The voices of young people were heard loud and clear as donors and developing countries promised to increase their investment in the schooling of millions of children.
A momentous year for education kicked off today when international donors and developing countries promised to step up their efforts to help millions of children fulfil their potential.
The voices of young people were heard loudly as the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) held a conference in Senegal to raise financing for its work over the next three years.
Donors pledged funding totalling $2.3 billion and 53 developing country partners promised to increase their spending on education by a total of $110 billion.
“When children are not learning, we are stealing their future," Helle Thorning-Schmidt, CEO of Save the Children International, told the GPE conference in Dakar.
“We need to make 2018 the year we start a revolution in education financing. We need both the international community and governments to step up.”
That call was echoed by Mohamed Sidibay, a former child soldier from Sierra Leone who is now an inspirational advocate and a Global Youth Ambassador for Theirworld.
He told the conference: “We are stunned to see aid to education reduce every year since 2011. Join me in making 2018 the year we turn this around, starting in Senegal and then moving on to the G20 at the end of the year.
“I put down the gun and picked up the pen. Now it's your turn. I ask you to do right by us and make 2018 the year we transformed global education.”
The conference also saw a major announcement from the Global Business Coalition for Education - the first instalment of $15 million offers as part of a three-year technology pledge.
Business leaders have joined forces to provide access to cut-price technology that will improve school system effectiveness and learning outcomes for some of the 330 million children around the world who lack basic skills for the knowledge economy of the future.
Sarah Brown, Executive Chair of GBC-Education and President of Theirworld, said: “We want to bring tried and tested technology tools to marginalised children. Greater connectivity and innovations in education delivery are a key pillar in solving the youth skills gap.
"Our partners have responded by leveraging a comprehensive package of digital tools that will increase learning opportunities for millions of children.”
The GPE financing conference was the first big event in a crucial year for education - with increased investment and innovation needed to get millions of children into school and learning.
United Nations agencies need their work financed, along with the Education Cannot Wait fund for schooling in humanitarian emergencies. Then the G20 countries have the opportunity to see in the new International Finance Facility for Education that could unlock $10 billion a year.
The money raised at the Senegal conference will help GPE to support the education of 870 million children in developing nations, which are home to three-quarters of the world's out-of-school population of 246 million.
One of them is Nigeria. Peace Ayo Adegbola, a 15-year-old Nigerian schoolgirl and education advocate, told the conference: “The future of a nation lies in the hands of girls and women. If we want a great nation, if we want a great world, we must educate the girls.”
Jayathma Wickramanayake, the UN Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth, said: “Education is key to young people achieving their full potential. In a world where nearly half the population is under 25, we can't afford to not invest in education.”
The conference also heard a "youth solidarity statement" delivered by Edith, 27, from Ghana, and 17-year-old Mazidath from Benin.
They said: “Youth are not simply beneficiaries of education. We are partners in creating a better world. Youth do not need to be given a voice. We already have one. What we need is the platform of education for which our voices can be heard."
The GPE had announced its aim of scaling up to $2 billion a year to support its work - alongside encouraging developing countries to invest more of their budgets on education.
Board Chair Julia Gillard said: “We won’t stop until we make sure that every child is in a quality school. Today is an important milestone on the journey to achieving that goal.”
Macky Sall, President of the hosts Senegal, said: “The struggle for education is the mother of all battles. If we lose it, we lose all the other battles. Together let’s mobilise for our children. Together let’s mobilise for education.”
Ghana's President Nana Akufo-Addo was warmly applauded when he said: “We cannot depend on other people to finance the education of our continent. If we make our policy dependent on other people, when their policy changes we will suffer. But if we make the policy for ourselves then it means at all times we are in control of our own destiny.”
Other high-level speakers included UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore, who said: “We must focus on the first decade in life - we must scale up the quality of pre-primary education as well as primary education.”
As part of our #5for5 campaign on early childhood development, Theirworld is calling for 10% of GPE's funding to be spent on pre-primary education. This is in line with our call for countries to spend 10% of their education budgets on pre-primary and donors to do likewise with humanitarian aid for education.
David Boutcher, the business representative on the Global Business Coalition for Education's board, spoke about the announcement of technology help from member companies Avanti Communications, 2-Track Solutions, HP and SafeBus.
He said: “It’s all about business engaging in education. This is just a start.
“It’s real practical solutions and it’s getting companies who can gain access to data really engaging with countries and making sure we get more kids in education - but importantly with quality and, absolutely, safely.”
The conference concluded with a special appearance by GPE Ambassador Rihanna. The global singing sensation said: "“This is a fight that we are not going to stop fighting until every boy and every girl has access to education.”