Education Countdown blog: A World at School September forum

The #EducationCountdown September Forum  is being held by A World at School today in New York City, co-hosted with the Global Business Coalition for Education and in collaboration with the Office of the United Nations Special Envoy for Global Education.

Entitled 2015 Education Countdown: Failure is Not an Option, the forum has gathered global development partners, including high-level representatives from government, business, faith organisations, NGOs, United Nation agencies, foundations, youth organisations, teachers and civil society.

A final sprint is needed for the promise given by world leaders in 2000 – that every child in the world would get an education by the end of 2015 – is kept. This forum will discuss what’s being done to achieve that.

You can learn more about the #Education Countdown and A World at School’s issue-specific targets over the next 500 days.

It”s an early start and first on the agenda today is the Global Coalition for Education Executive Breakfast. This will convene global business leaders across government, NGOs and United Nations leaders. 

The meeting will address collective accomplishments from the past year and announce new partnerships as the momentum builds for accelarated progress on access and learning.

The programme commences with some opening comments from Sarah Brown, Executive Chair of GBC-Ed. Here is Sarah on a trip to Ghana with Comic Relief.

Sarah tells the gathering that GBC-Ed was started two years ago because of a lack of leadership from all companies coming together to support universal education.

She says it is now a coalition of 100 brands all advocating to get children into school and learning.

Sarah adds: “We are publishing papers, reports and policy briefs to keep business at the forefront of education. We launched the Safe Schools Initiative in Nigeria this year. We have a strong India and Pakistan working group.”

Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, finance minister for Nigeria gives the latest news on the kidnapped girls of Chibok. She says: “We have to honour the girls so that when they come back they will have a safe environment.” She tells how the Safe Schools Initiative is key to that work.

Ertharin Cousin, Executive Director of the World Food Program, says: “The opportunity school meals provide, particularly for girls, is not only to get a child into school but also to keep them there. It is only through partnerships that we cna continue with these programmes. We cannot do this alone – we need the private sector.”

Hikmet Ersek, President of Western Union, says the main reason people send money to their home countries is education. And Shannon Schuyler, US Corporate Responsibility Leader of PricewaterhouseCooper says: “We don’t think just education is one of the answers – it is THE answer.”

The meeting hears about the He For She campaign from Phumzile Miambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women. And she encourages all the men in the room to sign up.

Julia Gillard, chair of the Global Partnership for Education, says: “We believe having the voice of the private sector is invaluable. What people are doing individually can fit in seamlessly as part of the whole.”

Aman Aziz Siddiqui, head of strategic planning and development at Habib Bank Limited, says there are 101 million youth in Pakistan and tells what his company and the private sector in general is doing to help in the field of education.

Baela Raza Jamil, of Idara-e-Taleem-o-Aagahi (ITA) (“Centre of Education and Consciousness”) in Pakistan talks about the work being done to create child marriage-free zones in her country.

Sarah Brown mentions the increasingly vocal role being played by young people. Hundreds of them rallied in Washington Square Park last night to to start the #UpForSchool campaign and petition. Below is A World at School’s Chernor Bah with youth leaders. You can read more about this great event.

Picture: Steven Gong/A World at School

Joyce Banda, former president of Malawi, (pictured below with Sarah Brown) says: “If we don’t provide income for households, the girls are not going to school. If they are not going to school they are getting married.” She says many girls in her country age 15 to 19 die in childbirth.

Picture: Steve Gong/A World at School

The breakfast meeting is over and it’s now on to the forum titled The Countdown is On: All in for 2015.

But before we move on, here’s a great group photo of some of the dignitaries at the breakfast meeting.

Picture: Steve Gong/A World at School

This next session is moderated by Gordon Brown, UN Special Envoy for Global Education. He welcomes the participants in a packed room and tells them the purpose of the panel discussion is to re-energise the Millennium Development Goal 2 commitment – to get every child into school by the end of 2015.

Mr Brown says there had been great progress at first but that has stalled in the past three years. We now face the prospect of there still being more than 50 million – and possibly as many as 60 million – children who are not at school by end of 2015.

He invites the four panellists to the front of the room. They are:

  • Her Highness Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser, Founder, Educate a Child
  • Elias Bou Saab, Education Minister, Lebanon
  • Peter Vesterbacka, Mighty Eagle, Rovio Entertainment Ltd.
  • Andris Piebalgs, European Commissioner for Development at the European Commission

Her Highness is asked what still needs to be done to achieve universal education. She says the problem is “mind-boggling” and she in turn asks the room why so little has been done in recent years to overcome the problem.

