Two young Nigerians – Gideon Olanrewaju and Miss Omotoke Olowo – got the rare opportunity of leading strategic conversations on education at the ongoing United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York, United States. They are among those selected to engage world leaders on how to deliver quality education to the world’s 260 million out-of-school children. WALE AJETUNMOBI writes.
ABOUT 260 million children and young people, globally, are being deprived of education, according to statistics by the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF). The statistics showed that some 400 million children have only primary school education, with no incentives to study beyond that level.
Propelled by the statistics, the UNICEF warned world leaders of the growing threats to education. These threats, it said, did not arise from lack of schools, but because of the rising trend of disaster, violence and insecurity, which led to the displacement of families.
The report noted that failure to provide learning opportunities for the uprooted children has profound consequences for individuals and nations. This deprived population is scattered across conflict zones, with most of the victims in Africa.
In 2015, more than 28 million children were forced out of their homes because of violence and insecurity; some 27 million children of primary and lower secondary school age were said to be out of school in 24 conflict-affected countries.
With these statistics, can Africa surmount the challenge of poverty and improve access to quality education in line with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the United Nations (UN)?
Some young activists, including two Nigerians -Omotoke Olowo and Gideon Olanrewaju – proffered solutions to these problems before world leaders at the ongoing United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York City, United States (U.S.).
The activists engaged leaders in drafting the plans to deliver quality education to the 260 million out-of-school children.
Omotoke, the chief executive officer (CEO) of Autism Awareness in Nigeria, and Gideon, founder of Aid for Rural Education Access, are attending the UNGA as part of education charity aimed at propagating the #WritetheWrong campaign, which they started from Africa, to the world.
“The #WritetheWrong campaign aims to tackle the growing global education crisis,” said Gideon at the UNGA forum on education, which was attended by high-level business executives and dignitaries.
They included former United Kingdom (UK) Prime Minister Gordon Brown, the UN Deputy Secretary-General, Mrs Amina Mohammed, and a foremost humanitarian and former First Lady of South Africa Graca Machel.
At the meeting, which was hosted by the Global Business Coalition for Education, Gideon said: “The world is at the crossroads, going by the statistics that over a quarter of a billion children and young people are not in school. If this problem is left unaddressed, education crisis could leave half of the world’s 1.6 billion children and young people out of school or failing to learn the most basic skills by 2030.”
He warned world leaders that young people would hold them accountable for their actions or inactions to move education forward.
Gideon said: “Where I grew up, most people simply did not have access to quality education. In rural communities like mine, which is many miles away from big cities, the government simply didn’t seem to consider education a priority. Where they did, often there wasn’t funding available to make quality education delivered to everyone who needed it.
“This did not happen in a small or poor country; this happened in Nigeria, which has one of the highest GDP in Africa. It was when I went to England to study that I was able to dedicate my time to organisations like Theirworld, and to my own education programmes through which I am helping to provide quality education to marginalised communities in Nigeria and South Africa.
“I am lucky to be able to do this. But, there are millions of children and young people in Nigeria, and hundreds of millions worldwide, who are being denied the opportunity to learn and contribute to the growth of their communities and the world.
“At best, this is condemning future generations to poverty, denying them the skills needed to improve their lives and their communities. At worst, this is leaving them vulnerable to forced labour, forced marriage, trafficking, armed conflict, and terrorism. These are problems not just for them or their communities, but for the world.”
Omotoke said: “The world can attest to the fact that Mr Gordon Brown and his wife, Sarah, are passionate about helping children and young people get the education needed to live independent and poverty-free lives. Personally, I have been impressed by their commitment to help marginalised children and those with learning disabilities, who have previously been forgotten in the global education debate.
“Sitting in a meeting with you to discuss challenges facing education and driving conversation to proffer solutions, I am sure, would bring about more action to address the problems in most of the disadvantaged countries and regions.
“The higher costs involved in supporting children with special educational needs have been a barrier for many governments. I hope the increased funding for global education that charities such as Theirworld, Plan and Save the Children, are calling for will be used to support every child to get educated.”
Gideon urged the forum to consider the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation’s (UNESCO’s) recommendations, saying increasing finance remained essential to closing the annual funding gap needed to support education which the low and middle-income countries (LMICs) face.
During the session tagged: Global Business Coalition for Education, Gideon also addressed leaders of topmost educational organisations and funding partners, including UNICEF, UNESCO, Global Partnership for Education (GPE), Education Cannot Wait, Dubai Cares, and World Bank among others.
Gideon said: “We must be united in our belief that next-generation thinking and next-generation partnerships are required to achieve the 2030 global goals for education, what tangible actions, innovations and new ways of working can create disruptive, systemic change and unlock the potential of young people in the wake of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
“All points raised by the Director General of UNESCO, John Fallon, Head of UNICEF and Chief Executive Officer of Dubai Cares are important. And I would like to make sure that as we seal partnership and take actions we can take. My peers are the youth generation and my friends are the ones who are facing an uncertain future and lack of investment in skills.”
The proposed International Finance Facility for Education (IFFEd), Gideon said, is a fund that will provide more affordable stream of finance for LMICs that want to invest in education. He added that the UNESCO’s proposal for generating multi-billion dollar fund for education was aimed at drawing $10 billion dollars for education by using donor guarantees to leverage lending from multilateral banks.
Over 1.7 million people worldwide have signed a petition in support of IFFEd. Top-notch UNGA attendees also spoke in support for the finance facility.
The UK Minister for International Development Penny Mordaunt, said: “The UK stands ready to support this important work,” urging influential politicians attending the General Assembly to “get the job done”.
Ms Machel described the initiative as “the single largest investment in human capital history”, while Jim Yong Kim, the head of the World Bank, signalled the bank’s support, saying: “Make no mistake – investments in education have much bigger returns on investment than investments in infrastructure.”
Despite significant advances in education across the globe, experts at the General Assembly argued that over a quarter of a billion children were out of school, revealing statistics, which said one in five children don’t have a basic education.
Sarah Brown, president of Theirworld, a global children’s charity organisation, said: “Many people are simply not aware of the scale of this crisis. Children out of school face a dire future of exploitation, child labour and early marriage. If leaders fail to act now an entire generation will miss out on an education.”