Today, the International Commission on Financing Global Education Opportunity launched its compelling new recommendations to achieve inclusive and equitable quality education for all. Over the past year, I have had the honour of working closely with world leaders, policy-makers and researchers, as the Commission developed an ambitious vision to get all children and young people into school and learning within a generation.
Equal educational opportunity for young people is one of the most pressing development issues of our time, and is particularly close to my heart. The implications of educational inequality on poverty, health and stability cannot be overstated. Research shows that inadequate education can be more deadly than disease and the greater the levels of educational inequality, the higher the probability of conflict. The converse is also true: Quality education is the single-most critical factor in closing the skills gap, mitigating these risks and determining a child’s future outcomes. Education is not only a central pillar in poverty reduction, economic prosperity and social progress, but is also an essential vehicle to promote a tolerant and stable society.
For these reasons, the UAE has made education — in particular, girls’ education — a cornerstone of its own development, and we have reaped the rewards. From its inception as a state more than 40 years ago, the UAE has worked to ensure access to quality education for all citizens. Today, the country boasts of a world-class workforce, with women contributing to all parts of civic, economic and political life. They carry on to support the UAE’s continued, upward trajectory.
Our path to equality in education has not always been smooth. The UAE is fortunate, however, to have had visionary leaders who have enacted the relevant legislation, provided the resources and supported the community action necessary to challenge norms and support local change. More recently, the country has gone a step further, formalising the acceptance and understanding within our society through legal frameworks and policies. As Minister of Tolerance, I envision working with the education sector, among others, to reinforce the UAE as a place that celebrates diversity, respect and understanding.
In light of the UAE’s own experience, therefore, I am particularly pleased about the Commission’s focus on ‘inclusion’ in its recommendations to provide education to all children. Society will simply not benefit fully unless everyone is given the same opportunities to learn. This means taking additional steps and resources to include and support those at the greatest risk of not learning — the poor, the discriminated against, girls and those facing multiple disadvantages. Applying the concept of progressive universalism — expanding provision of quality of education for everyone while prioritising the needs of the disadvantaged — is essential to close the learning gap. Indeed, studies have shown that deprivation is best tackled by increasing education opportunities equally for girls and boys, and starting with the early years. Girls’ education, we now know, significantly helps lower maternal and child mortality, reduce fertility rates and promote broader health and economic benefits for society as a whole. These gains, in turn, help to promote access to education, creating a positive feedback loop. Addressing population growth and health risks, for example, makes achieving convergence in education attainment more feasible, and so on.
While domestic governments have the primary responsibility for ensuring universal education, and developing countries must urgently prioritise education in their public spending, the international community needs to be ready to step in where additional support is needed. Educational inequality affects us all, hindering global economic growth and contributing to global instability.
For its part, the UAE has made education a core part of its overseas assistance, granting more than $555 million (Dh2.04 billion) to this sector from 2011-2015. Through entities such as Dubai Cares, the UAE has helped millions of children in more than 30 countries go to school. The UAE is also a champion for ‘Education in Emergencies’, in an effort to meet the challenge of providing quality education in fragile states and emergency settings.
The Commission’s vision of getting all children and young people into school within a generation is ambitious. It is also essential, and achievable. Its success will depend on strong leadership, and the combined efforts of all parts of society — citizens, the private sector, international organisations and more. There is no time to lose — ultimately, fairness in access to quality education, coupled with a regard to tolerance and respect, will benefit us all.
— Shaikha Lubna Al Qasimi is also Commissioner, International Commission on Financing Global Education Opportunity.
The International Commission on Financing Global Education Opportunity was set up to chart a pathway for increased investment in education in order to develop the potential of all of the world’s young people. The Commission is co-convened by Prime Minister Erna Solberg of Norway, President Michelle Bachelet of Chile, President Joko Widodo of Indonesia, President Peter Mutharika of Malawi and the Director-General of Unesco Irina Bokova. The UN Special Envoy for Global Education, Gordon Brown, serves as the Chair of the Commission.