Mr Piebalgs says too many people believe that the global education issue has already been resolved. He also says business must do more to get involved.

Mr Saab talks about the problems of having to cope with a flood of refugees from Syria. He says: “We had 275,000 children in the government education system. Now we are close to 450,000 school-age children. We do not have the means or the funds to do this.” He says that some children who do not go to school end up in terrorist camps and also tells of girls who are chained and sold to fighters. He adds: “Education is the only way to save them.”

Picture: Steve Gong/A World at School

Peter Vesterbacka, from the company that makes the gaming phenomenon Angry Birds, is asked what technology can do in the field  of global education. Above is a picture of him at yesterday’s #UpForSchool rally in Washington Square Park.

He says businesses should not get hung up about making money. He says: “It’s OK if it’s a business if it also delivers great education. There is nothing wrong with that.” He adds: “We can do fantastic things in classrooms. We can think about education in new ways.” He says his company Rovio has invested in making learning fun.

António Gutteres, UN High Commissioner for Refugees, UNHCR, says a huge investment and a huge mobilisation in resources is needed to get refugee children into school.

Christian Paradis, Minister of International development and Minister for La Francophonie Canada, tells how Canada is ensuring every child, particularly girls and the margilinalised, get a quality education. He says there is also a focus on investing in skills for the workforce.

Holiday Reinhorn, wife of the TV actor Rainn Wilson, talks about their work with LIDE, which helps to empower girls in Haiti through the arts. She says: “We are also establishing programmes in Lebanon and Jordan.


Alice Albright, CEO of the Global Partnership for Education, says there are two major obstacles to overcome – “a global financing crisis in education” and the problem of “silos” in the aid world.She said there are many problems which cut across these silos.

She adds an example: “Education has a huge knock-on effects on health. A child whose mother is able to read is 50% more likely to live past the age of five.”

Mabel van Oranje from Girls Not Brides (pictured below) says that a girl is married every two seconds – and clicks her figures every two seconds to demonstrate this appaling fact. She adds: “We won’t end child marriage unless we make primary and secondary education affordable for girls.”

Picture: Steve Gong/A World at School

This session is ending with two major announcements – first up is Norway’s State Secrtetary Hans Brattskar. He announces an education summit in Norway next year to be held on conjunction with Mr Brown’s office.

He says: “We will look at how we can improve coordination on many issues. We hope that the summit will be a platform for frank and honest, high-level discussion. We hope to announce practical follow-up measures.The summit should mobilise renewed politcal commitment to tackling the growing challenges.”

A World at School co-founder and youth leader Chernor Bah, who tells the audience of the #UpForSchool Petition, which was driven by A World at School’s 500 Global Youth Ambassadors. He says he wants 58million signatures and says: “We WILL deliver that petition.” 

The audience see a special video about the petition, which you can watch here..

Chernor gets everyone in the room – from world leaders to youth activists – to sign the petition on their smartphones and then gets them all chanting: “We’re #UpForSchool”. 

Now for an announcement from Strive Masiyiwa, Founder and Chairman of Econet Wireless and founding member of GBC-Ed. He announces a $15 million Global Learning XPRIZE. The five-year competition will challenge teams from around the world to develop open-source and scalable software that will enable children in developing countries to teach themselves basic reading, writing and arithmetic.

Solutions will be tested in the field across a minimum of 100 villages, reaching thousands of children. The challenge is to develop software that willl teach children with no basic skills to read and write in 18 months.

Lang Lang and Angélique Kidjo

Angelique and Lang Lang Picture: Steve Gong/A World at School

Now we have two special musical guests – singer-songwriter Angélique Kidjo and Lang Lang, classical pianist and UN Messenger of Peace. They talk about the winners of the 2014 Youth Courage Awards, who were revealed at yesterday’s #UpForSchool launch. You can read about the awards and the honorees here.

Below is a picture of Beyan Flomo Pewee from Liberia, with CNN’s Isha Sesay, at last night’s event.

Picture: Steve Gong/A World at School

Now for a bit of fun with a serious message – it’s Count von Count from Sesame Street talking about counting down from 58 million to zero.

Next up is an hour-long session titled Getting Serious About Result: The Grand Convergance of Education and Health, moderated by Sarah Brown.