Speech for YOKA BRANDT, UNICEF Deputy Executive Director. Regional Ministerial Education Conference - Istanbul, Turkey 10 December, 2013

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1 Speech for YOKA BRANDT, UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Regional Ministerial Education Conference - Istanbul, Turkey 10 December, 2013 Distinguished members of government, honourable colleagues, ladies and gentlemen, It is my pleasure to be here with you today in Istanbul as we help set the course for education in Europe and Central Asia. In the next few days, we will talk about the education challenges and opportunities faced by children in the region. You will be able to exchange ideas, forge alliances and commit to a Call to Action, which will be presented momentarily by His Excellency the Minister of National Education of Turkey. This Call to Action is our pledge to include all children in quality learning. But, first, I wish to highlight some issues at the forefront of UNICEF s agenda for children as we look forward, and move beyond And while I outline these issues that compel UNICEF to work harder, invest smarter and evaluate better, I hope that you will visualize the faces of the children behind the statistics and interventions. Think of those children we are reaching, but also think about those who have until now been left behind and let their faces be an inspiration for our work at this conference and beyond. It is clear that more needs to be done if we are to live up to the promises of the Millennium Development Goals. In 2000, the international community rallied around the agreed principle that education is a fundamental right and is indispensable to other social, cultural, economic, civil and political rights. MDG2 and the broader Education for All goals affirmed that all children must be enrolled in primary education. Although ambitious and focused on immediate and tangible results, MDG2 did not take into account the vast inequalities that remain, and that must now be addressed. While we have made heroic progress within the past 15 years, with some 50 million additional children enrolled in primary education, inequalities in education have become more visible, exacerbated and undeniable. Worldwide, we still have at least 57 million children of primary school age who are 1

2 out of school. When they do enroll, 13 out of every 100 children do not complete primary education. An additional 71 million children do not attend lower secondary school. And as many as 250 million cannot read or write even after spending 4 years in school. If you are a girl, if you live in a rural community, if you have a disability, or if you come from an ethnic, linguistic or religious minority, the odds are against you. Chances are you are out of school, or, if you are in school, you are not learning or you are on the road to becoming ill prepared to participate fully in society. Considering that we know the enormous social, economic and cultural benefits of investing in quality education it is easy to agree that the Post Agenda must include an explicit goal that goes beyond access. We need an agenda that will tackle the obstacles to equity and learning, beginning with pre- school through secondary education. Only then can education fulfill its crucial role in shaping personal and collective identities, promoting social cohesion, and developing productive and responsible citizens. By promoting education equity and quality, we foster the most basic human rights principles respect for life, human dignity and cultural diversity. In keeping with the overarching goal of education proposed by the post High Level Panel namely Equitable, Quality Education and Lifelong Learning for All UNICEF will prioritize three areas, while continuing to address the unfinished education agenda. The three specific areas of focus are: equity, learning and innovation. First, we must reaffirm EQUITY. ALL children must be granted full access to education, especially the poor and most vulnerable, and including children with disabilities, ethnic and linguistic minorities and girls. This will require a transformative shift. It is no longer enough to build a sufficient number of schools for the entire primary- school- age population. It is no longer enough to promote the benefits of education. What we need are concerted effort to ensure that each and every child, without exception, is counted, accounted for, and provided with the means necessary to access the schools in their neighbourhood. 2

3 We have seen stellar examples from this region of the power of political will in creating movements that wipe out educational inequality. In Turkey, as a result of a Girls Education Campaign begun in 2003, the gender gap in primary education went from 7 per cent in 2003 to almost zero by the end of In Armenia, an innovative model of inclusive schools that was developed at the grassroots level resulted in 70 per cent of children with disabilities now attending regular schools. While we know that these efforts require investments, we also know the immeasurable cost of not reaching the most vulnerable. Conversely, better health and nutrition, lower fertility rates, employability and increased social cohesion and stability are just some of the benefits associated with widespread access to education. These benefits are as critical for individual well- being as for building strong nations. As we evaluate investments in education, this axiom remains constant: Pay now or pay later. And the costs we will endure later will far exceed what we would spend today. Second, we must focus on LEARNING. As mentioned, some 250 million children of primary school age worldwide are failing to learn the most basic skills associated with literacy, numeracy and life skills. As many as half of these children are actually attending school, so what we see is wasted investment and we need to recognize that money spent on easy fixes does not produce solid results. Even across middle- and high- income countries in this region, 1 in 5 children do not attain a basic minimum level of skills. In the past 15 years, with noble intentions, we focused our education agenda on access, but failed to examine the quality of what children actually learn in school. It is time to revisit the issue of learning achievement by thinking strategically and holistically. It is time to acknowledge that literacy learning to read and write ultimately predicts future success not only in academia but in the real world. It is time to make certain that education better addresses the needs of children and youth and responds to the fast- changing world we live in. We can look to the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia for inspiration in this area. In a mere three years since implementing its 2009 in- service teacher education programme, changes 3

4 in teachers knowledge, attitudes, practices have motivated learners and improved results by 22 per cent. Third, and final, we must promote INNOVATION. Education and training alone are not adequately meeting the needs and demands of young people. Unequal access and poor quality education have greatly contributed to the cycle of disadvantage. If education is to meet the challenges of the rapidly- evolving 21 st century and ensure that young people are ready to succeed in the world of work and life in general, schooling must be innovative. Innovation can be about approaches to change social norms and behaviours as is shown by Montenegro where an innovative public awareness campaign resulted in the number if people who believe that children with disabilities should only be in special institutions almost halved. Or it can be high- tech like the RapidSMS system in Uganda that tracks UNICEF education kits from the warehouse to the receiving school, allowing us to be more accountable to our pupils, their parents, communities, ministries and donors. The potential for technology in particular mobile technology to deliver education transformation is huge. But despite the excitement and improved platforms, this much hyped technological miracle has yet to transform education. Part of the problem may be the tendency to focus solely on technology at the expense of other critical elements of education: the pedagogy or what really happens when children learn and how this is organized and nurtured the education systems themselves, and how change is managed within these systems. We are at a crossroads and have a tremendous opportunity to profoundly change education. We can bring together the power and potential of technology, spur a global shift in focus from mere enrolment to genuine learning, and capitalize on our rich experience in managing change and reforming systems to secure better results for children. Equitable access, quality and innovation must go further than what we have thus far thought possible, and instead, reach toward our aspirations of a first- rate education for all children. 4

5 Investments in education must be created in partnerships with all stakeholders, both within and outside the school walls. We must be humble enough to learn from each other, from our successes and failures alike. But we must also BE AMBITIOUS enough to support those who have a new idea, foster it, replicate it and sustain it. As we discuss the future of education for Europe and Central Asia, we must remember that education is the foundation of a secure tomorrow, from which freedom and reasoning, negotiation and social connectedness flourish. To quote Nelson Mandela: education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world. It is up to us to respond to children s demands in ways that are respectful of their personal journeys and can spark their passions to learn and grow. If children are willing and able to overcome personal obstacles in the pursuit of a better life, it is up to us to rise to their challenge and ACT NOW! Thank you! 5

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