New education goals, more youth voices and gender equality ambitions: 10 years of Ban Ki-moon as UN chief

Child marriage, Early childhood development, Education Cannot Wait, Girls' education, Right to education, Sustainable Development Goals, The Education Commission, United Nations General Assembly

Ban Ki-moon's time as Secretary-General of the United Nations is coming to an end after 10 years - here we look at what was achieved for children's rights and education during his leadership.

Ban Ki-moon knows what it feels like to be a child torn from the family home and thrown into a world of chaos and fear.

He was six when the Korean War forced his parents to leave their village and take refuge in the mountains.

“I was always crying, crying, crying, without knowing what was going on,” he said in an interview with the Financial Times last year

“All the schools were destroyed. We were just sitting under the shadow of a tree, on the ground.”

Refugees and displaced people have become a massive challenge during Ban’s time in charge of the UN – as have the issues of gender equality and education in emergencies. 

Here’s a look at some of the key achievements in those areas during his 10 years as Secretary-General.


The right of every child to get an education regardless of their circumstances has moved up the global agenda – particularly during Ban Ki-moon’s second five-year term.

In 2012, he launched the Education First initiative in a bid to ensure every child goes to school and learns the values of global citizenship.

Ban said: “Our shared goals are simple. We want children to attend primary school and to progress toward higher education that will help them to succeed in life. We cannot stop until every child goes to school. This is our task, this is our homework.”

Ban Ki-moon on education for all…

Education promotes equality and lifts people out of poverty. It teaches children how to become good citizens. Education is not just for a privileged few, it is for everyone. It is a fundamental human right. During a visit to Timor-Leste in August 2012

The Secretary-General leaves his position with more than 260 million children and adolescents still out of school around the world. 

So when the Millennium Development Goals ended and were replaced by the Sustainable Development Goals in January this year, education was key to all the new global targets to be achieved by 2030.

SDG4 is: “Ensure inclusive and quality education for all and promote lifelong learning.” Within that, there are 10 targets including:

  • All children to get quality, free and fair primary and secondary education
  • All children to get quality early years care and education so they are ready for primary school
  • Children will not miss out on education and vocational training because they are female, have a disability, are members of an indigenous people or are in an an emergency situation

That humanitarian aspect was reflected this year in the launch of the Education Cannot Wait fund. One in four of the world’s school-age children, nearly 500 million, live in countries affected by conflicts and disasters and about 75 million children and adolescents are either already missing out on their education, receiving poor quality schooling or at risk of dropping out of school altogether.

The fund aims to raise almost $4 billion to provide quality education to more than 13.6 million children and youth over the five years from its 2016 launch – and to reach 75 million children by 2030.

The Education Commission was set up by the UN in 2015 to examine ways to reverse the lack of financing for education around the world. For a year, it explored how – over the next 15 to 20 years – education could lead to greater economic growth, better health outcomes and improved global security.

It produced an in-depth report titled The Learning Generation, which was delivered in September. Ban Ki-Moon said in advance the UN would act upon the recommendations, adding: “I look to the commission to provide a roadmap, based on innovative, sustainable and practical solutions, to overcome the barriers to lifelong education and learning for all.”

Ban Ki-moon on literacy…

Literacy stands at the heart of the 2030 Agenda. It is a foundation for human rights, gender equality, and sustainable societies. It is essential to all our efforts to end extreme poverty and promote well-being for all people. That is why the Sustainable Development Goals aim for universal access to quality education and learning opportunities throughout people’s lives. To mark International Literacy Day 2016 in September


The importance of nurturing care in children’s very early years has become a major issue in recent years. Thanks to the Sustainable Development Goals and the Education Commission, its value in developing countries has been underlined.

In the Learning Generation report, the commission warned hundreds of millions of children around the world will be robbed of their future unless immediate action is taken. It said every country should provide every child with two years of free, quality pre-school education.

Talking about early learning being part of the Sustainable Development Goals, Ban Ki-moon said in 2015: “Investing in early childhood development does not just benefit children, it benefits societies.  

“The returns can be measured in healthier, better-educated children, a stronger workforce, and a more prosperous, peaceful future.  It is one of the most important and high-return investments we can make.”

Ban Ki-moon on early childhood development…

Use your influence to make early childhood development a public priority At a New York event on investing in young children in September 2015


Part of Ban Ki-moon’s legacy will be that the voice of youth has increasingly been heard at the United Nations and on the world stage. He identified working with and for young people as a priority.

The results of this approach include the first ever Youth Take Takeover of the UN in 2013 – when Malala Yousafzai delivered her famous speech on education, a Youth Panel on the Education Commission and UN Young Leaders spreading the message of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Ban has made a point of engaging with young people when he travels the world and through his use of social media and digital tools.

Ban Ki-moon on youth engagement…

Since I became Secretary-General, five years ago, I have seen youth participate at the United Nations as never before. At Alliance of Civilisation Youth Forum in December 2011


Ban Ki-moon has been a supporter and promoter of equal rights – founding UN Women and speaking up consistently for gender equality and against child marriage and female genital mutilation.

In 2013, his annual Secretary-General’s report said several “transformative actions” were needed if a new set of global goals were to be successful – including the need to empower girls and women.

To achieve this, he said, “The practice of child marriage must be ended everywhere.” During his second term of office, the first International Day of the Girl Child was held in 2013, with a focus on ending child marriage.

Ban Ki-moon on education for girls…

Let’s shift the focus from mutilation to education... these empowered girls and women will help build a new future for all. At UN summit to mark 2016 International Day of Zero Tolerance for FGM in February

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