Secretary-General, at Transforming Education Summit, Urges Greater Commitment to Make Schools Safe, Support Lifelong Learning, Increase Resources for Students

Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ opening remarks to the Transforming Education Summit, in New York today:

Throughout my life, education has been my guide and touchstone.  I regard myself as a lifelong student.  And I have drawn great inspiration from my work as a teacher, many decades ago.  Without education, where would I be?  Where would any of us be?

Every single person in this room knows education transforms lives, economies and societies.  But we also know we must transform education.  Because education is in a deep crisis.  Instead of being the great enabler, education is fast becoming a great divider.  Some 70 per cent of 10-year-olds in poor countries are unable to read a basic text.  Either they are out of school, or in school but barely learning.

Even in developed countries, education systems often entrench rather than reduce inequality, reproducing it across generations.  The rich have access to the best resources, schools and universities, leading to the best jobs, while the poor — especially girls — face huge obstacles to getting the qualifications that could change their lives.  Displaced people and students with disabilities face the highest obstacles of all.  The COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on learning worldwide, and dealt a hammer blow to progress on Sustainable Development Goal 4.

But the education crisis began long before — and runs much deeper.  The report card from the International Commission on the Future of Education put it clearly:  education systems don’t make the grade.  They are failing students and societies, by favouring rote learning and competition for grades.

Too often, curricula are outdated and narrow.  Education systems take little account of lifelong learning.  Teachers are undertrained, undervalued and underpaid.  The digital divide penalizes poor students.  And the education financing gap yawns wider than ever.

We will not end this crisis by simply doing more of the same faster or better.  Now is the time to transform education systems.  So, dear world leaders, your people, the world’s young people and future generations are calling on you to act with vision and purpose.  A new vision for education in the twenty-first century is taking shape.

Above all, quality education must support the development of the individual learner throughout his or her life.  It must help people learn how to learn, with a focus on problem-solving and collaboration.  It must provide the foundations for learning, from reading, writing and mathematics to scientific, digital, social and emotional skills.  It must also develop students’ capacity to adapt to the rapidly changing world of work.  It must be accessible to all from the earliest stages and throughout their lives.  And it must help us learn to live and work together, and to understand ourselves and our responsibilities to each other and to our planet.

At a time of rampant misinformation, climate denial and attacks on human rights, we need education systems that distinguish fact from conspiracy, instil respect for science, and celebrate humanity in all its diversity.

To move from this vision to reality, allow me to highlight five areas for your attention and commitment.  First, we must protect the right to quality education for everyone, especially girls.  Everywhere.  Schools must be open to all, without discrimination.  We must recover the years of education lost around the world because of the pandemic.

Quality education for all means tackling the crisis in foundational learning and ensuring it is life-long.  And placing a greater focus on education in crisis hotspots.  From this platform, I appeal to the authorities in Afghanistan:  Lift all restrictions on girls’ access to secondary education immediately.  Girls’ education is among the most important steps to deliver peace, security and sustainable development, everywhere.

Second, teachers are the lifeblood of education systems.  We need a new focus on their roles and skillsets.  Today’s teachers need to be facilitators in the classroom, promoting learning rather than merely transmitting answers.  We also need to tackle the global shortage of teachers, and look at increasing their quality, by raising their status and ensuring they have decent working conditions and continuous training and learning opportunities, and receive adequate salaries.

Third, schools must become safe, healthy spaces, with no place for violence, stigma or intimidation.  Education systems should promote the physical and mental health of all students — including their sexual and reproductive health.

Fourth, the digital revolution must benefit all learners.  I urge countries to improve connectivity for students and educational institutions.  Our own Giga initiative aims to get all schools online.  But connectivity in itself doesn’t provide an education.  I encourage Governments and teachers to work with private sector partners on high-quality digital education content for all.

Fifth, finance.  None of this will be possible without a surge in education financing and global solidarity.  During these difficult times, I urge all countries to protect education budgets and ensure that education spending translates into progressive increases in resources per student and better learning outcomes.  Education financing must be the number one priority for Governments. It is the single most important investment any country can make in its people and its future.

The international community has a critically important role to play. I urge development partners to reverse cuts and to dedicate at least 15 per cent of official development assistance to education.  International financial institutions should make resources and fiscal space available for developing countries to invest.  Their spending and policy advice should be aligned with delivering quality education for all.

I also urge international financial institutions to draw upon the International Finance Facility for Education.  This facility is a new tool that aims to mobilize $10 billion to help 700 million children in lower-middle-income countries to access quality education.

The Transforming Education Summit will only achieve its global goals by mobilizing a global movement.  Governments, young people, civil society, teachers, business leaders and philanthropists are stepping up.

The United Nations is joining forces, through the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and our United Nations teams on the ground.  Let’s move forward together, so that everyone can learn, thrive and dream throughout their lives.  Let’s make sure today’s learners and future generations can access the education they need, to create a more sustainable, inclusive, just and peaceful world for all.

For information media. Not an official record.