The World Can No Longer Neglect the Right to Education

For the first time, the 24th of January is declared The International Day of Education as earmarked in the UN calendar. This day is an opportunity for civil society, education stakeholders and partners to celebrate and deeply reflect on the ensuing global education crisis. With millions of children out of school and illiterate, the world cannot sit back and keep quiet while children, global future leaders are deprived of their fundamental human right, education.

Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG 4), demands inclusive and equitable quality education and the promotion of “lifelong learning opportunities for all”. Learning is paramount for all the sustainable development goals. Education eradicates poverty, boosts prosperity and fosters peaceful, just and inclusive societies. 2019 is a crucial year for education. The world is a decade away from achieving the ambitious 2030Agenda. Yet today the world’s pursuit of sustainable development and education goals continues to encounter extreme pressure and deep challenges.

While positive steps have been taken to acknowledge and improve the status of education worldwide, statistics tell us we have a long way to go and much to do, to ensure each and every child across the globe exercise their right to a free, equitable quality education from early childhood. So today as the world celebrates the role of education, the fulfilment of commitments and achievements of targets towards sustained peace and development, all countries must reflect on where we are in terms of the Incheon Declaration for Education 2030, which sets the vision for education for the next fifteen years?

Globally, education is in crisis. There is growing recognition of education as the equalizing factor to attaining SDG goals but the world is falling behind in meeting its objectives. And there are a few reasons for this.


Inequality and gender inequality in education

The widening gap between inequality and education is evident in the links between social status and education. The haves and the have nots. There are a handful of elite parents around the world who chose to enroll their children into prestigious private schools and universities in order to maintain their status and privileges. While those from disadvantaged backgrounds, due to socio-political interferences and circumstances, are left with no choice but to send their children walking miles away from home to attend poorly funded public schools, their only hope to provide them a better future. Inequality not only speaks to one’s capacity to overcome imposed societal challenges and the inability to sufficiently provide financially for one’s family and needs, but inequality includes broader systemic issues, such as gender.

As the famous saying goes, “you educate a girl you educate a nation” yet the 2018, World Bank report “The cost of not educating girls missed opportunities: The high cost of not educating girls”, paints a grim picture. Globally girls are still on the lower end of attaining education in comparison to boys. “Globally, nine in ten girls complete their primary education, but only three in four complete their lower secondary education.” The fact that today, research indicates these gender disparities in education still negatively impact the trajectory of girls’ around the world, is yet another example of society failing its girl children. Many young girls forced to drop out of school endure early child marriage, lower expected income in adulthood, thus increasing poverty in households. The world cannot afford a society that disempowers girls, marginalises women, silences their voices and deprives nations of equitable, sustainable and inclusive development.

Education in Crisis countries – a case of Yemen

Yemen is riven by civil conflict. Lack of access to basic social services, induced poverty, and starvation, displaces hundreds of thousands of people and inhibits millions of children from entering classrooms. Education is the major casualty in this crisis, taking down with it an entire future generation of children in Yemen. According to UN Reports, a total number of 2 million children are out-of-school since 2015. Adding salt to injury, the country faces a severe shortage of paid teachers and now over 2000 schools serve as shelters for the displaced or the army. The unjustifiable repercussions of conflict in war-torn countries around the world can only result in heightened states of global existential angst which world leaders must adequately address. As the world confronts consequences of catastrophic climate change, it is anticipated that the number of conflicts in the most affected countries will increase, and that millions more will migrate. The World leaders have a duty to ensure the right to education is realised for internally displaced persons and migrants. Ignoring the education crisis in conflict countries or emergency situations is a human right atrocity.


Privatisation in and of education

Education is and remains a public good and governments are the sole bearers accountable to this duty and fundamental human right. The rise and growth of privatisation in and of education should invigorate debates and tangible actions around domestic education financing that lead to a truly transformative education system that benefits as well as empowers all communities and individuals. As was recently outlined in the media, the commodification of education exasperates societal disparities, increases social exclusivity, especially in low-income countries where equitable public education should be prioritised. In Uganda Kampala, for example, low cost private, profitable schools increased by eight percent in 2015 and account for over eighty percent of children in school. A recent report from Mauritania indicate an eleven percent increase in the number of private schools to from 417 to 702 schools between 2016 and 2017. Investors of these unregulated private mechanisms of education must realise the precarious danger of isolating the global education crisis, blaming it squarely on broken down political systems. Worldwide, there is a thriving civil society, willing governments and NGO’s truly committed to transforming education and leaving no one behind.


In conclusion

Civil society is the anchor that drives responsive and effective state action in the education sector. A united global civil society has the capacity to interrogate deeper systematic problems that permit poor quality systems to persist and in turn advocate for sustainable change. Across countries, if girls attain six years of education, their average earnings could increase by almost 9 percent and 12 years of education, girls could gain over 40 percent. Empowering girls in decision-making abilities and transforming their lives and those around them for good.

World leaders must unite against attacks on schools and embolden efforts to protect children’s education, especially in war zones. Schools must always remain safe zones for learning. The next decade requires amplified actions, renewed commitments to the shared universal and ambitious Global Agenda, which seeks to eradicate poverty through sustainable development by 2030.

Let this first-ever International Day of Education serve as an important moment in the education movement’s trajectory. The shared struggle across every continent to finally ensure that all people, from all walks of life, access lifelong learning opportunities, are equipped with the knowledge and skills required for this fast-paced globalised world, in order to fully participate in society and contribute to sustainable development. Let this battle be one the world cannot ignore. Let the next decade be a decisive period where institutions, civil society, and governments catch up to the real demands and education needs of today.

Author: Refaat Sabbah – President of the Global Campaign for Education and a lifelong human rights and education activist. Sabbah is the Chair of the Arab Network for Civic Education (ANHRE), and the founder of the Arab Coalition for Education for All (ACEA).

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