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Education transformation needed for ‘inclusive, just and peaceful world’

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Before speaking at the UN Transforming Global Education Summit, Secretary-General António Guterres addresses the SDG Moment in the General Assembly Hall. UN Photo/Cia Pak

Education has been Secretary-General António Guterres’ “guide and touchstone,” he said on Monday, the final day of the Transforming Education Summit, warning that it is in “a deep crisis”.  

“I regard myself as a lifelong student…Without education, where would I be? Where would any of us be?”, he asked those gathered in the iconic Generally Assembly Hall.  

Because education transforms lives, economies and societies, “we must transform education”.  

Downward spiral 

Instead of being the great enabler, the UN chief pointed out that education is fast becoming “a great divider”, noting that some 70 per cent of 10-year-olds in poor countries are unable to read and are “barely learning”. 

With access to the best resources, schools and universities, the rich get the best jobs, while the poor – especially girls – displaced people, and students with disabilities, face huge obstacles to getting the qualifications that could change their lives, he continued.  

Meanwhile, COVID-19 has “dealt a hammer blow to progress on SDG4”, the Sustainable Development Goal targeting equitable quality education. 

“But the education crisis began long before – and runs much deeper”, Mr Guterres added, citing the International Commission on the Future of Education report card, which clearly stated: “Education systems don’t make the grade”.  

Failing grade

Dependent upon outdated and narrow curricula, under-trained and underpaid teachers, and rote learning, he maintained that “education is failing students and societies”.

At the same time, the digital divide penalizes poor students as the education financing gap “yawns wider than ever”.  

“Now is the time to transform education systems”, underscored the UN chief.

21st century vision

With a new 21st century education vision taking shape, he flagged that quality learning must support the development of the individual learner throughout their life.

“It must help people learn how to learn, with a focus on problem-solving and collaboration…provide the foundations for learning, from reading, writing and mathematics to scientific, digital, social and emotional skills…develop students’ capacity to adapt to the rapidly changing world of work…[and] be accessible to all from the earliest stages and throughout their lives”.

At a time of rampant misinformation, climate denial and attacks on human rights, Mr. Guterres stressed the need for education systems that “distinguish fact from conspiracy, instill respect for science, and celebrate humanity in all its diversity”.

From vision to reality

To make the vision a reality, he highlighted five commitment areas beginning with protecting the right to quality education for everyone, everywhere – especially girls and those in crisis hotspots.

Emphasizing that schools must be open to all, without discrimination, he appealed to the Taliban in Afghanistan: “Lift all restrictions on girls’ access to secondary education immediately”.

As “the lifeblood of education systems,” Mr. Guterres next called for a new focus on the roles and skillsets of teachers to facilitate and promote learning rather than merely transmitting answers.

Third, he advocated for schools to become “safe, healthy spaces, with no place for violence, stigma or intimidation”.

To achieve the fourth target, that the digital revolution benefits all learners, he encouraged governments to work with private sector partners to boost digital learning content.

Financial solidarity

“None of this will be possible without a surge in education financing and global solidarity”, said the UN chief, introducing his final priority.

He urged countries to protect education budgets and funnel education spending into learning resources.  

Education financing must be the number one priority for Governments. It is the single most important investment any country can make in its people and its future,” spelled out the Secretary-General. “Spending and policy advice should be aligned with delivering quality education for all”.

‘Global movement’

In closing, he stated that the Transforming Education Summit will only achieve its global goals by mobilizing “a global movement”.

“Let’s move forward together, so that everyone can learn, thrive and dream throughout their lives. Let’s make sure today’s learners and future generations can access the education they need, to create a more sustainable, inclusive, just and peaceful world for all”.

War, sickness, economic development

Catherine Russell, who heads the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) drew attention to the effect of war on children’s education, calling on governments to “scale up support to help every child learn, wherever they are”.

Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of UNAIDS, highlighted the devastating impact of HIV on adolescent girls and young women in Africa, informing the participants that in sub-Saharan Africa last year, 4,000 girls had been infected every week.

“This is a crisis!” she said. “Because when a girl is infected at that early age, there’s no cure for HIV, that marks the rest of their lives, their opportunities”.

She told the summit that 12 African countries have now committed to Education Plus, a bold initiative to prevent HIV infections through free universal, quality secondary education for all girls and boys in Africa, reinforced through comprehensive empowerment programmes.

