Paris: Heads of State and Government, ministers from over 70 countries and international partners met online in an extraordinary Global Education Meeting convened by UNESCO, the governments of Ghana, Norway and the United Kingdom on 22 October and adopted a Declaration expressing strong commitment to protect education financing and outlining measures to be adopted over the next year to safeguard education from the devastating impact of the disruption caused by COVID19.
“At a time when countries are making difficult choices and trade-offs to turn societies around, education must be our top priority, our pillar for recovery. And yet only a miniscule share – on average less than 1% – has been set aside for education and training in national stimulus packages. Financing education is not a cost: it is our most crucial long-term investment. If we do not allocate this funding now, we will face a bleaker future,” said UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay, opening the meeting with a minute of silence for Samuel Paty, the teacher assassinated in France on 16 October.
The meeting brought together the Secretary-General of the UN, the presidents of Angola, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, Namibia, Portugal, and Rwanda, alongside the prime ministers of Italy, Morocco, Norway and Spain, as well as the Deputy Prime Minister for Social Development of Uzbekistan, and SDG Advocate Queen Mathilde of Belgium. Over 65 ministers of education from the five continents took the floor in the meeting to share measures to counter the impact of the pandemic on learning, along with multilateral and regional organizations, the Global Partnership for Education and the Education Above All Foundation, among others.
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres underlined that education is the solution, and financing and political will are critical. “I thank UNESCO for its leadership and call on all countries and international partners to act now, together, for education to transform lives.”
Affirming that “education is at the heart of the EU’s investment in development”, the European Commissioner for International Partnerships, Jutta Urpilainen announced, “the decision to increase EU financing of assistance to education in partner countries under my responsibility from 7% to 10%.”
Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte of Italy declared that quality education will be one of the pillars of the Italian G20 presidency in 2021 that will focus on people, planet and prosperity.
The UK’s Special Envoy for Education, Baroness Sugg, highlighted the focus of the United Kingdom’s G7 presidency:“The UK is standing up for every girl’s right to 12 years of quality education – putting this issue at the heart of our G7 Presidency and co-hosting a major Global Education Summit next year to raise funds to get children into school and build back better from coronavirus.”
Prime Minister Erna Solberg of Norway, co-host of the meeting, stated that “two elements are important for rapid recovery: financing and political commitment. In many cases, the right to education will remain an empty promise unless education spending increases. We need to mobilize more international financing for global education.”
The endorsed Declaration defines priority actions that are essential for educational recovery in the coming 15 months:
Taking every measure to reopen schools safely and inclusively;
Supporting all teachers as frontline workers and paying serious heed to their training and professional development;
Investing in skills development from the socio-emotional dimension to gaining competences for new jobs;
Narrowing the digital divide that has shut out education for one third of the world’s students.
These priority actions require that education budgets be at least protected, if not increased.
In the Declaration, governments and partners state their commitment to:
Maintain or increase the share of public spending on education to at least 4-6% of GDP and/or 15-20% of public expenditure;
Ensure that stimulus packages support measures that will mitigate learning losses and get the most vulnerable back to school;
Increase the volume, predictability and effectiveness of international aid, and
target aid aid to countries and populations most in needincluding those who are not reached by government programmes..
The endorsed Declaration firmly also condemns recent attacks on teachers, students, and schools and reaffirms the role of education and teachers.
President Uhuru Kenyatta said that Kenya “included a large education component in our economic stimulus package.”
Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said that “the modernization of our education system is a priority for this Government,” and “that education and professional development would become a crosscutting policy involving all government ministries.
Colombia’s President Ivan Duque Marquez asserted that the pandemic brought understanding that education is the most important public policy tool to transform societies.
UNHCR Special Envoy Angelina Jolie, who has supported UNESCO’s Global Education Coalition, stated that “all countries are facing huge pressures. But to try to balance the books at the expense of education would be utterly self-defeating, as well as morally indefensible.”
In their interventions, numerous participants recognized UNESCO’s role in improving global education coordination to accelerate progress towards SDG4. This echoes the Declaration that requests UNESCO to examine and propose strategies to recover and accelerate progress and to strengthen the SDG-Education 2030 Steering Committee to steer and coordinate global cooperation in education.
As part of the Global Education Meeting today, a group of global organizations called for urgent investment in education to prevent a generational catastrophe. Releasing a joint White Paper, the Save Our Future campaign—a movement of the biggest education multilaterals in partnership with over 600 civil society organizations, research organizations, foundations, media, youth and influencers—set out an evidence-based roadmap with concrete recommendations for governments to build education systems back better.