More than 150 ministers of education discuss key elements for transforming education ahead of September Summit

Governments and key stakeholders lay out national pathways to address priority actions during concluding day of UN Transforming Education Pre-Summit.

JUNE 30, PARIS – Education ministers and vice-ministers of 154 countries and nearly 2000 participants came together at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris to discuss transforming education, inspired by the rallying call from young people.

The Pre-Summit, a precursor to the Transforming Education Head of State-level Summit, convened by the UN Secretary-General in New York this September comes after more than two years of the most massive disruption in learning in recorded history, brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. It serves to support a global breakthrough to more sustainable, peaceful futures, as called for in the report on Our Common Agenda.

It sets out to tackle both the education loss and the profound structural flaws of education systems worldwide. Halfway to the deadline to meet the 2030 Sustainable Development Goal on Education, participants were adamant the world must not only get back on track but transform education from the ground up.

Political leaders, many young activist, experts, civil society and the private sector expressed their determination to shift from reforming to transforming education. They focused on the key axis of inclusivity, quality of learning, teacher’s role, digital connectivity, and adequate and innovative financing.

The Pre-Summit kicked off with a Youth Forum that brought together youth activists and representatives whose voices and ideas will be key to the outcome of the Summit.

UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina J. Mohammed insisted that building back education better would not make the cut, and that the obligation was to build forward differently.  She called on youth to rally towards building a global movement at country level for education transformation.

In closing the proceedings, Mohammed laid out the path to the Summit: “When Heads of State come to the UN in September, we need them to speak directly to the education system they envisage for the future and to the commitments they can make now to make this happen – and to how they can ensure transformation through their efforts to drive recovery, SDG acceleration and reimagine education for the future.”

Emphasizing the goal of transformation as the key driving principle of the Summit, President of Ethiopia and Chair of the UNESCO International Commission on the Futures of Education, Sahle-Work Zewde, called for “strengthening public dialogue and more inclusive participation that brings in those who are often excluded.” The Commission issued a statement to the Pre-Summit on forging a new social contract for education, proposing five directions for change.

President of Sierra Leone Julius Maada Bio insisted on the fundamental right that is education: “We must use this Pre-Summit strategically to rally all forces behind the core of inclusive quality education and lifelong learning for all. We do so because education is not a privilege. It is a fundamental human right. We collectively advocate that education is not a cost but an investment in a sustainable future for our societies, children and the planet.”

UNESCO Director-General, Audrey Azoulay, raised the alarm on the global education crisis, pointing out that its deep roots long preceded the pandemic: “in early 2020, prior to the pandemic, 259 million children were not in school – one-sixth of the world’s population in that age-group. And there were more than 770 million adults who could not read or write, two-thirds of whom were women, reflecting persistent inequalities. But this situation has been made worse by the pandemic.” Azoulay called for a revolution in education – especially in response to the issues of digital transformation and climate change.

The High-Level Steering Committee (HLSC) responsible for global coordination and monitoring of SDG 4, will be expected to follow up on actions beyond the Summit, including contributing to the education dimension of the Summit of the Future in 2023. Co-chaired by the President of Sierra Leone and UNESCO’s Director-General, the HLSC issued an urgent call to Heads of State and Government to push education to the top of the political agenda.

Addressing a room full of decision-makers, Youth Representative of the SDG4 High-Level Steering Committee Kenisha Arora made the case that education is the foundation of change: “When people are educated, society is transformed. Financial literacy becomes financial freedom and economic development. Digital literacy becomes digital transformation. Climate literacy becomes climate action.”

Strategies to ensure digital learning and expand connectivity ran through the dialogues, in the wake of the reliance on technology during the COVID-19 that further exposed inequities. In sub-Saharan Africa alone, only 43% of the population has access to the internet. Countries shared initiatives in the making to build crisis-resilient school systems by providing devices in Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Senegal, and South Africa, as well as developing low resource apps for literacy.

Supporting teachers to become facilitators and guides for a new way of learning was also recognized as a key imperative for reimagining education systems. In the leadup to the Pre-Summit, the Asia-Pacific Regional Education Ministers Conference listed the development of a highly skilled generation of teachers as a key element of achieving its priority to transform education and education systems, outlining the need for policies to attract skilled teachers.

Dialogues placed emphasis on improving the fundamentals of learning and on the question of life-long learning, through to the full spectrum of educational needs and priorities. In Latin America and the Caribbean, focus has been on recovery in learning, which includes the reintegration of children and young people who left/are out of school, the establishment of early warning systems for assisting and identifying at-risk students, as well as developing policies to serve people with unfinished schooling.

Financing for education has long been in crisis, and this was an area marked as urgent across all dialogues, compounded by the additional costs of lost learning.

Significant emphasis was placed on expanding the revenue base for education, by stepping up action on taxation, debt pressures and other challenges, particularly facing developing countries.

Jutta Urpilainen, European Commissioner for International Partnerships, urged the international community to “continue to step up its investments. Despite the geopolitical tensions, we cannot fall behind on aid commitments to education.” The European Union provides more than half of official development assistance on education worldwide with the Commission deciding to increase its budget on education from 7 to 13%.

Gordon Brown, United Nations Special Envoy for Global Education, urged decision-makers to mobilize greater education investment from all possible sources – and called on donors and multi-lateral development banks to help operationalize the International Financing Facility for Education in time for the Summit.

Catherine Russell, Executive Director of UNICEF, pointed out the value of learning, even in the most challenging of settings: “Anyone who has ever seen children attending makeshift schools in refugee camps, or girls receiving informal instruction in places that don’t permit them to attend school, or children with disabilities – the most excluded of all – in class with their peers has seen that joy and enthusiasm for learning.”

Recently appointed Special Advisor to the UN Secretary-General for the Summit, Leonardo Garnier insisted on youth’s role in the transformation: “The world changes when we change it. Young people don´t have to ask for permission to have a space. If you don´t have it, you take it. If you can´t take it, you make it.”

Governments are urged to now consolidate national consultations as they prepare for the September Summit, where Heads of State and Governments will announce their national commitments to transforming education. The outcomes of the Summit will feed into the Summit of the Future, a major milestone in the advancement of Our Common Agenda.

For more information visit the Transforming Education Summit website.