Fifty-sixth Session,
6th Meeting* (AM)

Investing in Lifelong Education for Women, Youth, Migrants Creates Healthier, More Prosperous Societies, Experts Tell Population and Development Commission

Investing in lifelong education, including for women, young people and migrants, leads to healthier, more prosperous societies, experts underscored today, as the Commission on Population and Development continued its fifty-sixth session with a general debate as well as a panel discussion on “Population, education and sustainable development.”

Moderated by Fnu Imanuel (Indonesia), Vice-Chair of the Commission on Population and Development, the panel discussion featured:  Anastasia Gage, Professor in the Department of International Health and Sustainable Development at Tulane University; John Santelli, Professor of Population and Family Health and Pediatrics at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University; Juan Alfaro López, Executive Director of the National Training Institute in Costa Rica; Christina Williams, Youth Ambassador and Spokesperson, Policy and Advocacy Specialist to the Commonwealth Youth Council in Jamaica; and Ayman Zohry, Adjunct Professor in the Department of Sociology at American University in Cairo, Egypt.

Ms. Gage said that early childhood education improves young children’s cognitive ability, social skills and health.  “If all adults completed secondary education, an estimated 420 million people could be lifted out of poverty,” she asserted.  Further, if by 2030 all school-age girls enrol in and complete secondary education, the gross domestic product (GDP) of developing countries would increase by 10 per cent over the next decade.  Increased education is associated with reductions in fertility and mortality, which indirectly impact the macroeconomy.  As fertility declines and the relative size of the working-age population increases, many countries in Africa and Asia can realize a sizeable demographic dividend, she noted.  By enhancing women’s agency, education is one of the most powerful tools for reducing the likelihood of harmful practices, such as child marriage and gender-based violence, she observed, noting that educated women are more likely to plan the timing of children, use skilled birth attendants and have lower risks of maternal mortality.

However, she continued, sustained high fertility and rapid population growth have negative implications for spending on education and health.  In low-income countries, enrolment rates of primary school-age children quadrupled from 1990 to 2020.  Budgetary allocations for education have been insufficient to meet the needs of the growing school-age population, especially in sub-Saharan Africa.  The need to educate a growing number of children and young people diverts resources from efforts to improve the quality of education, reduce gender inequalities and provide meaningful employment.  Moreover, the accelerating climate crisis, slow pandemic recovery, protracted war in Ukraine, rising inflation, mounting debt crisis, and exposure to natural disasters and conflict in many high fertility countries threaten to derail improvements in education and health, she cautioned.

Mr. Lopez, noting the rapid rate at which technology is changing and the consequent impact on human skills, said that new programmes and services for technical and vocational training must be pragmatic in their design.  The boundaries between formal and informal education must be “permeable” so that people can move amongst the various educational and labour trajectories.  He also stressed the importance of facilitating the entry into the labour market of young adults who have been excluded from formal education.  Noting that adults who are already working should have the opportunity to acquire different skills, he said “obviously we are talking about the human right to decent work” that is well-paid and guaranteed.  While these educational services must be focused on people, it’s also essential to not lose sight of the demands of the labour market, he pointed out.

Highlighting the importance of women’s employment, he said that very often women have particular care responsibilities.  Citing statistics from Costa Rica, he noted that women spend more than four hours a day on care work.  That amounts to about 19 per cent of GDP, he said, adding that it is crucial to integrate women into the labour market.  Underscoring that lifelong learning must focus on curiosity, initiative and critical thought, he said it must impart the skills needed to analyse the current environmental and economic practices and design sustainable solutions.  Skills should be tied not only to employment but also to citizen responsibility, he said, adding that technical and vocational training must support sustainable development.  Costa Rica is investing in education that protects biodiversity, advances renewable energy and manages protected areas.

Dr. Santelli said that education — with its powerful influence on health across the lifespan — is associated with improved health practices, social and economic empowerment and health literacy.  Among young people, education is a protective factor, he said, noting that continuing school attendance is associated with lower rates of health-risk behaviours and of adolescent and unintended pregnancy.  In developed countries, children who do well in school academically or socially are more likely to attain higher levels of education and engage in fewer health risk behaviours; young people with access to primary and secondary schools demonstrate higher educational and occupational attainment.  Drawing on his experience in Uganda, he said that rising school enrolment in the country is linked to the national policy of universal primary education — inaugurated in 1997 — which abolished tuition fees and increased educational access for children and adolescents, particularly young women.  In the Rakai District of rural Uganda, school enrolment is associated with reduced HIV acquisition among youths, he noted.

Turning to the role of schools, educators and parents in sexual and reproductive health education programmes, he highlighted the positive impact of comprehensive risk reduction programmes on initiation of sexual intercourse, current sexual activity, frequency of sexual activity, use of protection and pregnancy.  Likewise, a 2018 global review of curriculum-based sexuality education commissioned by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) found that such education “remains a crucial and cost-effective strategy”.  Other research has found the positive impact of comprehensive sexuality education on preventing homophobic bullying, intimate partner violence and child abuse, he observed.

