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We have one chance to avert a catastrophe in education, let's see if politicians care enough – iNews

Education is about to have its Cop26 moment – the last chance to avert a catastrophe in education, just as 2021’s climate summit in Glasgow was a last opportunity to prevent a climate disaster.
We all know that world leaders could have done much better at, and since, Cop26. When heads of state gather for the Transforming Education Summit at the United Nations in New York next month, their performance must improve. They must deliver more immediate and far-reaching results for this and future generations.
The name of the summit really matters because we need a genuine transformation in education. The task at hand is to ensure that this generation of children will be the first in history where every child goes to school and, importantly, receives a quality education. 
As things stand, every day there are at least 260 million children who are not in school, the majority of them girls. There are huge divides in the provision and quality of education between wealthier and lower-income countries. Drastic teacher shortages are commonplace – in sub-Saharan Africa, 15 million teachers are needed, according to Unesco.
This crisis in global education has existed for years, but all too often it has been overlooked by policymakers and gone unnoticed by the media and public. It has only been deepened by Covid-19, which deprived hundreds of millions of children of meaningful education for many months or even years. There are still 23 countries where all schools are closed.
The squeeze that Covid has forced on national budgets means that more than 40 per cent of lower-income countries have reduced their education spending, while most bilateral donors cut their aid to education. It is often the first thing to be cut, because its benefits take years to accrue.
The UN Sustainable Development Goals, adopted in 2015, included a promise to create quality and inclusive education for all by 2030. With seven and a half years to go, we are sadly way off track. If we continue like this, by 2030, 825 million children will be leaving school without even the most basic skills they need to find a job.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres convened this summit during the UN General Assembly, when national leaders will be present and fully focused. Their decisions will affect hundreds of millions of lives. They will decide how much money to invest in education and where to invest it. National commitments will be sought that will end the status quo in which education is a privilege and not a right (as it should be).
We won’t, however, achieve consequential change unless young people are listened to, which is why children’s charity Theirworld is spearheading a campaign, launched today, titled #LetMeLearn. It calls for the experiences and voices of young people to be heard at the summit, for them to have a say in the policies that will affect their lives. Just as young voices have been heard on the climate debate, they should be treated as the real experts on how their education is shaped.
I’m thinking of Theirworld’s 2,000 Global Youth Ambassadors, like Beatrace Ndisha Mwanjala from Kenya, who had to negotiate wild elephants on her long, daily walk to school, and who routinely completed her homework by candlelight.
Or Nhial Deng, 23, who was born in Ethiopia, where his father settled after fleeing civil war in South Sudan, but was then forced to flee to Kenya, where he spent 11 years in a refugee camp. Now taking a degree in global studies and digital communications in Canada, he says: “Although I was traumatised by the war I witnessed while fleeing my country, school gave me a safe space where I could heal from my trauma and think about a glowing future again.” 
They are among the thousands of activists who have already started backing the campaign. I’m optimistic that world leaders will give them a hearing. I’ve often noticed that at major summits such as the UN, G8 or G20, that when young people speak, leaders listen. And I have no doubt that young people tell those in power that they need to raise their game.
In a new global survey carried out for Theirworld by Hall & Partners of 10,000 people aged 16 to 21, large majorities said that their education system was failing them and that world leaders were not doing enough to give children a quality education. Nearly half of the young people surveyed who said they were disappointed with their education did not feel equipped for the future, with many citing outdated teaching methods, old-fashioned curricula, and lack of digital connectivity as prominent obstacles. At the same time, most expressed optimism in their own ability to change things for the better, a quality we should all draw inspiration from.
Many of our young activists have grown up in adversity. They know from experience what a positive force education can be. How it can help an individual to find rewarding work, to take their place in society and to live their dreams. And they know that in their communities and societies generally, education acts as a foundation for peace, tolerance, human rights, and a responsibly managed environment.
Before it is too late for this generation, we must listen to their disarmingly simple request, and let them learn.
Sarah Brown is the Chair of the charity Theirworld and the Executive Chair for the Global Business Coalition for Education
All rights reserved. © 2021 Associated Newspapers Limited.


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