Don’t drop the ball, for our children’s sake

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This is a crucial year for education. Children starting school this year will complete their 12 years of basic education by 2030. The United Nations’ fourth sustainable development goal — “Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all” — comes under the spotlight at the UN’s high-level political forum.

The thematic review of goal four aims to identify the progress made and challenges encountered in its implementation, and most importantly, to assess interlinkages with other sustainable development goals.

The theme of the Global Action Week for Education — “Making the right to an inclusive, equitable, quality, free public education a reality” — is the pressing issue of our time. Global challenges such as poverty, increased inequality, migration, human-induced climate impact and political interferences that lead to internal and cross-border humanitarian crises are deterrents to the effective implementation of education that is truly equitable, just, inclusive and transformative. The education 2030 agenda is our universal response to ensure we address these challenges.

Education challenges

Despite significant improvements in literacy and narrowing of the gender gap, 750-million adults, two-thirds of whom were women, remained illiterate in 2016. Today, millions of children and youth in school lack the minimum literacy and numeracy skills because of overcrowded classrooms and inadequately trained teachers.

In 2017, 262-million children of primary and secondary school going age were out of school. Education in emergencies is a human rights atrocity that can no longer be ignored.

Last month, in the wake of Cyclone Idai, hundreds of thousands of children were affected: in Mozambique about 263 000 children were out of school after more than 3 300 classrooms were destroyed; in Zimbabwe, 150 schools and an estimated 60 000 children were affected; and an estimated 200 schools were negatively affected by the disaster in Malawi.

The pernicious nature of conflict and wars is also detrimental to future societies of the affected communities. In Burkina Faso, hundreds of schools have closed because of the threat of terrorist attacks. War-torn countries such as Yemen and Syria will take years, if not decades, to recover. What will become of the millions of children not attending school because their classrooms have been bombed by governments and militia? Who will account for the severe shortage of teachers because of unpaid service?

Enough is enough. Society can no longer sit back and watch as children are forced out of school and in some cases, recruited as child soldiers by armed groups. Are we building a society that promotes war over education? The failure to solve these difficult challenges points, in part, to a continuing lack of the necessary political will and of inadequate investment in the education agenda.

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