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Millennium Development Goals cannot be achieved without education says UNESCO Director-General

© UNESCO/Bob Krasner
UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova with Anthony Lake, Executive Director of Unicef, and Jasmine Whitbread, CEO of Save the Children, at the roundtable luncheon discussion ‘The Central Role of Education in the MDGs’, during the MDG Summit in New York

“If we want to make development sustainable, we have to invest in education,” UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova told participants at a high-level brainstorming session held during the Millennium Development Goals Summit in New York on Tuesday 22 September.

The session, organised by UNESCO, Unicef, Save the Children and the State of Qatar, looked at ways of mobilising support to accelerate progress towards MDG 2: the provision of universal primary education.  The event was moderated by American journalist and Pulitzer Prize winner Nicholas Kristoff. Participants included government ministers, representatives from international and non-governmental organisations, academics and education experts from all regions of the world.

The participants noted the commendable progress that has been made in achieving quality basic education for all since the Millennium Development Goals were set in 2000. In Tanzania, less than half of all primary school-aged children were in school at the beginning of the decade. Today nearly all children attend primary school. India, with about 5.6 million children out of school in 2008, is expected to bring down this number to about 750,000 by 2015.

But much remains to be done.

In 2007, at least 72 million primary-aged children were not in school, of which 54% were girls. Around 39 million of these were living in situations affected by conflict. If current trends continue, an estimated 56 million children will still be out of school in 2015.

Striking evidence clearly shows that investment in this education pays rich dividends: most recent data from the Education For All Global Monitoring report, published by UNESCO, shows for example that:

•        171 million people could be lifted out of poverty if all students in low income countries left school with basic reading skills – that is equivalent to a 12 per cent drop in the number of people living on less than $1.25 a day. (MDG 1-Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger)

 •        In Kenya, if women farmers are given the same education opportunities as their male peers, their yields for maize, beans and cowpeas increase by up to 22 per cent. (MDG 3-Promote gender equality and empower women)

 •        A child born to a mother who can read is 50 per cent more likely to survive past the age of 5, and in sub-Saharan Africa an estimated 1.8 million children’s lives could have been saved in 2008 if their mothers had at least secondary education. (MDG 4-Reduce child mortality)

 •        In Burkina Faso, mothers with secondary education are twice as likely to give birth more safely in health facilities as those with no education. (MDG 5-Improve maternal health)

 •        In Malawi, the share of women who know that HIV transmission risks can be reduced by taking drugs during pregnancy is only 27 per cent for women without any education, but rises to 59 per cent for women with secondary education. (MDG 6-Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases .

“There will be no peace and prosperity without education,” said H H Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser AI Missned,  Chairperson of Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development and  UNESCO Special Envoy for Basic and Higher Education at the session. “Protecting education is protecting our civilization” she concluded.

The session closed with unanimous agreement that support for education must be long-term sustainable and predictable and must be mobilised both from a wide range of national and international sources. Participants also urged the need to give special focus to meeting the needs of the most marginalized, in particular those living in countries affected by conflict. The importance of looking beyond access to issues related to quality – notably the global shortage of trained teachers - was likewise highlighted.


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