UN Secretary-General launches major new education initiative

26 September 2012


To unite the agencies and programmes of the United Nations system, governments, business leaders and civil society in a final push to put education on top of the global agenda ahead of the 2015 Millennium Development Goals deadline. New major commitments for Education First will be announced at the launch today.  Find out more about the initiative at http://globaleducationfirst.org/index.html.

The Central Role of Education

Education is the basic building block of every society. It is a fundamental human right, not a privilege of the few. It is no coincidence that parents around the world demand education for their children as their first priority. Children themselves yearn for the opportunity to fulfil their dreams. 
In our knowledge-based world, education is the single best investment countries can make towards building prosperous, healthy and equitable societies. It unleashes the optimal potential in people, improving individual livelihoods and those of future generations. 

Yet a good education is more than an entry point into the job market. Education has the power to transform people and bring shared values to life. It can give us a profound understanding that we are tied together as citizens of the global community, and that our challenges are interconnected. By expanding educational opportunities, we can open the door to more equitable, dynamic and resilient patterns of globalization. Indeed, education is the critical thread tying together all our hopes for the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

The Promise

The eight MDGs adopted in 2000—which range from halving extreme poverty and ensuring gender equality to halting the spread of HIV by the target date of 2015—formed a blueprint to meet the needs of the world’s poorest. World leaders recognized education as a critical component in that equation, agreeing that countries should guarantee primary education as a universal minimum for children everywhere. This promise is also enshrined in the “Education for All” goals, which aim to fulfil the learning needs of all children, youth and adults by 2015.

The promise stands on the conviction that a decent education is the birth right of every child in every country. Gender, ethnicity, and geography should not determine whether a child attends school. Nor should a family’s poverty deprive any child of a decent education. Youth and adults also have the right to a quality education.


The initiative's basic priorities are to expand access to education, improve the quality of learning, and foster global citizenship.

Priority 1Put Every Child in School

Education is the great driver of social, economic and political progress. As people learn to read, count and reason critically, their prospects for health and prosperity expand exponentially. But our advances in education have not benefited everyone equally—and primary school enrolment rates tell only part of the regrettable story. Millions of children who start primary school are unable to finish, and still more miss out on high school. Today, some 71 million young people—including half of all adolescents in low-income countries—are receiving no post-primary education. We can no longer afford the cost of excluding them.

Priority 2Improve the Quality of Education

School attendance should open pathways of learning and discovery, but too often it doesn’t. Millions of children go through school and come out without basic literacy and numeracy. Education is ultimately judged by what people learn. Many students around the world are banking their futures on poorly trained, weakly motivated teachers without enough books and other basics to facilitate their learning. This is grave disservice not only to the students themselves but to the parents who sacrifice to support them and the countries whose futures depend on them. While we strive to boost school attendance, we must ensure that our schools are engines of opportunity and not just idle warehouses.

Priority 3Foster Global Citizenship

The world faces global challenges, which require global solutions. These interconnected global challenges call for far-reaching changes in how we think and act for the dignity of fellow human beings. It is not enough for education to produce individuals who can read, write and count. Education must be transformative bring shared values to life. It must cultivate an active care for the world and for those with whom we share it. Education must also be relevant in answering the big questions of the day. Technological solutions, political regulation or financial instruments alone cannot achieve sustainable development. It requires transforming the way people think and act. Education must fully assume its central role in helping people to forge more just, peaceful, tolerant and inclusive societies. It must give people the understanding, skills and values they need to cooperate in resolving the interconnected challenges of the 21st Century.