One of the biggest global forums on education, the United Nations Education Transformation Summit, was held in New York City from 16 to 19 September 2022. The summit took place during the 77th session of the UN General Assembly and was convened by the Secretary-General to put education at the top of the global political agenda and mobilize action, ambition, and solutions to reverse the pandemic-related learning losses and make the best efforts to transform education in a rapidly changing world. The summit was convened in connection with the global crisis in the field of education – a crisis of equity and inclusiveness, quality, and relevance. Most experts have long recognized the existence of this crisis. Often slow and subtle, this crisis is devastatingly impacting the future of children and youth worldwide as progress toward education-related Sustainable Development Goals lags far behind schedule. By the end of the three days of the summit, 130 countries committed to making education a priority and ending the learning crisis.
Secretary-General António Guterres opened the Summit with a speech calling for action by the Member States. He stated that in the 21st century, all countries must strive to transform education with determination and conviction. Unlike previous forums of this level, the Summit was the culmination of 115 national consultations between world leaders, teachers, students, philanthropic organizations, civil society, and international partners. The Summit was prepared through a focused, intensive and inclusive preparatory process that responded to the priorities of the Member States and ensured the meaningful participation of young people and the entire range of stakeholders in the field of education [Eiehub, 2022]. The background information collected during the consultations, the visions of education issues at the national level, the initiatives and proposals of various parties that did not always have the opportunity for such meetings in the past, were presented at the Preliminary Summit in Paris in June 2022, became a real contribution to the content and planning of education in the 21st century. It should be recalled that among the participants in the national consultations were not only ministries and educational departments, but also non-governmental organizations, youth associations, parents’ associations, the media, health and funding authorities, and other organizations. We believe this was necessary not only to inform and realize the importance of the problems discussed by the general public but also to share responsibility for making important decisions and proposals voiced at the Preliminary and then the main Summit in September.
All summit delegates acknowledged that the issues under discussion are relevant, although not new. COVID-19 has deepened the growing education gap. Guterres said: “The rich have access to better resources, schools, and universities leading to better jobs, while the poor, especially girls, face huge barriers to gaining life-changing skills” [Miks and McIlwaine, 2020]. During preliminary consultations, the Geneva Global Center for Education in Emergencies announced that the COVID-19 pandemic has severely exacerbated the education crisis; the indirect financial impact could result in the loss of US$21 trillion in potential lifetime earnings for students, equivalent to 17% of today’s global GDP. Over 90% of the world’s children have interrupted their education due to the pandemic. The pandemic has also revealed big differences not only between countries but especially between different groups of students within countries. In the context of the global climate crisis, rapid technological transformation, profound changes in the world of work, declining trust in public institutions, erosion of democratic values, and the spread of disinformation, intolerance and hate speech, the pandemic has led to the failure of many educational reforms around the world [Miks and McIlwaine, 2020].
At the Summit, the so-called Youth Declaration was presented, dedicated to the role of education in solving global problems. It is said that the state of the world can only be changed by changing the state of education. The Youth Declaration is the culmination of a months-long consultation process reflecting the contributions of nearly half a million young people. The Declaration requires decision-makers to involve young people in the development and implementation of education policy as partners, not just beneficiaries. It also requires investment in youth leadership and gender-transformative education. This requires, as stated in the text of the Declaration, a “reboot” of education systems, including:
Dozens of countries have also pledged to include climate education and global citizenship in their curricula to tackle the climate crisis and eliminate social inequalities and intolerance.
Young people have self-organized around grassroots consultations to gather opinions, recommendations, and commitment to transform education from their peers at the local level. More than 15 grassroots consultations were organized, involving over 500 young people from all over the world, and their results were presented to support the Youth Declaration process. In addition to direct face-to-face and online consultations, young people have contributed through social media, an online survey conducted by UNICEF, written submissions, and past consultations, all of which have been included in the Youth Declaration. In total, about 450,000 young people around the world have contributed to this process. Questionnaires and online surveys among young people and other groups of respondents were and are usually regularly conducted as part of various sociological surveys. However, it should be noted that their conduct, as a rule, rarely leaves room for proposals, since it relies on so-called “closed” questions with ready-made answers, leaving no room for the respondent’s ideas to be expressed. It is believed that the positive charge of the Youth Declaration lies precisely in the possibility of an open and creative formulation of the ideas of many participants. The process of drafting the Youth Declaration has highlighted the collective sense of urgency among young people to address the global education crisis and other concurrent and interrelated global challenges such as the COVID-19 pandemic, the climate crisis, rising inequalities, conflicts and more. Young people recognize their key role as active agents of positive change in overcoming these crises and bringing about true transformational change that is systemic, long-term, inclusive, and representative.
