UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell's remarks at the G7 Ministerial meeting on Education in Trieste, Italy

As delivered

28 June 2024
UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell meets with the Italian Minister for Education Giuseppe Valditara, at the G7 Ministerial meeting on Education in Trieste, Italy. 28 June 2024
UNICEF/
UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell meets with the Italian Minister for Education Giuseppe Valditara, at the G7 Ministerial meeting on Education in Trieste, Italy. 28 June 2024

TRIESTE, Italy, 28 June 2024 - "Good morning … I am honoured to join you here today. 

"I came here from Sudan where almost the entire population of school-aged children – some 17 million children– have been out of school since the war began over a year ago.

"I visited a hot, dusty UNICEF centre full of children who fled the conflict.

"Several of the girls there told me that they had lost everything when they fled – their clothes, homes, friends and schools.

"While their world crumbled, their message to me was crystal clear. “We want to go home and we want to go back to school.”

"I share this story with you today because despite the terrible hardships they had endured, they still had hope – hope about their future and hope for getting back to school. They still dream of becoming lawyers, doctors and architects. 

"But as a global community, we are failing these girls and hundreds of millions more children just like them around the world.

"As we meet here today there are 250 million children out of school – an increase of 6 million since 2021. These include 100 million children in Africa.

"For one child this is a tragedy, for a country it is a generational catastrophe.

"The children of Sudan are not alone in their plight. Millions more in the DRC, Gaza, Haiti, and other conflict zones are being denied their right to an education.

"Here in Europe, children's learning has been disrupted as well, first by the COVID-19 pandemic and then by years of war in Ukraine. This learning crisis around the world impacts us all.

"As Education Ministers, you know better than anyone that education is critical – to individual children of course but also to communities and to countries that aspire to productivity, to ingenuity, and to stability.

"Thank you for reflecting the principle of “leave no one behind” in your communique … for emphasizing the importance of reaching the most vulnerable children, including children affected by disasters … by poverty …. children living with disabilities .. and of course girls.

"I would like to draw your attention to the special challenges for girls who are more likely to drop out and less likely to return to school after disruptions like conflict and climate disasters.

"Once you lose these girls to marriage, work, or other forms of exploitation, it is very difficult – if not impossible - to get them back into school.

"UNICEF is determined to deliver on the right to education for these girls and for all children.

"We simply cannot allow these girls to be left behind. 

"So, what do we do? Let me suggest a few priorities.

"First, we must improve the quality and impact of education. Getting kids into school is not enough….we have to ensure that children are actually learning.

"Second, we must use innovation, and technology to reach more children with high-quality learning – especially girls. And we have to think hard about how AI can help us in this effort.

"Educating the worlds’ children is an ambitious agenda and it will take massive, coordinated efforts. As G7 countries, you have an indispensable role to play. 

"We at UNICEF and others in this community know what has to be done, and we know how to do it with the support of your governments and partners like the African Union who are leading the way.

"We have to support teachers with effective learning materials. We have to meet children where they are and we have to rigorously assess the impact of our work.

"I implore you to add your important voice to these efforts … remind finance and development ministers and parliamentarians – that education is a right and as important for children all around the world, as it is for children in our own countries.

"We know what to do. Please help us to do it. We really cannot afford to let these children down. Thank you."

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