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A call to action for inclusive education reform gathers political momentum

ISTANBUL, Turkey, 13 December 2013 — Twenty governments in Central and Eastern Europe and Central Asia have voiced their political support for a call to realize the right of millions of children to inclusive and quality education.

Leaders rallied behind the ‘Education Equity Now!’ call to action launched this week at the regional ministerial education meeting hosted by the Government of Turkey and organized jointly with UNICEF in Istanbul.

"We are getting closer to 2015, the deadline to achieve the second of the Millennium Development Goals to achieve universal primary education. We must quicken our steps to serve the best interest of our children and of the young people that we are preparing for life. Two things are needed if we are to achieve these aims: high level political will and appropriate policies," said Turkey’s Minister of National Education Nabi Avci.

The objective is to get every child into school, every child learning well, every child learning early and on time, and every child supported by a well-governed and well-resourced education system.

An estimated 2.5 million children in the region are missing out on basic education, particularly the most vulnerable and excluded, according to UNICEF.

Young people were also a force for change at the conference.

Anna Susarenco, a youth from a village in Moldova, urged governments to involve youth in policies that, “improve education inclusion and quality, provide more health education in schools and strengthen links between education and employment.” 

Among the most voiceless in the region are children with disabilities, children from ethnic and linguistic minorities, from the poorest families, from rural areas, from migrant families and working children.

Anna Maria Duminica from Romania recounted the harsh discrimination and abuse she faced. Despite her high-test scores, her teacher had transferred her to a low quality segregated school for children with disabilities.

“I am a Roma student, a person with a disability and a person who will contribute to the pension fund. We will all pay an extraordinary price if youth give up on their dreams of education,” she said.

Even when children are in school, many are not learning well and are not equipped with the skills needed to thrive in their communities and the job market. About half of 15-year old students in the region do not meet baseline standards in reading, science and mathematics. Millions more adolescents drop out before completing upper secondary education.

“We have agreed to act now and to think big,” said UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Yoka Brandt. “We have also agreed to focus on the hardest to reach children and adolescent. This will require strong sustained partnerships and the participation of a broad range of partners including parents, youth and teachers.”

Participants at the conference, which is ending on Friday, also discussed strategies to achieve the objective of the call. Some of the key recommendations are: invest in one year pre-primary education for every child; engage young people and parents as partners; invest in teacher quality; improve data on excluded children; reduce discrimination; allocate more resources to schools with more needs; and support schools to adopt inclusive practices.

In the longer term, the call to action foresees that every child should complete upper secondary education and pursue lifelong learning opportunities.

Check out the call to action video, the summary analysis of the situation of out of school children in CEE/CIS and more photos of the conference on Facebook.  

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