The Global Education Imperative: At Davos, the UN Secretary-General urged greater efforts to achieve global education targets

© World Economic Forum. Urs Jaudas

5 February 2013 – The United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on participants at the 2013 Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, to strengthen efforts to achieve global targets related to education and health, stressing the imperative of building a better future for all.

“Education must be a top priority of the global political and development agendas,” Mr. Ban said at the opening of the Global Education Imperative session, adding that “this is not an option, but an imperative.”

Joined at the session by his Special Envoy for Global Education, Gordon Brown, the Secretary-General noted that progress in this critical field has stalled in recent years. This led him to launch Education First last September, securing $1.5 billion in commitments to increase access to, and the quality of, education for children worldwide.

“Education empowers people and transforms lives,” stated Mr. Ban. “None of us here could ever imagine what our lives and those of our children would be without education. Education gives people hope, confidence and dignity. It equips them with knowledge and skills to escape poverty. It saves lives and reduces the spread of preventable diseases.”

He also stressed that education fosters economic growth, noting that every dollar spent in quality education generates strong positive returns for the global economy.

“With unemployment rising so dramatically, we need, more than ever, to invest in relevant education. Many jobseekers do not have the skills that new jobs need. We can not afford a ‘lost generation.” 

Education is also the foundation for a more peaceful and sustainable future, he added. “By influencing people’s attitudes and behaviours, education is a key channel for better mutual understanding, tolerance and respect for each other and our planet.” 

Click here to see the full statement of the Secretary-General

Helle Thorning-Schmidt, Prime Minister of Denmark, stated the importance that governments take ownership of education, saying that daily school attendance should be mandatory in all countries. She described the economic imperative of education. “If all students in all low-income families acquired basic reading skills, we would have 171 million brought out of poverty,” she said.

Thorning-Schmidt also drew attention to the special focus required in education for girls, saying that 32 million of the children out of school are female. She cited cultural and religious choices in some countries as being responsible and described the importance of focused aid efforts, such as Denmark’s initiatives in Afghanistan, which encourage the attendance of girls in schools.

Jim Yong Kim, President, The World Bank, Washington DC, described the importance of best practice techniques being applied in education. “We can leapfrog generations of bad practice by taking the learnings which exist and applying them in poorer countries,” he said. He also advocated wider adoption of apprenticeship schemes of the type used in Switzerland and Germany.

Hikmet Ersek, President and Chief Executive Officer, Western Union Company, USA, said that for business to have greater engagement in education initiatives, it must better understand the different needs of education in its local environment. He confirmed his belief that education is a compelling business investment which correlates with the long-term goals of shareholders. “Education means growth. Education means potential. Educated people create jobs,” he said.

Omobola Johnson, Minister of Communication Technology of Nigeria, spoke about the potential for information communication technology (ICT) to improve the efficacy of education and also of its limitations. “ICT cannot replace classrooms,” she said. “But it can complement them. The target of 2 million extra classrooms is achievable if we leverage technology.”

More information about The Global Education Imperative session