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Transformative Education Opportunities Will ‘Remain Out of Reach for Billions’, Unless Digital Divide is Tackled, Says Deputy Secretary-General

Following are UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed’s remarks, as prepared for delivery, to the informal briefing to Member States on the Transforming Education Summit, in New York today:

It is my pleasure to join you for this monthly briefing on the Transforming Education Summit.

I am very pleased to be joined today by two key pillars of this Summit process — the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on the Summit, Leonardo Garnier, and, on screen, by Stefania Giannini, Assistant Director-General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).  I also welcome colleagues from Paris and key education stakeholders joining us online.

Today’s briefing will allow us to update you on recent developments on the road to September.  More importantly, it is an opportunity to hear from you — your perspectives on the process so far, and your views on how we make the most of this unprecedented opportunity.

We are just two weeks out from the Pre-Summit in Paris — a critical milestone on our journey to education transformation.

A great deal of work has been ongoing over the past month and significant progress has been made.  My colleagues will share more detail on this, but, at this critical juncture, I would like to take the opportunity to remind ourselves why we are embarking on this process together.

Over the last month, I have been struck by several developments that reinforce both the urgency and the timeliness of this Summit.

First, the killing of 19 children and two adults at a school in Uvalde, Texas, reminded us that millions of children and teachers across the world go to school fearing for their lives.  While the tragedy occurred in a particular domestic context, there can be no education transformation without policies that prioritize a safe, healthy and inclusive learning environment.

Second, the World Economic Forum recently published a new study on catalysing education 4.0.  The report put forward a strong economic case for pandemic recovery efforts to invest in high-quality, innovative, future-proofed education systems.

To give just one example, the report found that teaching collaborative problem-solving in schools — a critical skill to navigate the twenty-first century — could add over $2.5 trillion to the global economy.  This highlights the kind of change that transforming education demands in both teaching and content.  And it points to the economic imperative of doing so.

Third, I was brought face-to-face with questions around the future of education during my visit to Central Asia last week.

In Tajikistan, I met with a teacher who reminded me how the role of teachers will change dramatically in the years ahead.  It is essential that we get ahead of the coming changes and ensure that educators are equipped for the transition and feel valued and respected as it evolves.

Fourth, at the World Telecommunication Development Conference in Kigali last week, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) reminded us of the shocking digital divide that is holding back progress on education.

In nearly all countries, rates of Internet use are higher for those with more education — in many cases, much higher.  And just 40 per cent of school-age children have home access to the Internet, with many only able to access online services via a mobile phone with limited functionality.

Until we tackle this digital education divide, together with the urban-rural divide, generation divide and gender divide, the opportunities offered by the digital transformation of education will remain out of reach for billions.

Fifth and finally, at the launch of the second brief of the Global Crisis Response Group last week, the Secretary-General reminded us that the war in Ukraine is compounding the climate, COVID-19 and other crises, placing a financial squeeze on many developing countries.  This squeeze is likely to have a severe impact on education budgets — both domestic and international.

It is essential that Governments and the international community pull out all the stops, now and in the future, and explore all options and innovations to ensure access to finance for the quality education our world so urgently needs.

I have given you a set of disparate examples.  But each example illustrates one of the five thematic action tracks of the Transforming Education Summit.

Taken together, they speak to the truly global nature of the crisis in education — one of access, equity and relevance.  And they point the way forward, to the transformation we need.

This education crisis will not make front pages or move international markets in the short term.  But it is already having an impact on individuals and communities.  Early studies show that COVID-related learning losses are real and growing.  Those impacts will only multiply over time — posing a serious challenge to achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals and to our broader objectives of peace, social cohesion and justice.

This is a crisis that demands urgent, decisive political action.  And it demands reflection, innovation, solidarity and creativity.  That is why the Secretary-General convened the Transforming Education Summit in September.  We count on all stakeholders to come together and make the very most of it.

I am very much encouraged by the progress we have been making together these past four months.  As you will see, the Summit is gaining traction and has sparked interest across different communities.

Now, for the first time, I can say that momentum is growing.  And I must commend Leonardo, Stefania, the Summit Secretariat and our partners inside and outside the United Nations for their collective efforts.

At the same time, we are only now getting to the crux of the issue:  the specific actions that are needed to drive progress towards Sustainable Development Goal 4 and better prepare our societies for the future.

We have a great deal of work ahead of us — over the next few weeks, during the Pre-Summit and in the months ahead.  I look forward to your feedback on how we can better advance this work together.  And I count on your continued engagement and support.

For information media. Not an official record.