Audrey Azoulay, leader of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) reminded that “there can be no economic development and no peace without education,” and underscored that Afghan girls must be able to go back to school. “It is their right”, she upheld. Watch here deliver her address here.

Other luminaries

Other distinguished speakers included UN Messenger of Peace Malala Yousafzai who called on world leaders to make schools safe for girls and protect every child’s right to learn, saying that “if you are serious about creating a safe and sustainable future for children, then be serious about education”.

Somaya Faruqi, former Captain of the Afghan Girls Robotics Team avowed that every girl has a right to learn, asserting that “while our cousins and brothers sit in classrooms, me and many other girls are forced to put our dreams on hold. Every girl belongs in school”.

Newly announced UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, Vanessa Nakate, stressed the need to for all children to have access to education, as “their future depends on it”. Watch her address here.

Another highlight was a stirring musical performance by UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Angelique Kidjo, who encouraged everyone to raise their voice for transforming education.

130 countries pledge education reboot

Later in the afternoon, it was announced that more than 130 countries attending the summit, have committed to rebooting their education systems and accelerating action to end the learning crisis 

The commitments came after 115 national consultations that brought together leaders, teachers, students, civil society and other partners to gather collective recommendations on the most urgent asks.

Nearly half of the countries prioritized measures to address ​learning loss, while a third of countries committed to supporting the psycho-social well-being of both students and teachers.​ Two in three countries ​also referenced measures to offset the direct and indirect costs of education for​ economically vulnerable communities, and 75% of countries underlined the importance of ​gender-sensitive education policies in their commitments.

These statements underscored the role of education in achieving all the SDGs and linkages with the climate crises, conflict and poverty. Measures addressed COVID-19 recovery and getting back on track on the SDGs, while emphasizing the need for innovations in education to prepare the learners of today for a rapidly changing world.

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Fight against human trafficking must be strengthened in Ethiopia

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A group of internally displaced people due to the Tigray conflict gather in a site in Ethiopia's Afar region, Ethiopia. © UNHCR/Alessandro Pasta

Throughout Ethiopia’s Tigray, Afar and Amhar regions, women and girls are becoming increasingly vulnerable to abduction and sex trafficking as they flee ongoing armed conflict, a group of UN-appointed independent human rights experts warned on Monday.

The protracted conflict in the three northern regions have heightened risks of trafficking for sexual exploitation as a form of sexual violence in conflict, the experts said in a statement.

“We are alarmed by reports of refugee and internally displaced women and girls in the Tigray, Afar, and Amhara regions being abducted while attempting to move to safer places,” they said.

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“We are concerned at the risks of trafficking, in particular for purposes of sexual exploitation, including sexual slavery.” 

Women and children in crosshairs

Amidst abductions and displacement, the UN experts raised serious concerns over Eritrean refugee women and children being at particular risk of sex trafficking.

“Urgent action is needed to prevent trafficking, especially for purposes of sexual exploitation, and to ensure assistance and protection of all victims, without discrimination on grounds of race or ethnicity, nationality, disability, age or gender,” they said.  

Meanwhile, the hundreds of children who have been separated from their families, especially in the Tigray region, are particularly vulnerable, warned the independent experts.

“The continuing lack of humanitarian access to the region is a major concern,” the experts continued, urging immediate national, bilateral and multilateral measures to prevent all forms of trafficking of children and to ensure their protection.

Identifying victims

They added that sufficient measures were not being taken to identify victims of trafficking, or support their recovery in ways that fully takes account of the extreme trauma being suffered.

“The failure to provide accountability for these serious human rights violations and grave crimes creates a climate of impunity, allows trafficking in persons to persist and perpetrators to go free,” underscored the six UN experts.

They urged all relevant stakeholders to ensure that victims of trafficking can adequately access medical assistance, including sexual and reproductive healthcare services and psychological support.

The experts said they had made their concerns known to both the Governments of Ethiopia and neighbouring Eritrea.

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35 years of Cultural Routes: Safeguarding European Values, Heritage, and Dialogue

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A Europe rich in history, heritage, dialogue and values: the Council of Europe Cultural Routes’ programme celebrates its 35th anniversary, on the occasion of the 11th Advisory Forum in Minoa Palace Hotel, Chania, Crete (Greece) on 5-7 October, with a special event to highlight the relevance of Cultural Routes for the promotion of cultural diversity, intercultural dialogue and sustainable tourism.

