days without water, and you can survive for eight minutes without air, but you cannot survive for a second without hope. And hope dies not just when a food convoy can’t get through to a beleaguered town, not just when there are no ventilators for someone who is suffering from the most extreme form of COVID-19. Hope can die when young people don’t feel they have the chance to plan and prepare for the future, cannot dream of something in the future and we have got to deal with something that is quite fundamental here: that hope can die unless we take the action that is necessary.

So I want to start by saying what I think is necessary to get children back to school and then I want to say what I think it is necessary to bring back better so that we learn from the experience. We want to save our future and we want learning to be a more effective experience for millions of children who may go back to school but not learn very much if we don’t change the way we do things and I’m grateful to WISE for publishing what it is doing and being prepared to publish in the future notes about how we can rebuild better our education system.

As the UN Envoy I’ve got to start by emphasizing finance. Education will probably lose something in the order of $150 billion a year in lower-middle-income countries according to the World Bank. It’s between $100 billion and $150 billion if what I think is happening is not stopped. The first thing that is happening that hits education is that countries are not growing and have got no tax revenues worth their name and therefore public services cannot be afforded.

The second thing that happens is that global health needs and the social safety net needs of individual countries start to crowd out the expenditure on education and then education is behind those in the queue.

And then the third thing that happens which is sad is that aid is affected as well and the same crowding out process takes place if you have the same amount of money but you have got priorities to deal with, life and death issues in health, and of course with the social protection of people who have got no food and no wherewithal to keep themselves going if there are no jobs for them, then education is crowded out again.

And then the multilateral institutions themselves are under pressure. They have got to provide money for health; they’ve got to provide money for rebuilding infrastructure; they’ve got to provide money obviously for social safety nets; so there is a fourth reason why education can lose out.

And all of these things were at risk in the recession in 2009-10 and we tried to maintain aid, maintain multilateral support by increasing it, and of course we tried to persuade countries not to cut their education budgets when they were hit by the global financial crisis. But if we are right there is a danger that $100 billion of what is projected expenditure and perhaps as I said $150 billion will be taken out of education budgets in some countries where only $180 has been spent a year – $3 dollars a week on the education of some of the children in that country to cut an already low and meager budget. It is a recipe for disaster in education.

So I want to suggest three major things that really must happen. In addition to persuading countries themselves that they cannot afford to build for the long-term future without investing in education, reminding them that education unlocks opportunity for employment, and they will need to have higher levels of growth. Education means better health because the educated mother is far better able to take care of a child and less infant and maternal mortality is the result. So we’ve got to persuade countries in the interests of both education and the quality of life not to cut their education budgets. But there are three things the international community can do, and I hope that anybody who is campaigning for education will take this up with their governments and the international institutions.

The first is, instead of charging debt servicing payments, let us let the poorest countries have that money for education and health now. It is probably the quickest way we can get more money into education as well as health. Eighty billion has got to be spent in debt servicing payments over the next 18 months in the 76 poorest countries of the world. If we can have a moratorium on these debt interest payments until the end of 2021, that $80 billion from private creditors, public sector creditors, and the multilaterals can be used to fund education. And we could save, as I believe some of our NGOs will be saying over the next few weeks – give the debt relief and make it a condition that the money is used for education as well as for health.

The second thing is that we can help the IMF create a bigger amount of international currency – the Special Drawing Rights – that would be available to the countries we’re talking about who need that money to spend on education. If they have the new money issued and then it was transferred to the countries that need it, then you could create what some people have said could be $1.2 trillion of extra resources this year and by 2022. Six hundred billion now, $600 billion to come. We could create these extra resources. It’s been done before. We did it in 2010, it could be done now and it’s a vital part of the recovery of countries to enable them to spend on education.

And the third thing is the World Bank itself. The World Bank in the crisis of 2009, I know it spent $60 billion on its IBRD facility before and $46 billion in the year that the crisis was greatest. The World Bank does not have enough resources of its own to deal with all of these problems. So for the IDA facility for low-income countries, we should increase the money available by both grants and borrowing. And for the IBRD facility for lower-middle-income countries in particular, countries that have the biggest number of out-of-school children and the biggest number of refugees, we should create now the International Finance Facility for Education which will generate additional resources – in time, up to $10 billion of additional resources for education, which is about the equivalent amount of education aid there is now. So financing for education has got to be taken seriously. Because we cannot send teachers into the classroom without the resources they need, we cannot send pupils into schools without giving them the backing that is necessary.

But I want to mention two other major points. The first is, we’ve talked about the social circumstances that will deter young people from benefiting from education and it may prevent them from going back to school. And so think of it, if child marriage doubled in Sierra Leone as I’ve just mentioned, what might we do to prevent that from happening and allow these girls not to be forced into marriage but to enable them to go back to school? I think we’ve got to think of two things that can happen. One, is we need a support network particularly for girls faced with something that is not a choice – that they are forced into marriage. And again in Sierra Leone, during the Ebola crisis, there was a support network for girls that meant that the rate of girls that went back to school that had that support was far greater than – twice as good – as girls who had not had that support at all.

