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Speech by Anthony Lake, UNICEF Executive Director, in Norway on Education

OSLO, 8 May 2013 – “I come today with a message to Norway on behalf of UNICEF, as well as the millions of children around the world who benefit from Norway’s support ― Tusen-takk. 

Children around the world have no greater, nor more generous, champion than Norway. Your extraordinary support is helping millions of children go to school for the first time – a boy now learning how to read because of your generosity, a girl, so long denied the same education as her brothers, now taking her rightful place in the classroom. a teacher with the tools she needs to impart the skills and knowledge her students need.

Whether in a classroom, a makeshift shelter or a shady spot beneath a Mopane tree, educating a child is an investment in his or her future ― and in ours. Education creates entrepreneurs and a skilled workforce, more consumers, more prosperous communities and stronger, healthier, more just countries.

Between 1998 and 2008, 52 million more primary school children enrolled in school. A great result.

On the other hand, we often ― and properly ― hear about the 61 million children of primary school age who do not enjoy this benefit. Those living in poor, conflict-scarred countries. Those living with disabilities. Or ― far too often ― girls.

But what about an unpardonably larger number ― the estimated 250 million children of primary school age still unable to read a single word or do basic arithmetic? Half of these children are actually in school. They face not only poor teaching but also overcrowded classrooms, inadequate resources, and crumbling infrastructure. This is not only a waste of their potential ― it’s a waste of precious investment in education on a tragic scale.

And worse, in some areas, the children who need our help the most benefit the least from government financing. The World Bank has estimated that in Sub-Saharan Africa, just 10 per cent of the most educated benefit, disproportionately and inequitably, from 43 per cent of public spending on education.

Success depends on investing in precisely those children being left behind ― the 61 million who are not enrolled in school, the 250 million who are still unable to read or do basic arithmetic, the neglected and overlooked. 

We know that investing in their education is perhaps the single best, most cost-effective opportunity to break cycles of poverty once and for all.

We can deliver food, immunizations and aid to children to safeguard their health and keep them alive. But without delivering education, we’ll return to communities, generation after generation, to help the ‘children of the children’ we failed to help in the first place. We’ll also perpetuate cycles of inequality within societies. If education is unequal, then growth is uneven ― and thus, not as sustainable, as IMF studies show. And those disparities will breed instability, unrest, and even violence. 

Let me recommend to you a recent TED talk by Frans de Waal, a primatologist at Emory University. He showed a video clip of an experiment in which two monkeys performed the same task: passing a small ball through an opening in their cage. One monkey was rewarded with a nice piece of cucumber. The other was rewarded with an even tastier prize ― a grape. When the first monkey realized that he was missing out on a better reward, he repeatedly responded by throwing the pieces of cucumber back at the person conducting the experiment.

For any child, anywhere, education is not a luxury, it’s a necessity. a fundamental right. Access to this right shouldn’t be confined by borders, income or disability.

Nor should a child’s future be limited by gender ― because she is a girl. In tough economic times, she’ll too often be the first to be pulled out of school ― far earlier than her brothers, if she’s allowed to attend school in the first place. She can expect to earn far less than her male counterparts, if she earns anything at all. She may never know the pride of contributing to her family’s income and quality of life ― nor enjoy the ability to make financial decisions that will improve her children’s health or education. Without work, she is far more likely to marry and bear children at a young age, to contract HIV and AIDS, to be exploited and abused.

And evidence clearly shows that a year of secondary education for a girl correlates with as much as a 25 per cent increase in wages later in life ― wages that can help support children, a family and a future. 

So a girl’s future income. her standard of living, even her health and that of her own children depend in important part on the education she receives.
 
Recognizing this, many countries are investing in solutions that are putting education within girls’ reach, answering the practical questions that can stand in the way.

How can a family afford to send a girl to school when the cost of education is high? Since 2006, Nepal has doubled the amount of scholarships for girls, giving families an incentive to send them to school. Even something as simple as providing girls’ toilets in schools can help keep girls in school over the long term.

