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South Africa

A conversation with Desmond Tutu

Educating our youth: Making change a reality

© AP Photo/Keystone, Trezzini
South African Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

UN and UNICEF Radio moderator Amy Costello is hosting a series of podcast discussions with Nobel Peace Prize winners. This is the first in the series.

NEW YORK, USA, 18 December 2008 – This week the Government of Norway is hosting the Education For All High-Level Group Meeting in Oslo to discuss progress made and challenges faced in providing quality education for all children.

For the first time, the annual meeting is being held in a donor country, sending a message to the international community on the urgent need for more sustained and effective support to basic education at the midway point to achieving the Millennium Development Goals by 2015.

Support for education has been gaining momentum. Last month, more than 30 winners of the Nobel Peace Prize signed a first-ever joint statement calling for urgent action to provide quality education and build peace in conflict-affected countries. Nearly 60 million children were not attending primary school in countries and territories affected by conflict between 2002 and 2006. Of those not attending primary school in conflict-affected countries and territories, 31.3 million – or just over half – were girls.

Struggle for change

Among the signatories was the South African human rights activist, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984. Last week the Archbishop spoke with UNICEF about his views on education, drawing on the experience of South Africa today and during the apartheid era.

“How do we know that someone might not be a brilliant scientist, or was going to be an outstanding composer?” asked the Archbishop. “You would have said, ‘Well, they can’t do it.’ And now that they’ve got the opportunity you see them blossoming and we are saying, ‘Look at how much we have stunted the growth of so many people and denied ourselves the joy we are now finding in these children, now developing the talents that they have.’ It’s just fantastic.”

But the opportunity to go to school is not a reality for many children in the poorest countries and communities around the world. In South Africa, Archbishop Tutu pointed to schools that were under-resourced and neglected in black communities.

“Generally, the air around many of these schools – and there are very many expectations, it is true – but generally it is true to say that the atmosphere around these schools is very depressing,” he said.

Challenges ahead

At the Education For All meeting, governments, donors, development agencies and educators are tackling the most pressing issues in education: weak governance and management, unmet financial needs and commitments, and a critical lack of capacity – particularly a shortage of qualified teachers. All of these elements are critical to building sustainable education systems that nurture young leaders who will be at the helm of schools, local communities and national governments in the future.

Without continued investment in education, communities will see the gains they have made in recent years dissipate as their youth are left behind, participants agreed.

Archbishop Tutu has been a relentless advocate for human rights and has seen change in South Africa and beyond. He knows well the value of an informed, educated population of young people.

“Some of the greatest changes have happened because of the involvement of young people,” he noted, adding: “We are not being merely altruistic if we care about the condition of our sisters and brothers in other parts of the world. It is the best form of self-interest.”




Amy Costello interviews Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu at the UN Radio studio in New York.
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