A global movement for every child’s right to an education

Theirworld’s Global Youth Ambassadors (GYAs) were the driving force behind the #UpForSchool petition, which gathered 10 million signatures within a year and served as an inflection point for the drive towards education for all.

As 2015 approached, youth activists felt the need to apply more pressure to world leaders because the will to provide education for all young people seemed to have stagnated. Despite the establishment of the Millennium Development Goals in 2000, 15 years later the prospect of achieving the goal of delivering primary education to every child seemed distant. Indeed, 58 million children remained out of education in 2014.

So as the UN’s new Sustainable Development Goals were being formed, GYAs in 85 countries joined forces to ensure education was considered prominently and that no child’s right to learning be overlooked. Inspired by the people-powered politics that fuelled campaigns like #IamMalala and #BringBackOurGirls, youth activists set out to build a movement that couldn’t be ignored.

In September 2014, the #UpForSchool petition was launched at a special event attended by 300 youth activists in New York. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was present and backed the campaign as youth rallies in Kenya, Norway, India, the UK and Democratic Republic of Congo amplified the demands for improved access to education for all.


10 million

people signed the #UpForSchool petition

By May 2015, the petition had collected five million names as support grew across NGOs, schools, colleges, communities and at youth events around the world. Faith-based communities were a huge source of support, with organisations such as Muslim Aid, World Vision Bangladesh and the Salvation Army spreading the word amongst their audiences and gathering millions of signatures.

While digital platforms and social media were vital tools in amplifying the call and collecting signatures in multiple languages, the campaign deliberately brought the cause directly to those who are so often overlooked.

More than 100,000 signatures were collected door-to-door in Pakistan, with children who couldn’t read contributing a thumbprint as a poignant symbol of their desire to learn. A million people in rural Bangladesh signed the petition, with Theirworld partner Bridges Across Communities (BRAC) coordinating the effort.

Meanwhile, in India, GYAs from the most marginalised groups shared the cause with those excluded from education such as tribal communities and the urban poor, and 10,000 children marched on the streets of Delhi to make their voices heard.

These children, like millions of others who demanded to be heard, understood that education represents one of the best ways for them to build lives free from exploitation, abuse and discrimination.


The #UpForSchool’s movement of over 10 million people raised the profile of education’s importance globally. The UN’s new Sustainable Development Goals reflected this in Sustainable Development Goal 4: “Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.”

Up for school

A clarion call from 10 million

At the Oslo Education Summit in July 2015 GYAs announced that the petition had reached eight million signatures. With momentum continuing to build, world leaders who had gathered in Norway announced the setting up of the Education Commission and an education in emergencies platform – later to be called the Education Cannot Wait fund.

By the time of the UN General Assembly in New York City in September 2015, more than 500 youth leaders from over 100 countries had formed plans to rally in the city and remind everyone present that every child deserves the right to go to school. Joined by members of the public and students of New York University, the crowd of campaigners eventually exceeded 1,000.

The #UpForSchool petition by this point had collected over ten million signatures, from more than 200 countries: the largest ever petition for education

Star singer Shakira – a champion of education in her home country of Columbia and beyond – handed the petition to UN Special Envoy for Education Gordon Brown, saying: “We need to move faster, we need commitment from world leaders to put education at the top of the agenda. Access to education is the only way to secure a stable and prosperous world. We have no time to lose. We’re #UpForSchool.”

Mr Brown then took the #UpForSchool Petition to UN headquarters as world leaders prepared to set the Sustainable Development Goals for the next 15 years, where he presented it to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

An #UpForSchool Town Hall event was held in New York to celebrate the remarkable progress of the campaign and some of the outstanding individuals and organisations involved in the fight for universal education. It was here that human rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Kailash Satyarthi received an #UpForSchool award to mark his contribution to the cause. 

As attendees including The Office star Rainn Wilson, Downton Abbey actress Laura Carmichael, women’s and children’s rights advocate Graça Machel and film producer/director Steve Nguyen looked on, Satyarthi said: “The petition by 10 million is not just a petition. It is a clarion call from 10 million people that we want education and through education we want freedom.”

While the petition may have been delivered, the campaign to give every child access to education continued around the world – as it does to this day. 

Theirworld is proud to have provided the platform for our Global Youth Ambassadors to campaign for the millions of excluded young people worldwide who deserve the best start in life, a safe place to learn and skills for the future.

Fund the education shortfall

We need at least $75 billion a year for the next 10 years to end the global education crisis and meet the Sustainable Development Goal 4 timelines – but current aid to education is just $16bn a year.

If we want every child in the world to be in school by 2030, our leaders must step up and support innovative ways to fund the shortfall.

We’re calling on world leaders to prioritise education in their recovery plans because currently the numbers just don’t add up.

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