This past January, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon designated the U.S. as a Champion Country of the Global Education First Initiative (GEFI). The initiative aims to focus the world’s attention on three specific priorities: to put every child in school, improve the quality of learning and foster global citizenship. This is a tremendous opportunity for the U.S. to lead by example, to spur on strategic global investments in education, technology and innovation and to help implement programs that provide youths and adults with the necessary skills to be global citizens.
Fifty seven million children worldwide do not have access to primary education. This is the staggering news delivered by the Global Monitoring Report (GMR). While adult illiteracy rates fell to 16 percent in 2011, 774 million adults worldwide still cannot read or write. Even in wealthier countries, young people showed poor problem-solving skills due to low secondary school completion rates. In 80 percent of low-income countries, girls are less likely than boys to get even a primary education. Girls and boys who do go to school are often in classes with 40 classmates or more and only one teacher. Most of those students will have untrained teachers. And the U.S. is not immune. Despite big pushes for early childhood education, U.S. enrollment hovers around 65 percent, putting it in the company of countries like Albania and Bolivia.
Why does this matter? It matters because almost half of those fifty seven million children will probably never see the inside of a classroom. Yet the infant mortality rate would fall dramatically if all women completed even a primary education. In places like Tanzania, workers are 60 percent less likely to live under the poverty line with a secondary education. And people with higher levels of education are more likely to ask questions, seek out answers, sign petitions and vote. In other words, the more education a person has, the more likely he or she is to participate in civil society.
Education leads us all away from poverty and disease, away from ignorance and strife, and towards open minds, sustainable change, mutual understanding and prosperity. The task ahead may seem daunting, but the goals are achievable. According to the GMR, improved teacher quality is key: attracting the best teachers, improving their training and encouraging them to teach where they are most needed. Accepting the challenge of being a GEFI Champion Country is an important first step towards reaching these goals.
Check out the video below from U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in support of the United Nations Global Education First Initiative (GEFI).