Thus, the overarching message of the Youth Declaration process is to call on young people to meaningfully participate as full partners in education policy and decision-making, working together with their governments, teachers, civil society, international organizations, the United Nations, and other organizations to educational transformation [Youth Declaration on Transforming Education, 2022]. Young people recognize that not everyone is equally affected by the educational crisis and other challenges, and therefore call on the most vulnerable and marginalized groups, including but not limited to young women and girls, LGBTIQ+ youth, indigenous, refugee, and migrant youth, and young people with disabilities, to be at the forefront of all action. Youth recognize that this comprehensive and inclusive approach can deliver true positive transformational change for all people and the planet, leaving no one behind.
The greening of education, supported by UNESCO, Japan, and the UK, is an urgent call for more attention to education for sustainable development. It asks the Member States to develop comprehensive plans that will help build the capacity of teachers and equip students with the knowledge, skills, values, and attitudes they need to tackle climate change. In addition to greening schools, the plan included greening learning – doubling the number of countries incorporating climate education into school curricula for preschool, primary and secondary education, training school leaders on how to integrate climate education into teaching, greening communities – so that all countries could report at least three ways to provide learning opportunities for adults outside of the formal education system to develop skills and attitudes that build community resilience.
This discussion was continued on Leaders’ Day in a session entitled “Transforming Education to Transform the World: Learning to Live Together Sustainably”. The focus was on sustainable human development, citizenship, and cooperation. The speakers called on every country to create education systems that will educate ethical and socially responsible citizens of the world [worldskills.org, 2022].
In his Statement, the Secretary-General pointed out that throughout history, education has been a source of personal dignity and empowerment, as well as a driving force for advancing social, economic, political, and cultural development. However, the crisis in education is much deeper and goes beyond issues of fairness and equity. Study after study, survey after survey, comes to the same conclusion: education systems are no longer fit for purpose. Both young people and adults report that education does not equip them with the knowledge, experience, skills, or values needed to thrive in a rapidly changing world. Training continues to underestimate skills including problem-solving, critical thinking, and empathy. Employers complain of a severe skill mismatch, while many adults are left with little or no access to training and retraining opportunities. Teachers are often ill-prepared, undervalued, underpaid, and held back by outdated teaching roles, methods and tools. Parents and families decry the value or lack of return on the investment they make in their children’s education.
As two fundamental principles for the transformation of education, UN experts propose ensuring the right to quality education throughout life and strengthening education as a public cause and common good. It should be mentioned that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights refers to the right to education, but these two clarifying aspects – “quality” and “throughout life” radically expand this right and raise it to a much higher level of requirements.
The Secretary-General lists four key areas of transformative education in which students must be supported:
– Learning to learn: this requires equipping each student with the ability to read and write, identify, understand and communicate clearly and effectively, develop curiosity, creativity, and the ability to think critically and develop social and emotional skills, empathy, and kindness;
– Learning to live together: in a world of growing tensions, crumbling trust, and crises, education should help students to live better not only with each other, but also with nature, fulfill their responsibilities to society, and promote human rights;
– Learning to do: the world of work is undergoing fundamental changes and people of all ages throughout their lives should be able to focus on a whole new set of skills, including digital literacy, financial skills, and new technologies and STEM skills, including beyond the formal education;
– Learning to be: this implies the deepest goal of education, which is to instill in students the values and abilities to lead a meaningful life, enjoy it, and live fully and well, moreover, developing individual and social identities is an integral part of education for the 21st century [UN.org., 2022].
The Education Transformation Strategy includes the following concepts:
We must transform education so that, wherever they are, no girl, boy, a young or not-so-young person is denied the right to quality education. No exception is acceptable.
Schools should not exclude anyone, they should accept every girl, boy, or young person and make them feel welcome, cared for, protected, stimulated, and supported.
A good education develops in every student the ability to absorb the basic building blocks of knowledge: literacy, numeracy, and basic scientific thinking. It also includes basic social-emotional skills.
A good education also increases a lifetime’s ability to learn and relearn essential skills for a rapidly changing world of work.
It is important to note that a good education develops each person’s values and the ability to live together in the world; respect and value human diversity, gender equality, and human rights; and be actively committed to sustainable development.
Teachers need the conditions, pay, resources, autonomy, and respect they deserve to be able to transform education.
When used properly, connectivity and open digital resources for teaching and learning can help transform and democratize education.
Public funding for education is the most efficient and socially responsible investment that countries can make. Every dollar invested in education brings a higher return to individuals and society than any other investment [UN.org, 2022].
