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7th GCE World Assembly Address by GCE President Refat Sabbah

Ms. Angie Motshekga, South Africa Minister of Basic Education.

Dr Blade Nzimande, South Africa, Minister of Higher Education.

Dr. Leonardo Garnier, Special Advisor to the Secretary General on Transforming Education Summit.

Ms. Diana Ayala, GCE Youth and Student Activist.

Dear Comrades and Friends,

Let me start by thanking each one of you, your organizations, networks and coalitions, for attending our 7th World Assembly, which after many years we are finally celebrating today in Johannesburg, the headquarters of the GCE Secretariat.

I would also like to thank the messages of solidarity that we have received from Amina Mohammed, UN Deputy Secretary General, Yasmine Sherif, ECW Director, Rob Jerkins, UNICEF Director of Education and Adolescent Development, Stephania Giannini, UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Education and Charles North, Global Partnership for Education Interim GPE Chief Executive Officer.

Here in South Africa, there is the history of the struggle against racism, inequality, discrimination and exclusion. There is the voice of freedom and hope.

Here we remember those who died to protect the dignity of their people. Those who taught us how to stand for a greater cause. Let us stand for those who are giving meaning to our meeting today. We remember those heroes: Nelson Mandela, Oliver Tambo, Albert Luthuli, Sefako Makgatho, Yusus Dadoo, Steve Biko, and many others. We remember the heroines: Winnie Madikezela Mandela (Mother of the Nation), Charlotte Maxeke, Dora Tamane, Ray Alexander, Albertina Sisulu, and many more. We are thankful and proud of you.

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected millions of families and hundreds of human rights activists. GCE is the largest civil society movement working for the right to education in the world and we have also been hit by the health crisis.  However, despite the catastrophe that our communities and our organizations have experienced, we are still here, with enthusiasm and joy! We continue standing up, fighting for justice and equality, convinced that we have emerged strengthened and enlightened by the solidarity of our peoples.

I want to pay tribute at this time to the hundreds of teachers, students, and activists, and their families, who are no longer with us due to COVID-19. Their legacy lives on in us and fuels the conviction to turn schools into safe spaces, where children and youth can always play and learn.

After 23 years, we know that the GCE has always prevail during times of greatest adversity, because our work is inspired by the struggle of the marginalized, the dispossessed, those who suffer violence and discrimination. We have built bridges with the stones thrown at our comrades and we respond to hate speech and intolerance, with the reasons raised by women and youth, people with disabilities and children.

Diversity is the flag that flies in our sky and that makes us an irrepressible force, guided by the conviction that no one can be left behind and that justice and democracy can only be forged with true inclusion in all areas of life.

The realization of the human right to education requires multiple efforts from all sectors of society, but especially involves compliance with specific obligations of governments and the international community.

The fight for education is not limited to guaranteeing its availability and universal access, because the content of education, its governance and administration, and the challenges of teaching and learning are consubstantial parts of this enabling human right.

These state obligations must be interconnected and seek to break down the barriers imposed by discrimination, colonization and injustice, according to international human rights law and the Education 2030 Agenda.

For this reason, education financing must be motivated by the construction of education systems aiming at promoting human rights as a way of life. This can only happen if political leaders support the new global compact for financing education, based on the fundamental pillars of tax justice, the elimination of predatory debt and the progressive, predictable and innovative increase of domestic financing.

We must not forget the historical gap that weighs on early childhood education and adult education, which have not only been denied financing, but also deprived of the necessary infrastructure and teacher training conditions for their operation.

If the regressive policies of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank do not adapt to these demands, progress will be much slower and painful, and for this reason we must insist that the paths to development must be built from the human rights perspective and that lifelong learning is a fundamental right that must be secured.

Education continues without receiving the resources needed and market-based frameworks perpetuate educational inequalities. It is this simplistic and cost-benefit reductionist paradigm that encourages the privatization of education and is the same that points to deepening countries indebtedness in response to low domestic investment.

The economization of the education debate is a political and ideological measure whose objective is to displace education aims, as stated by the international human rights law, which is binding on governments, but refractory for development banks.

Unfortunately, most governments have failed to make the necessary investments in education systems or provide the support teachers desperately need to perform their roles and enjoy a decent standard of living.  GCE believes that teacher shortage affects the entire planet because the construction of global citizenship based on the respect and promotion of human rights can only be achieved by overcoming all forms of exclusion and marginalization.

This weakening has a dramatic effect on all education processes, but mainly it reveals that rather than a learning crisis, the world is facing a crisis of inequality and violence, which take part in domestic spheres as well as in emergency situations that have unfortunately worsened.

So, for example, the recent report Education Under Attack states that in 2020 and 2021, there were more than 5,000 attacks on education and incidents of military use of schools and universities, harming more than 9,000 students and educators in at least 85 countries.

Conflict, ocupation and climate change-related emergencies are leaving millions of internally displaced people, refugees and asylum seekers without the opportunity to enjoy their right to education, numbering more than 70 million of internally displaced people, refugees, and asylum seekers.

This crisis of inequality and violence should lead us to transform education, according to the initiative promoted by the UN Secretary General and his notable and respected Special Envoy, who is here with us today.

The concept of transformative education primarily refers to the emancipatory notion of change. Envisioned as a catalyst for change, education aims to challenge unfair social structures and promotes knowledge as the way to expand individual and collective freedoms, opportunities to enjoy their human rights and contribute to a democratic and fairer society.

We do not believe that transforming education consists in making companies richer and more efficient, whose primary function education-wise should be paying the taxes to fund free, inclusive, quality public education systems.

The most urgent transformation of education must be aimed at strengthening its democratizing potential, its ability to offer holistic approaches and its flexibility to respond to the diversity of students (with or without disabilities), and include everyone in environments in which people are valued for who they are and not for what they have.

Having children, youth and students at the center of educational action is a huge challenge. Nevertheless, we are witnessing alarming trends of increasing restriction and criminalization of student expression across countries and regions. These authoritarian attitudes are unacceptable and, even more, contradictory to the purposes behind the Transforming Education Summit and the international human rights framework in general.

No special funds are required to respect the dignity of people, whatever their age, gender, ethnic belonging, disability or social background, but changes are urgently needed in patriarchal, colonizing and exploitative mentalities in our societies and especially in international institutions and organizations that work outside the human rights framework.

We are aware that the historical space that had been reserved for civil society is shrinking every day. The seats once destined for our movements, today are disputed and often reserved for representatives of large corporations.

This privatizing paradigm is a clear example of the wrong decisions that have been made in international governance spaces, but it is also a challenge that we are ready to respond to.

The undisputed leadership of the Global Campaign for Education should bring about the changes needed to embrace urgent gender-transformative, inclusive education frameworks. All of you are key players in this fight. You are all indispensable. As we have mentioned before, the winds of change are blowing strong, and the Global Campaign for Education will point out the strategic course to navigate towards a world of solidarity, justice, prosperity and peace.

Thank you very much

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The Global Campaign for Education (GCE) is a civil society movement that aims to end exclusion in education. Education is a basic human right, and our mission is to make sure that governments act now to deliver the right of everyone to a free, quality, public education.