The day in March 2002 when I was in Kabul, witnessing the return to school of 3 million Afghan children after years of war, was the source of some of my most indelible memories as Executive Director of UNICEF. If I had not known it by then, that dramatic day would have proved to me the central importance of education for the children of the world.
Education is about more than just learning. It saves lives: from the teenagers it protects against HIV/AIDS to the babies saved by their mothers' knowledge of health and nutrition. And it transforms lives: from refugee children given stability even in an emergency camp to 12-year-old Sadiqa in Kabul, who spent three months of her winter vacation studying in catch-up classes so she could make up for years of missed opportunities.
This report card measures the world's advances towards Millennium Development Goals 2 and 3, which pursue universal primary education and gender equality. It emerges at a vital time: 2005 is the year by which the first Millennium target – to eliminate gender disparity in primary and secondary education – is to be met.
There is no time to lose. The report card shows that in many regions and countries, the target will not be met.
Education is the right of all children: girls and boys, rich and poor. Investing in education – and girls’ education in particular – remains our best hope of accelerating progress towards the wider goals in human development that the international community has pledged to meet.
I am hopeful that this community, so responsive in the aftermath of the Asian tsunami, will find the way to mobilize as quickly and effectively in the cause of gender parity in education.
Executive Director, UNICEF