By Chris Niles
UNICEF correspondent Chris Niles reports on the launch of the Education First initiative at United Nations New York headquarters
NEW YORK, 26 September 2012 – United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has launched a global education initiative designed to get every child into school.
Education First has already collected $1.5 billion in commitments to achieve universal primary education ahead of the dates for the Millennium Development Goals.
“I am encouraged and grateful for all the generous commitments made today, which gives Education First a boost towards achieving its goals,” Mr. Ban said.
He was joined at United Nations New York headquarters for the launch of Education First by several heads of state, World Bank Group President Dr. Jim Yong Kim and United Nations Special Envoy for Global Education Gordon Brown.
“This is a great day for education,” Mr. Brown said.
Children, teachers and classrooms targeted
The initiative aims to increase quality education and to foster global citizenship.
An estimated 61 million children of primary school age are out of school, and nearly half of those live in countries afflicted by unrest.
The initiative says two million more teachers are needed, and the world’s poorest countries need almost four million new classrooms.
“The energy of this event will give impetus not only to the Secretary-General’s initiative, but also to our work towards achieving the MDGs. Because education can help us achieve every one of the MDGs,” said UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake.
World leaders, private sector commit support
The initiative gathers a broad spectrum of world leaders and those from the business community. Western Union, Western Union Foundation and the MasterCard Foundation were among the first to offer their support.
Among the speakers at the launch were Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, Croatian Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic, Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt and South African President Jacob Zuma.
Australia, Bangladesh, Brazil, Croatia, Denmark, Guyana, South Africa, Timor-Leste and Tunisia are among the countries that have pledged to intensify their support for the initiative.
Panel deliberates challenges and opportunities
The launch was followed by a panel discussion organized by UNICEF that featured Her Majesty Queen Rania Al Abdullah of Jordan, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi of Myanmar, teacher representative Teopista Birungi Mayanja and youth representative Charles Young. It was chaired by Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations Jan Eliasson and Mr. Brown, and moderated by journalist Femi Oke.
The discussion was followed by interventions from Norway’s Minister of International Development Heikki Holmås, European Commissioner for Climate Action Connie Hedegaard and President of the Global Campaign for Education Camilla Croso.
The objective of the panel was to initiate a substantive dialogue among key stakeholders from United Nations agencies, governments, civil society, children and youth on present challenges and opportunities in education. It offered an open and inclusive platform to reflect on Education First’s priority areas and help shape the evolving discourse on education in the post-2015 development agenda.