Particular attention at the Summit was paid to the status and mission of teachers. It has been said that the transformation starts with qualified, respected, and well-paid teachers. Teachers must become knowledge producers, helpers, and guides in understanding complex realities. The capacity, discretion, and autonomy of teachers must be expanded to enable them to design, interpret and manage the curriculum and to adapt and prioritize content and pedagogy. The global shortage of teachers must be resolved radically, including by increasing the attractiveness of the teaching profession for the younger generation. It is imperative to create decent working conditions and raise the status of teachers, including through salaries comparable to professions requiring a similar skill level, and continuous professional development. While the public appreciates the work of teachers, most governments have not made the necessary investments or provided teachers and educators with desperately needed support [Education International, 2022].
Teacher recruitment and promotion mechanisms must also become more equitable, fair, and non-discriminatory, providing opportunities for women and people from vulnerable and marginalized groups. Finally, educational systems must ensure that teachers are involved in the formulation of educational policy, including curricula and pedagogical change. Their right to organize themselves is fundamental [Education International.2022].
The Secretary-General and Gordon Brown, UN Special Envoy for Global Education, jointly announced the International Finance Facility for Education (IFFEd), a first-of-its-kind funding mechanism developed in partnership with the governments of Sweden, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and the Asian and African Development Bank. IFFEd will provide an initial $2 billion in additional available funding for education programs to be disbursed starting in 2023 and may unlock an additional $10 billion in additional funding for education and skills by 2030. UNESCO and UNICEF launched Gateways to Public Digital Learning, a global multi-stakeholder initiative to build and strengthen inclusive digital learning platforms and content.
The main expected outcomes of the Summit can be summarized as follows:
1) National and international commitments to transform education;
2) Wider public participation in the transformation of education and its support;
3) Support for the Secretary General’s Statement on the Vision for Transforming Education.
Some results of the Summit have been achieved, while others are in the process of implementation. We expect that the Summit will help to energize and initiate a social movement for the transformation of education. However, success can only be achieved if all stakeholders work together, without waiting for ready-made results from outside. The fact of trust among stakeholders is also important, parents and school children must trust teachers, and teachers, in turn, must trust ministries, etc. The four “learnings” that are the key areas of Transforming Education outlined by the Secretary-General in his report are, however abstract at first glance, nonetheless very concrete and timely. Perhaps this is the most important thing in the entire extensive text of the report since they contain the essence and humanitarian core of education. Much will now depend on countries and governments. The UN system is ready to support governments and communities along the way, but not ready to solve our problems for us.
Education International (2022a). Teachers around the world deserve more than thanks, governments must listen. Retrieved from https://www.ei-ie.org/en/item/26908:teachers-around-the-world-deserve-more-than-thanks-governments-must-listen. Accessed on 06.10.2022.
Education International (2022b). World leaders meet to transform education at the global summit. Retrieved from https://www.ei-ie.org/en/item/26814:world-leaders-meet-to-transform-education-at-global-summit. Accessed on 06.10.2022.
Eiehub (2022). Transforming Education Summit – September 2022 Retrieved from https://eiehub.org/events/transforming-education-summit-september-2022. Accessed on 06.10.2022.
Miks, Jason, and McIlwaine, John (2022). Keeping the world’s children learning through COVID-19. Retrieved from https://www.unicef.org/coronavirus/keeping-worlds-children-learning-through-covid-19. Accessed on 06.10.2022.
UN.org (2022a). Transforming Education: An urgent political imperative for our collective future. Retrieved from https://www.un.org/sites/un2.un.org/files/2022/09/sg_vision_statement_on_transforming_education.pdf. Accessed on 06.10.2022.
UN.org. (2022b). About the 2022 UN Transforming Education Summit. Retrieved from https://www.un.org/en/transforming-education-summit/about. Accessed on 06.10.2022.
Worldskills.org (2022). UN Summit embeds sustainability and equality into education systems. Retrieved from https://worldskills.org/media/news/un-summit-embeds-sustainability-and-equality-education-systems/. Accessed on 06.10.2022.
Youth Declaration on Transforming Education (2022). Retrieved from https://www.un.org/en/transforming-education-summit/youth-declaration. Accessed on 06.10.2022.
Note: The views expressed in this blog are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the Institute’s editorial policy
Nadirova Gulnar Ermuratovna graduated from the Oriental Faculty of Leningrad State University, in 1990 she defended her thesis on the Algerian literature at the Moscow Institute of Oriental Studies, in 2006 doctoral thesis - on modern Tunisian literature at the Tashkent Institute of Oriental Studies, Professor.