What we learned about global education and the voice of young people at the UN

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Omotoke and Gideon in New York for the UN General Assembly

On United Nations Day, two Global Youth Ambassadors from Nigeria tell about their week of campaigning at the General Assembly in New York. 

Every day, in virtually every corner of the world, young people are doing amazing advocacy work in the efforts to get every child into quality education.

They include the A World at School Global Youth Ambassadors – a network of young people at Theirworld who campaign on education and youth skills in more than 85 countries.

We took Gideon Olanrewaju and Omotoke Olowo, Global Youth Ambassadors from Nigeria, to the United Nations General Assembly in New York last month.

They raised the voices of young people are several events in and around the UN General Assembly – including being on stage in front of international leaders at the Make Impossible Possible, #WriteTheWrong and Concordia events.

On United Nations Day, we ask them to look back at their experiences and share their thoughts.

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Posing outside the UN headquarters before attending a high-level meeting

What was your favourite moment during your time in New York and what was the best thing you heard at the UN General Assembly (UNGA)?

Gideon: Attending and addressing global education leaders at the annual Global Business Coalition for Education Breakfast meeting was my favourite moment.

OmotokeMy favourite thing about New York was that I got to experience rain in Manhattan. My favourite thing about UNGA was the platform for global leadership discussion.

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Gideon and Omotoke with Education Cannot Wait Director Yasmine Sherif

Who did you meet or see that made a lasting impression on you?

OmotokeYasmine Sherif, the Director of Education Cannot Wait, left a long-lasting Impression on me with her charisma and passion for education.

Gideon: Ulla Pedersen Tørnæs, the Minister for Development Cooperation of Denmark, was quite a remarkable figure with her simplicity and passion.

What do you think you have gained from your experience?

Gideon: The experience afforded me the opportunity to test my passion and knowledge of education on a global stage. I validated my readiness for global representation and managed high-level stakeholders engagement.

Omotoke: I have gained the art of public speaking and more in-depth knowledge about global education and especially why youth skills are very important.

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Omotoke and Gideon meet Palestinian students Ahmad Baker and Aseel Sabooh

Do you think the youth voice was heard loudly enough at the events you attended and at UNGA in general?

Omotoke: I think we can do better in involving youth in matters that deals with education, as we progress. And yes, our voices made a difference.

Gideon: Many of the events, of course, provided spaces as expected. The voices of youth were heard but I am unsure if the opinions we raised actually mattered.

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Showing how many supporters signed the petition calling for the International Finance Facility for Education to be established

Before UNGA, you both said you wanted to learn more about how you could use better advocacy to make a difference. What do you think you learned about that?

Gideon: I can agree to the fact that new knowledge acquired at UNGA would help me further shape my advocacy causes, particularly as far as youth engagement in global education policymaking is concerned.

Tokenisation still reeks within the system and, going forward, equipping youth leaders in education would be a priority. I would subsequently leverage advocacy to address that.

Omotoke: I personally have gained more knowledge about issues relating to education and it has prompted me to read more about quality education.

So, more than advocating for autism inclusion, I am now advocating for quality education for children with autism. It has given me a whole new perspective of what education takes.

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It’s time to meet Gordon Brown, the UN Special Envoy for Global Education

Gideon ... you said before UNGA that you wanted to see strong commitments to education funding and early childhood development. What do you think now of what was achieved?

At two major events, the Make Impossible Possible roundtable and Global Business Coalition for Education breakfast meeting, I witnessed an impressive lineup, as world leaders and leading educational organisations made commendable financial commitments to education. 

In general, education took centre stage at the 2018 UNGA and this can be attributed to the prioritisation of educational themes such as financing and early childhood development. This unequivocally shows great achievement.

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At an event to discuss progress on the Sustainable Development Goals

Omotoke ... you hoped to learn more about how policies and laws are used to promote education of children with disabilities and refugees. So did you?

Yes, I learned quite a few things. I have an armful of information about the education of children who are refugees and living with disability, coupled with how a $1 investment creates an additional $4 Investment. I also have the prospectus for the International Finance Facility for Education. 

More important more than the laws and policies, I got motivation that we youth must be at the centre of demanding the education that we want in our country.

We will continue to speak out. Children with disabilities and refugees are a voice, not an echo.

Youth Activists With Gordon Brown

A selfie with Gordon Brown, other Global Youth Ambassadors and young activists at the Make Impossible Possible event