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At International Commission Report Launch, Secretary-General Calls Education ‘the Most Powerful Investment We Can Make’ in Sustainable Development Goals

Following are UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s remarks, as prepared for delivery, at the launch of the report by the International Commission on Financing Global Education Opportunity, in New York today:

It is a great pleasure to be here at the launch of this important report.  This is a major piece of research and analysis, and I thank everyone involved.

The Co-convenors of the Commission:  Emi Mahmoud, renowned Sudanese poet; Prime Minister Erna Solberg of Norway; President Arthur Peter Mutharika of Malawi; President Joko Widodo of Indonesia [represented today by Education Minister Professor Muhajir Effendy]; President Michelle Bachelet of Chile [represented here today by Ambassador Milenko Skoknic]; and the Director-General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Irina Bokova.

I thank all the distinguished Commissioners, who have dedicated the past year to this effort, the Commission Chair, my Special Envoy for Education, Gordon Brown, and all the experts, research institutions, civil society groups and other partners for their participation and support.

This Commission set itself an ambitious task, and it has risen to the challenge.  The report launched today sets out a plan for the largest expansion of education opportunity in history.  It is a road map to creating the learning generation.  The report points to education as the most powerful investment we can make in the future; a fundamental driver of personal, national and global development.  It makes the case for investment in education as a prerequisite for economic growth, sustainable development and global stability.

The international community must be ready to support countries that commit to making the reforms and investments needed to transform their education systems. The experience of countries including Viet Nam, Tanzania and my own country, [the Republic of] Korea, show what is possible, when political will is combined with opportunity and resources.

At a time of multiple global crises, the crisis in education is eminently solvable.  I would like to make three key points.  First, when more than 250 million children are out of school and another 330 million children are failing to achieve the most basic learning outcomes, we cannot hope to achieve the promise of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Sustainable Development Goal 4 on inclusive and equitable quality education is a catalyst; an accelerator which will turbo-charge progress on the other 16 goals and deliver for people, planet, prosperity, peace and partnerships.  But, if current trends continue, we will not achieve universal primary education until 2042, and upper secondary education until 2084.  We will miss SDG 4 by half a century.

Second, education is the key to preventing the spread of poisonous ideologies and violent extremism.  The extremists and terrorists know this.  That is why they have repeatedly attacked schools in Kenya, in Pakistan, [and] in Nigeria.  They fear children, and particularly girls, with books.  Investment in high-quality education that promotes critical thinking and universal values is a key element of my Plan of Action to Prevent Violent Extremism.

Third, education is a human right and a universal good.  As the distinguished Commission Member Kailash Satyarthi told the United Nations:  “Freedom and learning are the birth right of every human being.”  When we conducted the global survey that led to the creation of the Sustainable Development Goals, we asked the world’s people what mattered most to them.  Seven million people took part.  More than 5 million of them said education was their top priority.

For too long, quality education has been accessible to the privileged few in our world.  But, as borders become less relevant, and we become ever more interdependent, quality education and lifelong learning must be available to all. Our world is not prosperous if it is too poor to educate its children.

Let us all — Member States, civil society, institutions and partners — take up this great challenge and advance these recommendations to build the learning generation.  Let us hold ourselves accountable for our pledge to leave no one behind.

Once again, I thank all involved for this report, and count on your continued engagement and support.  Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.