Transforming Education Essential to Unlocking Safer, More Equal, Peaceful Future, Secretary-General Says in Message for Paris Summit

Following is the text of UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ video message to the Transforming Education Pre-Summit, in Paris today:

Education is a fundamental human right, central to the dignity and empowerment of individuals, to driving sustainable development, and to building peace.  Any solution to the world’s problems starts with education, the greatest tool we have to fulfil and grow human potential.

Our world is facing a multitude of crises, from the COVID-19 pandemic to climate catastrophe; from increased conflict to rising debt and unequal access to resources for recovery.  Progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals has been derailed.  People’s trust in Governments and institutions is being undermined.

My report on Our Common Agenda set out the choice facing us:  between a breakdown scenario of growing tensions, environmental degradation, climate chaos and instability; and a breakthrough towards a safer, more equal and peaceful future.  The transformation of education is essential to unlock that breakthrough.

This Pre-Summit is our chance to build momentum and generate ideas to set out a new path for education at the Transforming Education Summit in September.  A path that delivers new political commitment to action.  A path that places education at the heart of sustainable, inclusive, resilient economies and societies.

Today, in developing and developed countries alike, many education systems are in deep crisis.  First, this is a crisis of equity.  Over 258 million children are out of school, the majority of them girls.  And education experiences and results are profoundly affected by displacement, disability, income, geography, race and gender.  A public good that has long been seen as the great equalizer now risks becoming the great divider.

Second, this is a crisis of quality.  Too many students in school are not learning foundational skills.  Half of all 10-year-old students in low- and middle-income countries are unable to read a basic text.  A damning statistic that is deteriorating further because of the pandemic.

And third, this is a crisis of relevance.  Today’s education systems are often stuck in the past.  Outdated curricula, outdated teacher training, and outdated teaching methods leave students without the skills to navigate today’s fast-changing world; to deal with the digital revolution; to thrive in a rapidly changing labour market; to respond to the climate crisis; to live in harmony with themselves and each other; and to contribute to nation-building and strengthening democratic societies.  Any country that is not actively conducting a root and branch overhaul of their education systems today risks being left behind tomorrow.

The Transforming Education Summit must be a turning point — gathering Heads of State to lay out in crystal clear terms their promise and their plans to fundamentally transform education for the future.  This Pre-Summit is an essential moment on the road to September.  It must identify the key elements of a new learning path; the solidarity and solutions that can make that path a reality; and the work needed over the coming months.

I urge you to focus on six critical areas:  First, achieving the basics for all students, through education systems that are truly inclusive and equitable.  Second, shifting to models and systems that support lifelong learning and skills for the future of work.  Third, learning to live in peace with each other and with our planet.

Fourth, embracing a culture of collaborative problem-solving and learning how to learn.  Fifth, ensuring the digital transformation of education reduces inequalities and protects learning resources as a global public good.  And sixth, boosting both domestic and international investment in education, including through the International Financing Facility for Education.

I thank all our partners for working to make the most of this opportunity, particularly our hosts, UNESCO [United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization].

I urge you to make full use of this meeting, and the very few months ahead, to generate momentum and commitment so that the Transforming Education Summit is a breakthrough for learners and for societies.  Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.