How can we keep pregnant girls in school? Uganda is investing in scholarships and mentorship programmes that are helping pregnant girls re-enter school to continue their education and build a better future for their children.

Even with an education, how can girls get the ‘hands-on’ work experience they need to get a job? In South Africa, more than 10,000 adolescent girls are working side-by-side with mentors in the corporate community through the ‘Techno Girl’ initiative. These girls will leave school with skills, experience and credentials that will help them get a job.

What about female role models? Nigeria is training a growing pool of female teachers in three rural northern states in areas where girls’ enrolment remains persistently and outrageously low. The average number of years of education in Nigeria is six ― while for a Hausa rural girl, that number is just 2.4 months. About 2,300 female teachers were recruited in 2011. What better mentor can a young girl in a disadvantaged area have than a good female teacher?

We can also point to solutions that are opening the doors of education for girls and boys. Ethiopia’s 529 newly constructed education centres have doubled the number of children enrolled in primary school over the last decade.

And in Afghanistan, over 7 million Afghan children ― including 2.4 million girls ― are now attending school, compared to just 1 million children, and few or no girls, in 2001. A focus on equity is making a difference. Education providers are negotiating with the Taliban to keep schools open, although too seldom for girls. Innovative solutions ― like UNICEF-supported community and home-based initiatives ― are helping to overcome this barrier, and deliver education to 86,000 children who would otherwise fall through the cracks. Rebuilding Afghan society depends on the ideas and energy of young Afghanis. A goal of education for everyone is essential.

But focusing on quantity ― the number of children going to school, in Afghanistan or elsewhere ― obscures what is truly vital to our results: quality. Going beyond learning by rote, to critical thinking, debate and problem-solving. Not just more schools ― but better schools, better teacher training, better teaching techniques and curricula.

Improving quality doesn’t need to be more expensive, even in the hardest-to-reach areas. In Ghana, for example, a modelling exercise showed that in-service training for teachers in marginalized areas would result in 87,000 more children passing the national learning exam ― compared to only 61,000 passing the exam after more expensive pre-service training. Quality and equity going hand-in-hand.

Innovation and technology also hold great potential to ‘reach and teach’ more children than ever before. For example, UNICEF worked with the Jordanian government to furnish 14 schools with information and communications technology equipment. We focused on schools in the areas with a high concentration of Iraqi children. Thanks to this project, over 10,000 Jordanian and Iraqi children are now benefitting from the technology in their classrooms ― learning from it and learning how to use it.

The ‘Digital Drum’ project in Uganda is another good example. An award-winner, this rugged, solar-powered computer kiosk can be used anywhere. It’s giving students and teachers in remote areas access to technology and information they wouldn’t otherwise have.

Edutrac, also being used in Uganda, is using SMS technology to put headmasters, school management and students themselves in touch with UNICEF to report on learning, attendance and teaching quality. Students can report absent teachers or poor lesson quality, administrators can report on needed books and supplies and citizens have a new tool to hold their governments to account.

Putting these technologies to work, making these investments, taking these actions can help us reach the now unreachable, teach the children whom progress and circumstance have left behind and pressure governments to focus on educating every child within their borders.

The stakes are high. If we fail a child, we fail that child’s children. If we fail their today, we fail our tomorrow.”                                                                                                      

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About UNICEF
UNICEF works in more than 190 countries and territories to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence. The world’s largest provider of vaccines for developing countries, UNICEF supports child health and nutrition, good water and sanitation, quality basic education for all boys and girls, and the protection of children from violence, exploitation, and AIDS. UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, businesses, foundations and governments. For more information about UNICEF and its work visit: http://www.unicef.org

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For more information, please contact:
Sarah Crowe, Spokesperson for the Executive Director, Tel: +1 212 326 7206, scrowe@unicef.org
Peter Smerdon, UNICEF New York, Tel + 1 212 303 7984, Mobile: +1 917 213 5188, psmerdon@unicef.org


 

 

 

UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake

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