Malala Day on July 12th at the United Nations, and the subsequent social media and worldwide press buzz created a call to action for governments, donors, organizations and individuals to support education for all and youth engagement around the world. The message: stand up, take notice, and put education at the forefront of the international development agenda.
The UN Global Education First Initiative (GEFI) was launched by the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and UN Special Envoy Gordon Brown at the UN General Assembly in September 2012. It is a five-year campaign to mobilize political and financial commitments to accelerate progress towards Education for All (EFA) and the Millennium Development Goals (MDG2) of universal education. GEFI focuses on three priority areas: putting every child in school; improving the quality of learning; and fostering global citizenship.
In April 2013, the first round of “Learning for All” ministerial meetings at the World Bank included seven countries that are lagging behind in achieving universal education -- Bangladesh, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Haiti, Nigeria, South Sudan, and Yemen. National governments, international donors, and organizations made commitments that included eliminating or reducing school fees (a barrier to access), additional investments to support teacher salaries, and aligning aid efforts with country priorities, among others. To demonstrate U.S. support, the White House hosted a Policy Dialogue on Global Education, led by USAID Administrator Shah, to launch USAID’s “Room to Learn” -- a targeted effort as part of USAID’s five-year Education Strategy -- to increase equitable access to education in target countries including Nigeria, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and South Sudan. USAID is hosting a biennial Education Summit from August 6-8 in Washington, D.C., where experts will further discuss best practices, research and solutions for providing access to education in conflict and crisis-affected environments.
During the upcoming 68th UN General Assembly in September, there will again be a focus on education and the challenge of getting 57 million out-of-school children into classrooms and learning. A second round of “Learning for All” ministerial meetings will bring Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Timor Leste, Chad, and Burma to the table to find constructive solutions to obstacles facing education in their countries. Other events will highlight progress toward the Millennium Development Goals, early childhood, peace and education, inclusive development, and the role of the private sector in promoting education globally.
Youth will be again at the center of these conversations, contributing their voices and commitments to advancing education for all and the future of their communities. Without a quality education, youth will not have the basic skills or opportunities to achieve higher levels of education, be prepared for the 21st century workforce, or contribute to the peace and stability of their societies. As President Obama said at a town hall in South Africa, “The most important investment any country can make is educating its youth.” And on July 12th, Malala Day, millions of youth around the world -- mostly in countries of conflict or in need of economic development -- stood up and said, “Put education first!”