How can education help to build a more sustainable world: Interview with Svenja Schulze

On the occasion of International Day of Education, Svenja Schulze, Federal Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development of Germany, answers questions from GPE youth leaders on the importance of education to build a sustainable world.

January 24, 2024 by Omar Alkadamani, GPE Secretariat, Alisha Qamar, GPE Secretariat, and Jess Mukeba, GPE Secretariat
4 minutes read
A student raises her hand in class at the Santo East School in Vanuatu. Credit: GPE/Arlene Bax
A student raises her hand in class at the Santo East School in Vanuatu.
Credit: GPE/Arlene Bax
Svenja Schulze
“High-quality education is fundamental and helps achieve sustainable development goals.”
Svenja Schulze
Federal Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development, Germany

1. What plans/strategies are you pursuing to ensure that educational equity is realized world-wide?

In order to achieve educational equity through development policy, I am focusing on three areas.

Firstly, learning from each other. Education, learning and cooperation are not a one-way street. For example, as part of the education and knowledge network eLearning Africa, experts from the education sector worldwide are sharing their knowledge and experience in the field of technology-enhanced learning.

eLearning Africa pools African expertise and talent in the education sector and is one of the leading initiatives for digital learning in Africa. We should also be making use of these findings in Germany and Europe.

Secondly, coordinating international initiatives. This is the only way to make educational equity a global reality. This is why the BMZ supports multilateral initiatives and funds to promote basic education worldwide, including through its contribution to the Global Partnership for Education.

And thirdly, partnerships. Our partner countries know best what they need where in order to ensure inclusive, equal and high-quality education for all – and to promote lifelong learning opportunities for everyone. Germany is at their side to support them where it matters and respond to their needs.

2. How does Germany make sure the most vulnerable children are reached?

Education is only fair if it is available to everyone – especially those who are vulnerable, and who live in particularly difficult circumstances.

Some children need targeted support to ensure that education is equitable. This is why Germany, together with its partners such as GPE, is calling for refugees to be included in national education systems. As the German Federal Government, we have campaigned for this at the Global Refugee Forum, among other events.

In order to support learners in need of protection, host countries need to remove legal barriers, promote the qualification of teachers and increase the recognition of prior learning. Of course, this also applies to Germany.

More commitment is also needed to ensure that children with disabilities have equal learning opportunities.

My ministry also ensures greater ownership and involvement of young people through our Youth Advisory Council. It enables voices that are often underrepresented to be heard.

Young voices are included in decision-making, for example at high-level events such as the Global Refugee Forum and the Transforming Education Summit.

3. What role has education played in your own life?

A very important one. Even as a student, I campaigned for educational equality and good education.

As a state student representative in North Rhine-Westphalia, I fought alongside others for smaller classes and free textbooks. Later, as Minister of Science in North Rhine-Westphalia, I campaigned for education in Germany to be high-quality and free of charge – from kindergarten through to university, along the entire education chain.

Good education must not depend on your wallet or where you come from. Everyone needs to have the same opportunities. That is why, as Science Minister, I abolished tuition fees in North Rhine-Westphalia.

Education is one of the most important keys to the future. Because once you have it, it can never be taken away.

4. What role does support for the education of girls and children worldwide play in your feminist development policy?

I am committed to the “three Rs”: rights, resources and representation.

Together with our partners, Germany wants to tackle existing inequalities at their roots and overcome discriminatory power structures. Education is related to all “three Rs”.

Although education is a human right for all, too many girls around the world are still denied access to education, which prevents them from participating economically, socially and politically.

Education is also the basis for acquiring resources such as money, property and the means of production – either through better-paid jobs or the opportunity to take out loans. And education is often a prerequisite for making oneself heard by decision-makers and being politically represented at all.

The results of this policy speak for themselves. Through our partnership with the GPE, we have supported the education of 82 million girls in our partner countries since 2002.

Nigeria, for example, is one of the countries with the highest rate of girls who do not go to school. Over 417,000 girls from low-income families there have received scholarships to attend integrated elementary school.

5. Germany is a key member of the Global Partnership for Education (GPE). What do you value most about the GPE and how do you see Germany’s role in the partnership?

What I appreciate about the GPE is its partner-centered approach. It is important that the programs are shaped by all stakeholders in the education sector at the local level.

Ministries and school administrations, civil society organizations, teachers and young people are all involved in transforming their education. I think that is very forward-looking.

Furthermore, the long-term approach of the GPE is crucial. That is why Germany continues to support multilateral education initiatives such as the GPE.

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