Speech given by Save the Children International CEO Helle Thorning-Schmidt at the Education World Forum on 23 January 2017
Education is the most empowering force in the world. It creates knowledge, builds confidence, and breaks down barriers to opportunity.
For children, it is their key to open the door to a better life.
However, it is a sad reality of our world today that millions of children will never receive this key.
They are destined to stay locked in cycles of disadvantage and poverty.
I think Malala described this heart-wrenching situation best when she said:
“In some parts of the world, students are going to school every day. It’s their normal life. But in other parts of the world, we are starving for education … its like a precious gift. Its like a diamond”.
This cannot continue.
All children deserve to receive the ‘precious gift’ of education. In fact, we have promised to give it to them. It is time to deliver.
Under the Sustainable Development Goals, the blue print for progress the whole world has agreed, we are committed to give all children an inclusive and quality education by 2030.
To get the 263 million children currently out of school, back in.
To make sure the 130 million children currently reaching Grade 4 without learning basic reading and maths skills, become masters of both.
To stop girls being excluded, or married off.
Right now, one girl under 15 is married every 7 seconds. They should be starting a new year of school, not starting a new life of disadvantage.
I know this sounds a bit bleak. But we have to face up to the fact that we are in the midst of an education crisis and are running well behind on our promise to the world’s children.
I have just returned from the World Economic Forum in Davos where I gave world leaders this same message.
However, instead of acting fast to address this crisis, our efforts are slowing down. Development dollars spent on education have declined in the past decade — from 13 per cent to 10 per cent since 2002.
The challenge is also not getting any easier. Two billion jobs will be lost to automation by 2050. Access to quality education will therefore be even more critical to prepare young people for the challenges of a changing world.
If we continue with our glacial pace of action, up to half of the world’s 1.6 billion children will still be out of school or failing to learn by 2030, and we would need an extra 50 years to reach our global education goals.
Yet, as we face up to this crisis, we should not be tempted to despair.
We can turn things around if we are prepared to step up now.
I am proud to be part of group doing just that, the Education Commission. We are a group of government, business and cultural leaders who have produced a roadmap for how we can live up to the education promise we have made under the global goals.
A vision for how to create a Learning Generation.
It will not be easy to achieve. But, it can be done.
We know this is possible because a quarter of the world’s countries are already on the right path.
This top 25 per cent are already delivering. They are improving their education systems fast and equipping their children with the skills they need for the future.
What we have to do now is focus more effort on the remaining 75 per cent of countries that are not yet hitting the mark.
In these countries, we have to dramatically scale up investment in education systems to improve both the availability of education, but just as importantly, education quality.
To achieve this, the Education Commission report calls for a Financing Compact. The Financing Compact means that countries commit to invest and reform.
In return, the international community offers leadership and education finance, and both are held accountable for their commitment.
To fulfil the compact, countries need to take on four education transformations.
First, performance. This is about putting results front and centre. Successful education systems must invest in what works.
Second, innovation. We must develop new and creative approaches. Education systems must innovate rather than just replicate.
Third, inclusion. We must reach every last child. We will not close the global learning gap unless leaders take steps to include and support those at greatest risk of being out of school. The poor, the discriminated against, girls, and those facing multiple disadvantages.
And fourth, finance. We need to mobilize more money and ensure that we spend it wisely.
Total spending on education must increase steadily from $1.2 to 3 trillion by 2030 across all low- and middle-income countries. The 75 per cent that are falling behind.
This includes mobilising more domestic resources for education. Public spending on education must rise in these countries from 4 per cent to 5.8 per cent.
And by mobilising more support from the international community — governments, financial institutions, business and philanthropists.
International finance needs to increase from today’s estimated $16 billion per year to $89 billion per year by 2030.
These are certainly huge amounts of money.
But we must not forget that by investing now, we will also create huge benefits.
In developing countries, $1 dollar invested in an additional year of schooling gives back $10 back in economic benefits.
What a rate of return!
It gets even better when you think about the role that education can play in empowering girls.
If we close the gender gap by 2030, and education is a big part of this, we are looking at benefits to the global economy of $25 trillion. That is truly a huge number. It makes the upfront investments needed seem small.
And there are other important benefits to children that you cannot put a price on.
Education equals better lives. Access to decent work, improved health and life outcomes, and the dignity that comes from the ability to know and stand up for your human rights.
In 2017, we at the Commission are already taking the first steps to bring our vision of a learning generation into reality.
Two steps we are taking include:
First, advocating for the establishment of a new development bank for education. One that could potentially mobilize $20 billion or more annually by 2030, up from $3.5 billion today.
Second, kick starting a Pioneer Country Initiative, led by former President of Tanzania, Jakaya Kikwete. Work has already commenced in Uganda and Malawi with other countries joining in soon.
Under this initiative, the Commission will work closely with the leadership of pioneer countries to push education up to the top of their domestic priority pile.
Leaders will undertake needed reforms, and invest more resources in the right places. The commission will then act as a bridge to international financing institutions, to attract even more resources from outside. By working in this way, we can trigger virtuous cycles of reform, investment and results.
It is my hope, that 2017 is the year that we all finally stand up and prioritise education. At the Commission, we are trying to do our part. However, we cannot do it alone. We need government, business and even individual citizens to step up.
The case for education is indisputable, and we have no time to waste. Millions of children and youth around the world cannot wait any longer.
Please join us in our effort to create the Learning Generation!