Ms. Williams said that digital education provides youth the skills they need to utilize resources to collaborate, ideate and situate themselves in an interconnected world.  Yet, a lot of young people around the world are left behind, she said, noting that many regions and countries lack the infrastructure for digital inclusion.  Due to the lack of proper planning, youth in those places are excluded further, she said, highlighting the uneven effectiveness of online education during the pandemic as an example.  Turning to her country, Jamaica, she noted that it has an Internet penetration rate of only 55 per cent, with only 30 per cent of students having access to the Internet.  Outlining her work as a student leader during the pandemic, she pointed to efforts to ensure that students and teachers had Internet and devices, as well as the ability to navigate the Internet.  It is also crucial to make online education accessible for students with disabilities and provide psychosocial support.

Expressing concern that the thrust on digital innovation has diminished with the return to normalcy and in-person operations, she asked:  “Where are the subsidized free devices that were promised?”  Governments must make good on their pledges to invest in youth, she said, stressing the need to make digital infrastructure reliable and affordable.  The most effective way to engage youth in education planning is to recognize their agency, she said, also highlighting the distinction between youth and students.  Not all students are youth and not all youth are students, she said, pointing out that mature students will require more flexibility as they might be contending with childcare or full-time employment.  Young people and students are not just passive receivers, she said, adding that they can champion their own cause within educational and Government structures. Youth and students’ representation in decision-making must be legislated and democratized, she said, adding that they are quite capable of electing their own leaders who can then enact informed policies.

Mr. Zohry elaborated on the relation between education and migration, noting that the former may increase the propensity of the latter.  Migration is selective.  Migrants are not a representative sample of their countries of origin as they usually have above-average abilities, experience and education.  Hence, migration could be a form of brain drain for countries of origin and brain gain for countries of destination.  Due to globalization and the rising need for doctors and nurses, headhunting and unfair recruitment is depriving developing countries of talent in those fields, he said.  This phenomenon indirectly transfers educational outcomes from developing to developed countries and negatively affects human capital foundation in the latter, he cautioned, pointing to examples in Ghana, Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria.  Labour emigration may reduce pressure on local labour markets and increase unemployment rates, he said, adding that sending countries receive remittances from migrants working abroad.

On the benefits and challenges of providing migrants and refugees with access to education, he stressed the importance of integration for their benefit and that of their host countries.  Education — a key factors in integration — is a right, regardless of the nationality of the individual and his or her migration status, he stressed.  Host countries are responsible for making educational services available to all children, including non-citizens.  Integrating migrants in the local labour market depends on their degree of employability, which can be enhanced by education and vocational training.  Turning to the situation in Egypt, he said most of the refugee population in Cairo has access to education.  It is essential for host countries to bear in mind that “refugees are here to stay”, he underlined, adding that prolonged instability in their respective regions make it difficult to expect return.

When the floor opened for discussion, many delegates called for more financial support for education planning.  Sudan’s representative said that beyond the pandemic, economic and political instability also affects a Government’s ability to improve education.  Her country does not have the financial or technical capacity to do this on its own, she said.

The representative of Ghana noted that education is not just for young people but also for policymakers so they can make choices from an informed position rather than fear or ignorance.  Egypt’s delegate asked about the best ways to increase regular formal migration while the representative of the Dominican Republic highlighted her country’s experience with programmes for promoting reading and sports.

Also speaking in the interactive dialogue were the representatives of Cuba, Guinea and Indonesia, as well as a civil society speaker from the International Federation of Medical Students Association.

Responding, Ms. Gage discussed the crisis of the educational system during the pandemic, the failure to fulfil international commitments and the decline in international funding for education.  Expressing concern over the high risk of mistimed pregnancies — especially in sub-Saharan Africa — she said it is going to be difficult for African countries to respond to their growing populations as Governments cannot dedicate sufficient resources to meet needs.  She stressed that mistimed pregnancies must be addressed by making sexual and reproductive health and family planning services accessible.

Dr. Santelli, pointing out significant barriers to education, outlined ways to overcome them through financing.  On public health, he stressed the importance of engaging with communities.  A human rights approach is essential in advancing child and adolescent health, he asserted, also calling for enhanced dialogue with parents.

Mr. Lopez highlighted the importance of fostering a different understanding of technical training.  With remote and digital work, people do not have to necessarily move to have a job, he said, also noting that various forms of learning can ensure full integration of young people in society.

Ms. Williams underlined the need to update policies to ensure they reflect the changes in digital education.  For a society to be transformed, transformative policies are needed, she said, noting that Jamaica is working on its education policy which aims to ensure employability of young people after graduation.  Sport is an important part of the Jamaican culture and education, enabling young people to remain engaged.  During the pandemic, an increase in anxiety and depression among students was observed in her country, she said, underlining the importance of reliable and affordable Internet access as well as psychosocial support.

Mr. Zohry called on the international community to show more solidarity with migrants and refugees, describing the expenditure of migrant education as a part of burden-sharing.  He also emphasized that more channels for regular migration are crucial in combating irregular migration, in addition to development of human capital through education and vocational training.

The Commission on Population and Development will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Thursday, 13 April, to continue its work.


* The 5th Meeting was not covered.

For information media. Not an official record.