WASHINGTON, D.C. — With an estimated 57 million children around the world missing out on education, it is becoming common knowledge that something must be done to ensure that change takes place. Educating individuals is a sure way of ending poverty. Thanks to education, health, income, prosperity, equality and overall peace are increased. With even just a little more education provided for all the children in low income countries, 171 million people could be removed from poverty. The Millennium Development Goals are in place, but they will not just happen on their own.
For three days, from August 6th to the 8th, education specialists and specialists from USAID came together for the Global Education Summit. Their goal was to review the progress towards the second MDG, universal education. Each day was devoted to going over one of the three MDG education goals. The first day dealt with attaining improved reading skills for 100 million children in primary grades by 2015. The second day discussed providing increased access to education in crisis and conflict environments for 15 million learners by the end date. The final day addressed the goal of improved ability of tertiary and workforce development programs to support country development.
Each day consisted of numerous workshops and discussion panels, all trying to ascertain how well the goals are being accomplished and what new technologies and advances can help realize the goals in time. There were also speakers each day relating either their experience or their opinion on global education and what needs to be done. These included Carol Bellamy, the former director of UNICEF. She spent her time talking about education in crisis and conflict zones and the importance of making sure that the children there achieve access to quality education. She commented that Syria was exceptionally close the attaining universal enrollment but that 400,000 of the schools throughout the country had either been destroyed by the fighting or taken over for other, non-educational purposes.
Gene Sperling, Director of the National Economic Council and Assistant to the President for Economic Policy, also touched on education in embattled areas in his discussion of the lack of education for young girls in Afghanistan. He cited his own work on improving Afghan education and its importance, but also how it was deeply overshadowed by the simple act of showing pictures of the girls. He told how people reacted and stated that it was unfair that they should be denied a proper education if they really wanted to learn, “…why should a terrorist be able to keep this little girl, who wants to go to school, from going to school when our kids here pray for a snow day every day?”
The United States Education Secretary, Arne Duncan, spoke during the first day of the summit about our successes in reaching the goal of worldwide universal education, the importance of providing it, and the fact that while celebrating what has been done we need to focus on what still needs to happen. He ended his speech with, “It’s been said, ‘If you want peace, work for justice.’ But we know that one solution cuts to the root–the very heart–of the challenges confronting humanity. If we want both justice and peace, then we must work for education.”
Rajiv Shah gave the keynote speech on the second day, congratulating those who have dedicated their time to educating the world and working in conflict zones. He mentioned the barriers left for us to face, like school fees and how they keep millions of kids out of school every year. He admits that, politically, excuses are frequently made that it is because of these hurdles that the United States is not doing more to help. Despite these problems still left to deal with, he argued, we need to continue helping and making strides to put those 57 million children in school and provide them with a quality education to give them a chance to improve their lot in life.
We have just under two years to make all the changes set forth by the Millennium Development Goals. This summit and the conversations it spurred prove that if we are willing to go into the toughest places and work hard and diligently, they can actually come to pass as hoped.
– Chelsea Evans