What was achieved for education at the UN General Assembly

Education funding, Education in emergencies, Up for School or #upforschool campaign

Amrit Kaur Lohia performs at our #UpForSchool Town Hall event Picture: Steve Gong

When world leaders attended a historic meeting at the United Nations in New York, they agreed a new set of Sustainable Development Goals for the next 15 years.

A World at School took its global campaign to the UN General Assembly in late September to call on leaders to prioritise education. Here is what we achieved…

What we did together….


We’ve built a powerful global movement of NGOs, businesses, teachers, media and young people, who – standing together  have helped create the world’s largest ever petition on education – the #UpForSchool Petition – with more than 10 million signatures.

Singing star and education champion Shakira handed the petition to UN Special Envoy for Education Gordon Brown who shared the messages with world leaders. Shakira said: “We need to move faster, we need commitment from world leaders to put education at 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, where he presented it to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

We organised the #UpForSchool Town Hall – an extraordinary gathering in New York of more than 1500 young advocates and campaigners, world leaders, education experts, key influencers, partner NGOs, businesses, teachers and faith groups. They were there to celebrate the progress that has been made and recognise some of the outstanding individuals and organisations involved in the fight for education.

During the event, this was shown – a film that is a visual metaphor to illustrate the journey of the #UpForSchool Petition. We follow a girl walking through one school – she represents every child in every school in the world. As she walks, she sees photos, posters and videos from the campaign,  narrating the story of the petition from launch to millions of signatures being collected.

At the end of the film, made by Silverfish Media, the girl steps out on to the stage at the Town Hall event and is greeted by Gordon Brown.

At the event, Nobel Peace Prize winner Kailash Satyarthi received an #UpForSchool award. In an article for The Hindu, he wrote: “In the Up for School event, a petition with a whopping 10 million signatures was submitted…. I feel more confident now to be a part of these initiatives.”

Ben Hewitt, Director of Campaigns for A World at School, said: “Our message is getting through. There has never been a United Nations General Assembly with such a focus on education. We have seen a sea-change in the awareness people have that action needs to be taken.

“That’s down to the pressure being applied by our movement – by all of you. This progress is important, it gives us a great start and now we can work together on reaching every child, no matter how vulnerable they are.”

“Our first job is to make sure world leaders launch a platform to fund education in emergencies, as currently only 1% of all humanitarian aid goes to education.”

How world leaders focused on education…


1. The first meeting of new education commission

Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg – alongside President Michelle Bachelet of Chile, President Joko Widodo of Indonesia, President Peter Mutharika of Malawi and UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova – have put in place a new education commission to examine how to reverse the lack of financing for education around the world.

The first meeting of the new education commission

The International Commission on the Financing of Global Education Opportunities – which includes more than 20 world leaders, including five former presidents and prime ministers and three Nobel Peace Prize recipients – met for the first time in New York.

Thanks to the efforts of our campaigners, the commission will hear from young people themselves and includes a Youth Panel co-chaired by Kennedy Odede from Kenya and A World at School Global Youth Ambassador Rosemarie Ramitt from Guyana.

2. Progress on Education in Emergencies

More than 20 million children are out of school due to conflicts and natural disasters, including more than one million Syrian refugee children in Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon. Despite this challenge less than 2% of all humanitarian aid goes towards education.

Gordon Brown with Anthony Lake at UN briefing

Last week Tony Lake of UNICEF, Julia Gillard of the Global Partnership for Education and Gordon Brown committed to shepherding a global process to lead to decisions on new ways of funding education in emergencies before the end of the year.

This new platform aims to tackle the gap in support and funding where children fall through the net – trapped between a humanitarian system, focusing on food and shelter, and the development aid system that is long term and finds it difficult to cope with immediate crises.

3. Tackling the barriers to education

We are working to bring an end to the barriers preventing girls and boys from going to school, including forced work and early marriage, discrimination, poverty and exclusion. Every child has the right to go to school, no matter who they are or where they are born.

Tackling the barriers to education – and especially girls’ education  – had a high profile throughout our events and other activity at the United Nations.

Girl Rising CEO Holly Gordon and Shelly Esque, Vice President of Intel Corporation, were honoured for their work in girls’ education when they received special awards at the #UpForSchool Town Hall event. Girl Rising launched a new campaign partnership with Michelle Obama’s Let Girls Learn initiative – the #62millionGirls campaign. 

The need for fairer access to technology came to the forefront of many of the discussions. One example was a new initiative launched at the #UpForSchool Town Hall by Africa Gathering, Code Academy, Theirworld and Kano to pilot a network of safe spaces and tech hubs for girls in four countries across Africa, where the poorest and most vulnerable girls can access technology, online learning and learn to build a computer, code and create. 

4. Action for Syrian refugees

The meetings in New York coincided with the first day back at school in Lebanon, where we have been calling for urgent action from world leaders to tackle the immediate crisis of getting hundreds of thousands of Syrian children into education.

The Lebanese government is continuing to chase down commitments from donor countries to ensure the 200,000 places available to Syrian refugee children this year are fully funded. As it stands, $25 million is still needed to fund those final few places and we will continue to apply the pressure until all the money is there.

Mohammed Ahmad Al Suleiman, a Syrian refugee in Lebanon

Ahead of these meetings, Theirworld and the Global Business Coalition for Education put forward plans to get one million Syrian refugee children in Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan back into school. It was championed by the UN at the highest levels, alongside ministers from each of the three countries.

United States Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken told a GBC-Education meeting in New York: “Of the primary drivers of migration and refugees coming from Syria, they are forced out by violence and they’re forced out because their children lack education.”

5. Education at the heart of the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

Education is in the SDGs not just as a target in its own right but also as the key issue that will underpin progress in all the other goals. At the launch of the SDGs, the Pope said education is “the basis for the implementation of the 2030 Agenda and for reclaiming the environment.”

Sustainable Development Goal 4

Replacing the Millennium Development Goals set in 2000, the SDGs are an agenda to end poverty, promote prosperity and help people’s wellbeing – while protecting the planet. The specific education goal (Goal 4) aims to “Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.”

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