Every Child Has the Right to an Education!
This post originally appeared on the Global Partnership for Education site on 20 November 2014.
On Universal Children’s Day, let’s remember how important education is.
For those of us committed to children’s education, today is a day for celebration – Universal Children’s Day and the 25th anniversary of the ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Many of us at UNICEF have marked the day by taking a look back and asking, “Is the world a better place for children than it was 25 years ago?”
When it comes to education, it is fair to say, “Yes, for many children it is.”
A better place for children and education
Take Charlotte, the daughter of a single mother and a rice farmer in Madagascar. At 15, Charlotte dropped out of school because she was pregnant. But with encouragement from her mother and assistance from a scholarship that offers girls a second chance at an education, Charlotte returned to school, has excelled, and hopes to be an English teacher one day.
Charlotte’s story is one of millions that help us chart progress since the Convention recognized education as a fundamental right and emphasized the importance of a free and compulsory primary education.
But the successes also can be calculated collectively. For example, we can proudly say that 130 million more children attended primary school in 2012 than in 1990. Progress can also be measured by a shift in attitude. The world is no longer content to provide education for a few; it now demands education for all.
The Education for All movement and the Millennium Development Goals also have been critical to our successes. In addition, governments around the world have increased their financial commitment to educating their citizens. The Global Partnership for Education also has made a significant mark and has collaborated with UNICEF to put boots on the ground in the cause of universal primary education.
Many children were excluded and did not learn
Having plenty to celebrate does not mean that there is not plenty left to do:
- Nearly 58 million primary school-aged children and 63 million young adolescents are not in school.
- Many children are not learning.
- Barriers including poverty and discrimination still exclude the world’s most marginalized children.
- Girls drop out because of child marriage and gender-based violence in the schools.
- Children with disabilities remain woefully neglected.
Children whose lives and educations have been upended by conflict and war are a particular education challenge. They account for about half of the children who do not attend school. But in 2012, only 1.4 % of funding for short-term humanitarian assistance was dedicated to education.
Making headway in the next era of development, the post-2015 era, is going to demand creativity. We will need to focus our efforts on reaching tough-to-reach children with innovative approaches. Success will demand that governments and donors shift their financing patterns and ruthlessly invest in strategies that benefit the poorest and most vulnerable.
Children in conflict-afflicted areas, in particular, will require special attention. Meeting their educational needs will demand flexible funding initiatives that link emergency assistance with development goals. Without reaching the children robbed of an education by violence and war, we risk turning back the clock on the achievements of the last quarter century.
A new educated generation
In many countries, success has created a new educated generation. These young people are between 14 and 25 and old enough to claim their right – for themselves, their peers and the children who will enter school in the future. They include the Global Education First Initiative’s Youth Advocacy Group and the Global Youth Ambassadors of A World at School, who are behind the #UpForSchool petition, a demand that the world deliver on its promise of education for all.
It is true that universal primary education is still just a promise. But it is not just the promise of education. It is also a promise of the collateral development benefits that educated young people bring to the world. We know, for example, that educated children are better able to contribute to the peace and prosperity of their communities. For women and girls in particular, education pays economic, health and safety dividends for generations.
The good news is that this new generation is looking over our shoulders as we chart a course post-2015. It is their passion that should inspire us and shape the agenda moving forward. And their passion for education is truly something to celebrate.
Jo Bourne is UNICEF’s Global Chief of Education