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Leaders for Education Series - Her Majesty Queen Rania Al Abdullah of Jordan
Your Majesty, you are an extraordinary advocate for education for all children. What inspired you to do this remarkable work?
Thank you. As a mother of four children, my stomach lurches every time I travel and meet children who are hungry or destitute or sick. I think it’s human nature to try and do all you can to help those in need, especially children – the most vulnerable and innocent amongst us. Someone once told me that when you become a mother, you forever walk around with your heart outside your body, and I can attest to that, so that’s a big part of my drive.
Another part is that our world is riddled with inequality, and it’s just not fair. So, it’s that quest for justice that inspires me to work hard for children. There are 72 million children, who, through no fault of their own, are shut out of school and shut down from a life of opportunity. A devastating combination of fate, conflict, poverty, famine, illiteracy, and ill health combine to silence their voices, so where I can, I use mine to speak up and speak out for them. It’s the least I can do.
And it’s also the irrefutable knowledge that education works. With an education, people start off on an equal footing with skills and opportunities to make the most out of their own lives. They learn to read and write; they earn more to feed their families; and they improve the lives of those around them.
Speaking from your experience, what happens to a girl or boy who does not receive an education?
There is no doubt that children who do not receive an education are condemned to half lives. Ill health plagues them, vulnerability stalks them, and early graves beckon them. Most cruelly, they are destined to pass on the baton of intergenerational poverty to their children, so this devastating cycle is endless.
What saddens me is that we, as a global community, are losing so much potential when millions of children sit on the sidelines of life. The next Nelson Mandela could be shining shoes on pavements in Somalia…the next Barack Obama could be toiling in fields in Angola…the next Ellen Johnson Sirleaf could be knotting carpets in factories…and we’ll never know.
We’re also losing our best opportunity to tackle some of the world’s most pressing challenges: poverty, hunger, HIV, climate change, conflict...Education helps solve nearly all of them, and educating girls is the fastest and most efficient way to do it.
We’ve spent billions of dollars trying to curb the spread of HIV, but if every child was in school today we’d prevent 7 million cases of HIV in the next decade. With nearly 3 million new cases a year, that’s a huge impact.
It should be common sense to educate the world’s children, but it’s not. I’m going to work hard for these children until it is.
As a global figure, and considered by some to be one of the world’s most influential women, what message would you like to send leaders and policy makers around the world about education and gender equality?
I would like leaders and policy makers around the world to understand that education is an emergency, but unlike the Tsunami in Asia or the earthquake in Haiti, it’s a humanitarian emergency in slow-motion, and one where misery and desperation are less visible.
And I would urge leaders to prioritize girls in their global development agendas. 2010 is critical because it’s a psychological marker. In 2000, the global community came together and pledged to get girls into school at the World Education Forum in Senegal and through the Millennium Development Goals. In that time, presidents have come and gone, wars have started and ended, technology has leapt ahead.
A girl we put into primary school in 2000 is now 15 and, hopefully, going through secondary school. The girls who weren’t so lucky have spent the last ten years working and will probably now get married and have their own children. Imagine having 10 years of work experience under your belt and starting a family by 15!
The children out of school in 2000 aren’t children any more. They’ve grown up, many into an early adulthood dominated by illiteracy and poverty. We didn’t save them. If we don’t speed up progress, many more will slip through the cracks, their childhoods faded, their chances of an education gone.
So we need to take the major events of 2010, like the UN General Assembly and the G20 and focus them on education and girls once and for all.
In your many roles advocating for education worldwide, can you tell us about some of the inspiring work you have witnessed and its impact?
This is best answered by recalling some of the extraordinary children, especially girls, I’ve met on my field trips. Their stories stay with me, and drive me to accomplish more.
I remember a trip I did with UNICEF to Morocco in 2007, and meeting a little girl called Khadija. Her hands were burned and gnarled because, from the age of six, she endured beatings, long hours, and the stifling, dusty heat of a carpet factory. Rescued by a social worker, and supported by UNICEF, she’s now at school reading, writing, and playing with friends. She wants to be a doctor when she’s older. When we spoke, she talked with such animation and energy I was amazed. She was so excited to be in school and learning, and so thrilled to have a future full of options. It’s conversations like that that prove to me that UNGEI, UNICEF, 1GOAL and all the other people working towards education for all, are doing the right thing, and need to be supported.
I also went to South Africa last year, and saw another UNICEF program in action, in Soweto: the Girls’ and Boys’ Education Movement (G/BEM). G/BEM empowers girls by involving girls and boys in activities and discussions covering everything from teenage pregnancies and drug abuse to sexual harassment and human rights. Peer to peer learning was much more effective than anything adults could impart.
More than anything, I want to see successes like these scaled up, so that we can reach all children everywhere, including those in rural areas and conflict zones. If politicians stand by their consciences and convictions, and turn the trickle of aid into a torrent, we can do it.
Do you have anything else to add?
Yes, I’d like to spotlight the important role that good teachers play in overcoming the education challenge.
Teachers are indispensable to a child’s success in the classroom; they have more impact on student learning than anything else in school. And yes, good teachers are costly but, bad teachers, ultimately cost even more. Right now, about 10 million teachers are needed worldwide by 2015; 80% of them in developing countries. That’s why we need to focus our energies on recruiting, training, equipping and paying teachers in the developing world. If we have quality teachers we have quality education, and with quality education we have the foundations for economic prosperity and social equity.
The E4 Engendering Empowerment: Education and Equality Conference
Click here for the official website of Queen Rania.
Leaders for Education Series