We can overcome challenges to deliver quality education for every child

Theirworld Chair Sarah Brown and Roger Federer promote the Act For Early Years campaign at the event (Theirworld/Ilya Savenok)

Leaders called for a united approach at a high-level meeting hosted by Theirworld to mark the halfway stage of the Sustainable Development Goals.

The promise of delivering quality education for every child in the world faces huge challenges – but it can still be achieved by 2030.

That was the determined and powerful message from a high-level event hosted by Theirworld Chair Sarah Brown, United Nations Special Envoy for Global Education Gordon Brown and Roger Federer, former tennis star and early childhood education champion.

At the event to mark the halfway stage of the 15-year Sustainable Development Goals, UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed said: “It’s all hands on deck for the second half of the SDGs. I see solutions and I see a lot more solidarity. We have lots of hope. Now we need determination.”

Theirworld’s event was held during the UN General Assembly in New York. International leaders, businesses, heads of UN agencies and activists gathered at a crucial time for global education and at the halfway point of the Sustainable Development Goals.

UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed addresses the event (Theirworld/Ilya Savenok)

Roger Federer called for action on early years learning, backing Theirworld’s Act For Early Years campaign on the importance of early years childcare and education.

SDG4 promises inclusive and equitable quality education for all – but latest UN figures show the scale of the challenge, with one in six children, about 250 million, still out of school. If countries are to reach their national targets, they need to enrol an additional 1.4 million children every year in early childhood education.

However, Gordon Brown said: “What gives me the greatest hope is that everyone here is a partner in a great enterprise to get every child the best possible start in life.”

The event featured several crucial announcements, including:

  • Widespread commitment to investing in the early years, which is critical to ensure all children are ready for school and able to fulfil their potential.
  • Jutta Urpilainen, European Commissioner for International Partnerships, revealed the EU will give 25 million euros to support girls’ education in Afghanistan.
  • Government minister Andrew Mitchell announced the United Kingdom is giving £180 million to the International Finance Facility for Education (IFFEd). The support will help to unlock up to $1 billion in new financing for education in lower-middle-income countries in Asia and Africa.

Speakers at the event included Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley; Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Director-General of the World Trade Organization; and Nelly Cetera, a Theirworld Global Youth Ambassador from Argentina.

Sarah Brown moderates a pale discussion featuring Nelly Cetera, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Gordon Brown and Roger Federer (Theirworld/Ilya Savenok)

Attendees included:

Leaders who prioritise education – among them First Lady of Brazil Janja de la Silva and government ministers from Ukraine, South Sudan, Jordan, Canada, Denmark, Ireland and the European Commission.

Leaders of the three major education funds – Laura Frigenti of the Global Partnership for Education, Yasmine Sherif of Education Cannot Wait and Pedro Alba of IFFEd, together with UNICEF Chief Executive Catherine Russell and UNESCO Assistant Director-General Stefania Giannini.

Organisations that have partnered with or supported Theirworld and our Global Business Coalition for Education – including Sesame Workshop, HP Inc., Microsoft, People’s Postcode Lottery and the Dutch Postcode Lottery. Also at the event were Theirworld partners Omnicom, the global marketing communications company which has committed to backing progress on SDG4 through the UN Global Compact.

The event also featured a new video from Sesame Workshop in support of the Act For Early Years campaign. Watch it here.

Theirworld’s Chair Sarah Brown and President Justin van Fleet also shared that they had recently visited Ukraine to see the impact of education programmes for Ukrainian children. The projects supported by Theirworld and our Global Business Coalition for Education will reach about 1.5 million Ukrainian students and teachers.

In a panel discussion, Roger Federer told how 20 years ago he launched the Roger Federer Foundation, which supports education projects in southern Africa and Switzerland. As a father of four children, he said he “had learned a lot through them”.

He added: “Early learning is so important because 90% of brain development happens before they are five years old. We know that early learning has a problem with under-funding, so I’m giving my voice to that cause. We are trying to have systemic change in some of the countries so that as many children as possible can go to school and have quality early learning.”

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said she grew up in a village in Nigeria and saw what education can do to transform people’s lives.

She added: “I did not go to school from 12 to 15 during the civil war. I know what it’s like to go to school. I know what it’s like not go to school. When it’s personal you begin to value education that much more.

The event featured posters submitted by children as part of Theirworld’s Act For Early Years campaign (Theirworld/Ilya Savenok)

“What makes me happy is that we have come from a time when people questioned the value of girls’ education to a time when, except for one or two countries, it’s accepted.”

Nelly Cetera, one of Theirworld’s network of 2,000 Global Youth Ambassadors, said young people have a great opportunity to make changes at both local and global level.

She added: “We can do local impact programmes but also unite to share our messages and demand changes. We have power in numbers. Education is the biggest opportunity we have to make transformative, lasting change.”

Announcing the UK’s investment in IFFEd, Andrew Mitchell said: “We are all on the same side. That is incredibly important. The way you change the world for the better is to educate girls. Britain has tried to do everything we can to drive forward the number of girls in school.”

Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley says it’s time to mobilise support for education (Theirworld/Ilya Savenok)

Jutta Urpilainen said that when she took on the EU job, she decided education was key.

She added: “The first priority was to provide access to education for girls. The second was to get girls into the labour market with skills. The third was to educate and train more teachers and improving the quality of teacher training.”

Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley she was 28 when she was appointed education minister and realised education was crucial to her country’s success.

Turning to the global level, she said: “The SDGs are at the halfway point. If we are going to be successful, we need to have the most aggressive political movement the world has seen. We have to be ready to mobilise people.”

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