News & Views

Reflections on the Transforming Education Summit in New York

Three months ago, we were privileged to attend the Transforming Education Pre Summit in Paris; a prelude to last week’s big event in New York. We were excited and honoured to share thinking with so many like-minded individuals – all unified by a passion to ensure that every child around the globe has access, not just to education but also the tools required for a good education and for becoming effective citizens.

Sitting in the auditorium, we were reminded of the words spoken by leading Brazilian educator Paulo Freire “Education does not change the world. Education changes people. People change the world." Listening to the inspirational stories from students, global education ministers, world leaders and educationalists got us thinking about the changes in approach to education over the years.

Almost 60 years have passed since President John F Kennedy delivered his “Responsibilities of educated citizens” address at Vanderbilt on 18 May 1963. Education, he said, goes far beyond the classroom – it is fundamental to create a fair, skilful, and harmonious society.

“The educated citizen knows how much more there is to know. He knows that “knowledge is power,” more so today than ever before.”

President, John F Kennedy

More than three decades later, those same sentiments were echoed by the President of South Africa, Nelson Mandela who said:“The power of education extends beyond the development of skills we need for economic success. It can contribute to nation-building and reconciliation.”

They are not alone with these sentiments. Again and again, the great influential figures of our times have used their platform to advocate for children’s basic right to education, and its importance in building economies and nations.

Yet, here we are again debating how to transform education. How important it is. How far behind we are. How much of a crisis we face. But how have we reached this crisis in education? And we must ask if these 2022 Summits and pre-summits achieve anything, or is it just a constant re-visiting of demand for change with little action?

It is an understatement to say the global Covid-19 pandemic has impacted education significantly and caused massive learning loss, disrupting schooling for over 90% of the world’s children. In 2021, it was estimated that 244 million students were no longer in education – and the gap seems to be growing between the literate and the illiterate, the rich and the poor. Has this almost universal jolt made sufficient impact on us that we will now see real and measurable action on a sufficiently large scale?

The pressure is on. Summit attendees try to influence Governments to find solutions to end this crisis so that every child has a means to be educated and in turn, to help bridge the divides. More than 130 countries committed to overhaul their education systems, re-igniting hope that millions of students worldwide will be able to access education and improve their future prospects. Have we heard it all before? Will anything substantive come of these summits? There must be concern that for all the talk, often it seems that not much really changes on the ground, at the rural school in say, Sub-Saharan Africa.

Things can be different if we work hard to link the words to actions. Addressing the New York Summit last week, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres set out five areas of attention where everyone can play a part and drive improvement across education outcomes:

  1. Protect the right to quality education for everyone, especially girls
  3. Focus on the roles and skillsets of teachers
  5. Ensure that schools become safe, healthy spaces, with no place for violence, stigma, or intimidation
  7. Make sure that the digital revolution benefits all learners
  9. Protect education financing and budgets

But to achieve these everyone involved needs to step up, and we need to increase momentum – that initial turn of the wheel, that second or third turn. Governments need the help and assistance of educationalists and technologists to support most of the above outcomes - and they need to be open to the amazingly creative solutions that could be deployed at scale, effectively, and which could truly be transformative.

Amongst the various new initiatives announced, Antonio Guterres and the UN Special Envoy for Education, Gordon Brown jointly launched the International Financing Facility for Education (IFFEd) – developed in partnership with the Governments of Sweden, the UK and The Netherlands as well as the Asian and African Development Bank. The first distributions are expected to be made in 2023 to low to middle income countries to support education projects. Hailed as the biggest single investment in education that the world has ever seen, the fund will initially make $2 billion available, and it has been estimated that by 2030 this will increase to $10 billion. This could be a defining moment where Governments, policy, actions and finance might come together post-Covid, and where real improvement might be seen on the ground, in the rural and disadvantaged schools.

Here at sQuid, we are committed to these ideas becoming reality, and have long made efforts to bring scale digital education tools to those that are underserved in developing markets. While we await progress by the new initiatives announced at the Summit, we look forward with others to continued effort between Ministries and other private sector actors to develop and deliver digital learning platforms for students and digital teaching tools for teachers - In all settings, even the most rural and disadvantaged.

You can catch up on the news from the Transforming Education Summit here.