When Will They Ever Learn?

July 10, 2013
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This blog originally appeared in the HuffPost IMPACT blog site on 10 July 2013.

By Sarah Brown, A World at School, Founder

Last autumn, when we saw the Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai being flown to receive emergency care at Britain’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital, there was every reason to fear she might not live to see her 16th birthday. When the Taliban gunman targeted her on her way home from school, for her campaigning zeal for girls’ education, she was almost fatally injured.

So it is a real cause for celebration to see her defiance of terrorism in dedicating her 16th birthday to taking her campaign to the very highest level — the Secretary-General of the United Nations.

The public too can add their voice to Malala’s by signing her petition on aworldatschool.org — calling on world leaders to find school places for 31 million girls and 26 million boys who currently have none.

It remains a shock to me that we still have a gap in providing education for every child when universal primary school access was promised in the UN Millennium Development Goals. Remember, this was a promise made on behalf of us all.

When you consider that the cost of providing basic education for a child in the developing world can be less than $200 per year, it is clearly both unforgiveable to fail and still within our reach to actually succeed. This makes it even more shocking that the issue has not — until recently — been right at the top of the global agenda and at the forefront of every country’s plans.

I don’t think you will find a political leader that says that education not is a priority, but it is the citizens’ voices now demand that the practical commitments be stepped up to match the rhetoric. Ask any child who cannot get to school, who is without a teacher, whose family can’t afford even the lowest fees, even those who will be married off before a chance of education — they’ll tell you that more must be done.

When we heard of Malala’s shooting we were moved in our millions to respond, but we still have to do more. Last month 14 more girls were killed in Quetta, Pakistan for daring to attend their school. In Nigeria, the group Boko Haram — whose name means ‘western education is a sin’ — attacked a school in Yobe State in North East Nigeria, leaving 29 children dead.

And the growing emergency for children displaced from their own homes through conflict demands action too. It is estimated that 20 million out-of-school children of our 57 million total may live in refugee camps. In Syria we are seeing thousands of children daily crossing borders to reach refugee camps in Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and Iraq. Surely as we bring in food, water, sanitation and health care, we can create ‘pop up’ schools — a place for children to grow, talk about their traumatic experiences and, of course, to learn.

Education is relatively inexpensive in the developing world, and fosters citizens who can contribute to their local economy, raise healthy families and ensure a safer, less militant society. We have to organize to train teachers, build schools, provide books and equipment and encourage every family to send all their girls and boys to school. We have to ensure that children are safe as they travel to school, and free from fear as students. We have to create an Education Without Borders initiative to champion education in emergencies and to support life in refugee camps with all the big NGOs engaged in its delivery.

Malala has been the first to sign the petition to gather us in one place to work together. You can add your own signature to the A World at School petition, built on our new digital platform. A World at School will not reinvent the wheel or build a new NGO. Instead it will serve as a hub, a platform and source of information. It will use the best of the world’s digital expertise — it is being designed by the Blue State Digital team who ran President Obama’s successful digital campaign for his elections. The platform will share education messages, information, data and publications — and petitions! It will identify and target national campaigns and give everyone the opportunity to join the young campaigners who believe enough is enough.

This will be a peaceful, focused and very determined protest and it will not stop until the world’s promises, made in Dakar, Senegal in 2000, to see every child in school and learning are met. In order for our world’s children to learn, isn’t it time we asked of our world leaders: When will they ever learn?

This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post in association with the A World at School campaign to mark Malala Day. Malala Day will take place at the United Nations on July 12, 2013 — the 16th birthday of Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani girl who was shot by the Taliban for wanting to go to school. On that day, Malala will address 500 young campaigners as part of a special youth takeover of the United Nations. For more information, visit aworldatschool.org.

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