And I think we need to give families the finance that is necessary. So during the financial crisis, conditional cash transfers were tried and used and still are in many, many countries. And they have worked by helping boost the family budget. They eased the pressures that have forced people into child labor, and people into child marriage. And that is something that has got to be done. Emotional support through a network. Safe schools are essential, so we’ve got to invest in them and I’ll come to that in a minute. But also help the families enable them to go to school by making it an incentive that if you put your children back to school there will be a conditional cash transfer to your family to enable you to make ends meet even though there may be no work in the family at the moment. And it’s something that has been tried, it has worked, people have confirmed in studies that it has worked.

And the third thing then, is what happens to the school itself. I’ve always said that from the 19th century onwards, we have a school classroom that has basically been unchanged. You have the teacher at the front, you have this walled room, you have the desks laid out. And whereas the factory has changed, the office has changed, the home has changed, whether it’s the kitchen or the living room or whatever facilities you have, all have changed over these last 200 years…now, we have seen the power of technology in this crisis. But sadly that technology has been available to only some of the children of our community. But we can now, I think, see how we can combine online and technology with teaching in a way that enhances the power and the status and the capacity of the teacher and does nothing to diminish it. The teacher, if you like, is the guide by your side using the technology that’s available, sometimes lectures coming online rather than just on the stage. The teacher as tutor with the 1:1 that could happen as we return both online if it’s available and also in the classroom. This is something that has the capacity to transform the educational experience of so many children and it’s something that people who are very wealthy can afford – this personalized learning – ‘High Touch High Tech’ some people call it – is something that we’ve got to be in a position to extend to everybody, particularly to those who have been left behind who need to catch up, who need the one-to-one personal experience. And so we will need more teachers, and there’s a shortage of millions of teachers around the world – we will need teachers as tutors as well as lecturers which fulfills the mission to develop the potential of every child, and of course we will need to invest in the technology that can back this up.

And when it comes to higher and further education there is an equivalent problem. Because if you take the cost of primary and secondary education in a traditional school, that is about 20 to 25% of GDP per head. So we’re spending that in a poorer country – about a quarter of GDP per head on education. But if you send someone to university it’s about 140% of GDP per head so it limits the numbers of people in a poor country that can get into further and higher education no matter what the reality is. And so many countries – they say India is trying to build a thousand universities but can’t afford to do so. Pakistan is looking at universities, Nigeria needs universities. We’ve got to find a better way of financing higher education particularly when the advantage accrues to companies around the world if we have trained graduates available to get work, benefitting from the education that is provided by a partnership between the family and the government that must encourage education and to make it available to all.

The reforms in education that we are talking about give us a chance to build back better. They will make it possible for children to have more support by their side in the classroom, but also at home. We have got to bear in mind that a human tragedy is unfolding if we do nothing and leave education completely underfunded without the resources that are necessary for children to flourish in the future. And we have to do this – and this is my final point – by cooperation. You know that around the world there are so many good people doing so many good things – and just as I found in health when I’ve been talking to the G20 and other organizations, scientists, technicians, researchers, virologists, immunologists – all wanting to work together with each other. The same is true of teachers. The same is true of educators. The same is true of those professionals, those voluntary groups in education – they all want to work together to coordinate the response to illiteracy and also the response to this crisis. And so the Global Education Forum, backed up we hope by a document that all organizations can sign up to, which will be a new white paper if you like for the future of education – we can all come together and say look, we’ve had a crisis which has revealed the threat to children’s livelihoods but also the threat to them developing their potential.

We know the power of education not just to develop individual talents but also to unlock the sustainable development goals in health. We know we have a deadline ten years from now to meet the Sustainable Development Goals and we are off track. We know that 260 million children in ordinary times are not in school. We know that 400 million finish education at 11. We know that 800 million leave school without qualifications at whatever age they leave. We know we have a challenge ahead. So let’s work together. Let’s think and imagine this new future. Let’s ensure we put all the pressure we can to ensure the proper financing of education knowing that finance plus the reforms we’ve been discussing are key to building a better future for the children we’re talking about. And know too, the important role of WISE and all those participating in the forum today. We can make a difference.

When I think back to the Space Race between America and Russia from the 1940s to the1980s all vying with each other to get to the moon, all competing with each other in the outer hemisphere. And then in the 1990s they came together and created an International Space Station. And so Russia can’t get to the Space Station without help from America, and America can’t get there without help from Russia. And two sworn enemies managed to cooperate in outer space for a bigger purpose to explore the outer hemisphere of the world. If we can cooperate in outer space, surely we can find better ways to cooperate on Earth and we can build the education future that all of us here dream about and every single child in the world deserves.

Thank you very much.