Seeds of opportunity to accelerate education transformation
The High Impact Initiative on Transforming education event, chaired by Harvard Professor Fernando Reimers, was a milestone in the journey that began at the TES a year ago. An attempt at accelerating global efforts to transform education, the HII was built on three pillars of educational transformation:
- countries demonstrating progress on the transforming education agenda.
- a commitment by governments and the international community to adequately fund education; and
- a vibrant global community of young people and students, civil society, teachers and others holding all these decision makers to account for education.
Advancing the Transforming Education agenda: Drawing inspiration from country learning experiences
Undoubtedly the core of the event, the session on Implementing the Transforming Education Agenda served as a platform for several countries to share their learning experiences and successes and become an inspiration for other countries to follow.
Dipu Moni, Bangladesh's Minister of Education, revisited the nation's 2041 vision for a smarter Bangladesh and shared how Bangladesh became successful in the aspects of foundational learning and digital learning. She recounted their experience in undergoing a National Curriculum Transformation that leans towards a more experiential learning approach for teaching. Bangladesh envisioned to make their students independent learners and, in the process, developed a masterplan for blended education and skills, and veered away from the restrictions of face-to-face classes. Another significant part of the National Curriculum Transformation is the country’s focus on the professional development for teachers and making them facilitators of lifelong learning rather than being the “sage from the stage.” The integration of AI-assisted learning for Bangladeshi learners is another triumph for the country, with the new curricula emphasizing on digital literacy as a tool towards evidence-driven decision making. Minister Moni concluded her speech by reaffirming the government's commitment to allocating appropriate resources for these initiatives.
Finland, recognizing education as not only a fundamental human right but also a vital driver of a sustainable future also made significant strides toward SDG 4. Pasi Hellman, Finland’s Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs, showcased the country’s progress in his intervention. The Finnish government launched an inclusive and non-discriminatory program encompassing the national education system, with an additional investment of EUR 200 million annually dedicated to basic education. Finland's objective is to bolster foundational skills, particularly in literacy and mathematics, ensuring that every student completing basic education is well-prepared for higher studies. The country also took measures to combat bullying and harassment in schools. A noteworthy aspect of Finland's approach is to consider non-state actors like teachers and their trade unions as the “single, most important partner in education reform, policy, or legislation,” and have worked with them and the international community in advancing towards SDG 4. The country has contributed to various international initiatives, including co-chairing the Global Meals Coalition, participating in the UNESCO-led greening partnership, and joining the Global Initiative for Digital Public Learning, co-led by UNESCO and UNICEF.
Mariatou Koné, Côte d'Ivoire’s Minister of National Education and Literacy, was the third to share country experiences. Côte d'Ivoire has been diligently implementing recommendations received with the support of UNESCO and other partners, focusing particularly on education and literacy. The country placed strong emphasis on basic education based on these recommendations, and integrated gender and ecology into their new digital programme. Mathematics and French language programmes were also enriched. Minister Koné highlighted the country's forthcoming National Strategy for Education and Training, currently in its finalization stage, which will ensure continued learning and training for teachers. Also on top of the country’s action plans is addressing cross-cutting gender issues, particularly in the context of the national education system.
Chief Minister Sengeh of Sierra Leone concluded the event with a message of hope and optimism that countries will fulfil their commitments and work collectively to accelerate progress toward achieving SDG 4 targets. With the inspiration from Sierra Leone, Bangladesh, Finland and Côte d’Ivoire, other countries can learn and take actions to transform their education systems.
The value of education financing from the eyes of the youth
One notable segment of the event gave emphasis on interventions from members of the SDG4 Youth & Students Network, allowing them to actively join the discourse and be meaningfully engaged in the Summit follow-up.
Two SDG4 Youth & Student Network representatives shared their interventions and tackled the importance of investing in education and involving youth participation in decision-making process in financing education. For Kenisha Arora, chair of the SDG4 Youth & Student Network, there exists a funding gap that can be bridged by an increase in funding and better distribution of these resources. For Felipe Gómez Gallo, also a member of the network, solving the education crisis requires a multistakeholder approach that taps into the expertise of non-state actors, including the youth.
No better investment than education: A call for collective action to accelerate and monitor progress
In his opening statement delivered by Timothy Kabba, Sierra Leone’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Julius Maada Bio, Sierra Leone’s President and current Co-chair of the HLSC, recalled the compounded education crisis – one of equity and access, and of quality and relevance — that is stalling our progress towards attaining SDG 4. President Bio also drew attention to the financial shortfall that threatens to derail global efforts towards the 2030 goals.
However, there is room for optimism. President Bio underscored the significance of events like the HII in taking stock of policy, options, and reactions initiated, and in putting into perspective the national and global efforts in making education the cornerstone of the future. Sierra Leone served as a notable example of leadership in Transforming Education efforts. The country has prioritized a programme of free, high-quality education to support its economic and social development. Since 2018, Sierra Leone has consistently allocated nearly 22% of its annual national budget to education—a commitment that was reaffirmed by Chief Minister David Moinina Sengeh of Sierra Leone, in his closing remarks.
Asserting UNESCO’s role as the global education lead coordinator, ADG Giannini led the launching of the Dashboard of Country Commitments and Actions. Being referred to by Minister Sengeh as a tool that will closely monitor commitments to make sure that “we (countries) will not lose focus anymore,” the Dashboard was a response to the call of the HLSC for countries to translate their National Statements of Commitments to transform education into actions.
Giannini also moderated the session on Transforming Education financing, Investing More, More Equitably, and More Efficiently where she stressed on the bleak state of education financing, with an estimated average financing gap of USD 100 billion each year for low- and lower-middle-income countries to achieve their national targets by 20301. “Around USD 30 billion could be filled if donors fulfilled their commitment of providing 0.7% of GNI to ODA and prioritized basic education in the poorest countries,” said Giannini, calling for stronger multilateral, cross-sector partnerships and actions among governments, international and multilateral organizations, and particularly, donors.
Catherine Russell, UNICEF Executive Director, highlighted the dire education crisis confronting children. With at least 250 million children of primary and secondary school age being not in school, and an estimated 224 million children living in humanitarian crises lacking adequate education support, Russell called on the international community to come together and urgently address the global learning crisis before it is too late.
Leonardo Garnier, the UN Secretary-General's Special Adviser on Transforming Education, participated in the panel alongside Jose Antonio Ocampo, Colombia’s former Minister of Finance, Luis Benveniste, the World Bank's Global Education Director, and Laura Frigenti, CEO of the Global Partnership for Education. Garnier emphasized the idea that there is sufficient funding available for education; however, the key issue lies in allocating these funds to priority areas. He remarked, "We often hear that there's a shortage of funds, but if you examine the numbers related to wealth, income, and consumption, we've never had more resources. This isn't a matter of resource scarcity; it's a matter of equitable distribution," said Garnier.
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