Universal Primary Education
“Education is not a way to escape poverty—It is a way of fighting it,” says Julius Nyerere, former President of the Untied Republic of Tanzania. He speaks to the undeniable correlation between successful, self-sustaining, developed countries and the level of education.

The United Nations saw the importance of education for the eradication of poverty. The period from 1997 to 2006 was declared the First United Nations Decade for the Eradication of Poverty. The Secretary-General of the U.N. put universal primary education at the focal point.

Efforts were made during the first decade including several U.N. summits and conferences that mobilized national, regional and international movements toward the eradication of poverty. However, poverty reductions have not been conclusive. Many parts of the world saw their poverty rates rise throughout the decade.

In 2007, the U.N. declared the Second Decade for the Eradication of Poverty. This second decade will last until 2017. The primary focus of the second decade will be to build upon the momentum the first decade produced. The already established and agreed upon Millennium Development Goals act as the central focal point.

The second Millennium goal is to achieve universal primary education, to “ensure that, by 2015, children everywhere, boys and girls alike, will be able to complete a full course of primary schooling”.

Progress has already been made. In 2010, 90 percent of primary aged children in developing regions were enrolled in school; in 1999 the number was 82 percent. Gender disparities in literacy have also narrowed, but over 60 percent of illiterate individuals worldwide are still women.

The U.N. recognizes the importance of education for the world’s poor. But, they are not the only ones. The progress is in part because of innovative social movements.

The Girl Effect is a self-described “movement.” Created by the Nike Foundation, with the NoVo Foundation, United Nations Foundation and Coalition for Adolescent Girls, the Girl Effect raises awareness about the untapped potential of girls who live in poverty and are not allowed an education.

Through powerful videos, a strong online presence and “hundreds of thousands of girl champions who recognize the untapped potential of adolescent girls living in poverty” the organization provides tools for change-makers around the world.

“Take our content. Use it. Share it. Join the movement. Change the world,” says its website.

Malala Yousafzai achieved worldwide renown for her courage and insight when she refused to allow the Taliban to stop her from advocating for universal education.

She describes the power of education in the context of international summits on funding global education, “These men and women from rich and poor countries will have the power to either help those children reach their potential, or leave them without the future they deserve.”

June 25 and 26 held the second Replenishment Pledging Conference for the Global Partnership for Education. Eight hundred participants from 91 countries attended the event, hosted by the European Commission in Brussels. Twenty-six  billion dollars was pledged to provide resources for basic education for the next four years.

The goal of the Global Partnership is to raise $3.5 billion from 2015 to 2018 in order to improve education for boys and girls in 66 eligible countries.

At a recent gathering at the U.N., 500 youth came together to celebrate global efforts, such as those made by the Global Partnership, and to encourage political leaders to keep striving for the second Millennium goal.

Malala was a speaker at this event, and she expressed her dream to see every child enrolled in school. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon supported her viewpoint and raised the call for every young person to get involved in the effort for universal education.

“One may think, I’m just a young girl or a young boy, I don’t have any power, but each and every one of you can make a difference,” shared Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

As 2015, and the deadline for the achievement of the Millennium goals, draw nearer, it has become clear to the U.N. that the goals will not all be achieved. However, progress has undeniably been made, and the U.N. is making plans for a post-2015 development agenda.

– Julianne O’Connor

Sources: UNESCO, Global Partnership for Education, Girl Effect, United Nations, United Nations, The Guardian
Photo: UNICEF