The Forum is organised by the Enlarged Partial Agreement on Cultural Routes of the Council of Europe and the European Institute of Cultural Routes, in co-operation with the Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Sports, the Hellenic Ministry of Tourism, the Greek National Tourism Organization, the Region of Crete, the Municipality of Chania, the Chamber of Industry and Commerce of Chania, and the Historic Cafes Route. The 2022 edition will be the opportunity to underline the growing relevance of the Cultural Routes methodology and practices in promoting Europe’s shared cultural heritage while fostering viable local development.

Deputy Secretary General Bjørn Berge will participate in the high-level dialogue, together with Minister of Culture and Sports of Greece Lina Mendoni, Minister of Tourism of Greece Vassilis Kikilias, Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) Vice-President and Chairperson of the Greek Delegation Dora Bakoyannis and Chair of the Statutory Committee of Cultural Routes Ambassador Patrick Engelberg (Luxembourg). 

Over three days of workshops and interactive debates, three main general sessions will be explored:

  1. Promoting European Values and Intercultural Dialogue;
  2. Safeguarding Heritage in Times of Crisis;
  3. Fostering Creative Industries, Cultural Tourism, Innovative Technologies for Sustainable Communities.

The Forum will discuss trends and challenges in relation to Cultural Routes, providing a platform for sharing experiences, reviewing progress, analysing professional practices, launching new initiatives and developing partnerships across Europe and beyond. Participants range from managers among the 48 cultural routes to representatives of national ministries, International Organisations, academics, experts and tourism professionals.

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Little progress combating systemic racism against people of African descent

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More than two years since the murder of George Floyd by a police officer in the United States sparked the global Black Lives Matter movement, there’s been only “piecemeal progress” in addressing systemic racism, the UN human rights office (OHCHR) said on Friday, in a new report.While more people have been made aware of systemic racism and concrete steps have been taken in some countries, the Acting High Commissioner for Human Rights called on States to demonstrate greater political will to accelerate action.

“There have been some initiatives in different countries to address racism, but for the most part they are piecemeal. They fall short of the comprehensive evidence-based approaches needed to dismantle the entrenched structural, institutional and societal racism that has existed for centuries, and continues to inflict deep harm today,” said Nada Al-Nashif, who will present the report to the UN Human Rights Council on Monday.

Triggering change

The report describes international, national and local initiatives that have been taken, towards ending the scourge of racism.

These include an Executive Order from the White House on advancing effective, accountable policing and criminal justice practices in federal law enforcement agencies; an Anti-Racism Data Act in British Columbia, Canada; measures to evaluate ethnic profiling by police in Sweden; and census data collection to self-identify people of African descent in Argentina.

The European Commission has issued guidance on collecting and using data based on racial or ethnic origin; formal apologies issued, memorialization, revisiting public spaces, and research, to assess links to enslavement and colonialism in several countries.

‘Barometer for success’

The report notes that poor outcomes continue for people of African descent in many countries, notably in accessing health and adequate food, education, social protection, and justice – while poverty, enforced disappearance and violence continues.

It highlights “continuing…allegations of discriminatory treatment, unlawful deportations, excessive use of force, and deaths of African migrants and migrants of African descent by law enforcement officials”

The barometer for success must be positive change in the lived experiences of people of African descent,” continued Ms. Al-Nashif.

“States need to listen to people of African descent, meaningfully involve them and take genuine steps to act upon their concerns.”

Higher death rates

Where available, recent data still points to disproportionately high death rates faced by people of African descent, at the hands of law enforcement, in different countries.

“Families of African descent continued to report the immense challenges, barriers and protracted processes they faced in their pursuit of truth and justice for the deaths of their relatives”, the report says.

It details seven cases of police-related deaths of people of African descent, namely George Floyd and Breonna Taylor (US); Adama Traoré (France); Luana Barbosa dos Reis Santos and João Pedro Matos Pinto (Brazil); Kevin Clarke (UK) and Janner [Hanner] García Palomino (Colombia).

While noting some progress towards accountability in a few of these emblematic cases, “unfortunately, not a single case has yet been brought to a full conclusion, with those families still seeking truth, justice and guarantees of non-repetition, and the prosecution and sanction of all those responsible,” the report says.

Ms. Al-Nashif called on States to “redouble efforts to ensure accountability and redress wherever deaths of Africans and people of African descent have occurred in the context of law enforcement, and take measures to confront legacies that perpetuate and sustain systemic racism”.

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