- A quarter of a billion children around the world have never been in school.
- 13 million girls could be forced into early marriage as their parents grapple with the economic fallout of COVID-19.
- Post-pandemic, 70% of 10-year-olds leave school unable to read and understand a simple text.
Let me put faces to these numbers: In Liberia, Denise, 17, had to drop out after 8th grade when she became pregnant during school closures while the Ebola epidemic raged. In Nigeria, Abdull, 15, fled violence and got separated from his family. He sells grass all day to make a living. In Bangladesh, Miya (name changed), a Rohingya refugee from Myanmar, attends a learning center where she is taught basic skills, but her prospects for a good job and a good future are dim.
The COVID-19 pandemic worsened the already existing learning crisis. It meant millions of children missed out on learning, and some will never return to school. It devastated economies, and as they struggle to recover, the negative impacts of climate change, conflict and economic downturn are making it harder for countries to keep education at the top of their agendas.
But deprioritizing education is a huge mistake. Loss of learning today will intensify the risks we face for generations to come. The reverse is also true: a quality education has a positive ripple effect across all other sectors of development, from health to poverty reduction.
That is why, when we gather for the Transforming Education Summit convened by António Guterres, I will highlight three priorities that world leaders must focus on urgently:
1. We must support countries to move away from usual approaches to truly transform education
In lower-income countries, education has reached a tipping point. If we don’t act now, 825 million children will lose the chance to achieve the skills they need to seize the opportunities – and confront the great challenges – of the 21st century.
At the pre-Summit in Paris, education ministers representing more than 80 countries committed to action to address the teaching and learning crisis. In New York, political leaders must make the bold national commitments that will drive system-wide transformation.
And the international community must step up our support to turn these commitments into action. For GPE, this means a sharpened approach to help countries identify and unblock the critical obstacles in their education systems and align partners behind priority reforms, allowing them to achieve results on a large scale.
2. We need to ensure that every child, regardless of gender, receives a quality education in a safe space
Many countries have reached gender parity in education, particularly at primary level. But this doesn’t factor in enormous differences across countries and regions, and the fact that girls in the poorest communities face many more barriers to completing their education.
These barriers can be obvious, like the ban on girls’ education in Afghanistan since last year, or insidious, like cultural norms and biases that make it harder for girls to achieve their dreams, particularly when they reach adolescence.
Furthermore, an estimated 246 million children experience violence in and around schools; harmful gender norms drive much of this violence, which affects both boys and girls in different ways.
Transforming education so gender equality is achieved within and through education goes beyond the classroom: countries must show leadership by including equality in their data, policies, financing and campaigns to clearly fight the causes of inequality, and hardwire gender equality into everything they do.