President stresses importance of education in tackling world problems
72nd United Nations General Assembly – Education/development – Speech by M. Emmanuel Macron, President of the Republic, during the “Financing the future: education for all” meeting
New York, 20 September 2017
Thank you, Secretary-General,
Cher Gordon Brown,
Heads of state and government,
The Secretary-General has just summed up the situation very well, once again; we’ve got many challenges, but education is above all a global issue because regardless of the countries which have brought us together, regardless of our linguistic regions, if we want to meet the challenges of contemporary globalization, we shall do so only through education. And I should like to begin by saying that I’m especially convinced that in the programme we’re conducting to transform France, education is a cornerstone; we’re very thoroughly transforming our education system, reinvesting and reorganizing things, with the minister who is accompanying me today.
As you said, Secretary-General, the issue of education in the world is one which President Macky Sall and I would like to champion, because I’m utterly convinced that it’s a cause which will allow us – and Erna Solberg, who is deeply committed to the issue, said this several times – to meet each of these challenges. The challenge of the digital transformation, the climate transformation, the challenge of development and of preventing the global phenomena of which we’re dealing only with the consequences. And when we talk about large-scale migration, when we talk about terrorism, when we talk about the present-day instability of which we’re the victims, education is one solution which tackles the deep-rooted causes.
You perfectly described the situation in your country, and your personal experience, and I want to pay tribute to you here; as you said, the only thing feared by those who want to weaken and impoverish, the thing feared by terrorists in the world around us, above all, is people – all of our fellow citizens – being educated.
Poverty continues to grow wherever young people aren’t given the autonomy to build their own destinies, wherever people aren’t trained so they can learn to develop and build [their own destinies] throughout their lives. Violence takes hold wherever women and men can be made into human bombs because obscurantism has prevailed over education.
We spend a great deal of time, energy and money resolving the world’s problems and major crises, but education is – among the solutions within our grasp – what allows us to resolve them much more than others. When young people are educated, when you go on learning throughout your life, in no way do you give in to the easy options of the present, give in to these imbalances, but you resist.
Hence the aim of these initiatives is clearly first to focus our effort on the regions in most difficulty, which are being hit by crises, wars or extreme poverty. This is where education plays an absolutely crucial role, making it possible, precisely, to bring autonomy, generate business and find everyone their place in society. It halts the inevitability of poverty and impoverishment. It’s exactly what a few of us wanted to reflect in the Alliance for the Sahel, which we launched in support of the G5 Sahel member countries with Germany, the UNDP, the World Bank, the European Union and the African Development Bank. Education will, as it happens, be one of the pillars of this initiative, sending four million children to school. We shall continue, wherever there are conflicts, wherever impoverishment has taken hold, to develop education initiatives, because education is what allows us to halt it and also effect demographic transitions, radically change behaviours and give women and men autonomy.
The second priority – and here I share the United Nations Secretary-General’s view – is girls’ education in particular, because gender inequality is very often injustice on injustice. Wherever there are conflicts, wherever whole continents or regions are slipping behind, major poverty has taken root, terrorism is breeding and the worst plans are being hatched, it’s understandable that gender inequality is a relative value. If we accept this we’re surrendering on what is fundamental and unites us, one of the forces that bind the United Nations together: the universality of our values.
And today, girls’ education is a key challenge, because it’s what enables us to combat forced marriages wherever they’re imposed, to combat a demography that is not chosen – I take responsibility for this term; it may shock some people, but when poverty has taken root, there are whole regions where there is also a demographic crisis, which paves the way for short- and long-term migration and is fuelled by the lack of girls’ education. And it’s also, logically, created by those who don’t want girls’ and women’s emancipation, because they know that the worst weapon against them would be the education girls and women are given.
Indeed, the third goal we must pursue is to rethink the structure of our education to make it, first of all, a basic education that teaches basic knowledge and behaviour and trains your generation, which is there in front of us – i.e. young women and young men, who will have to become capable, autonomous, who will make their own choices and decide on their own lives.
Our education today must take up another challenge, namely that we’re all going to be educated throughout our lives, because our societies must today absorb technological transformations and profound shocks which mean that this idea many people have hitherto had, that we’d be educated for our whole lives at the age of 20 or 25, is over, is no longer valid! Because at the age of 40, 45, 50 we’ll be experiencing a profound transformation of the world around us, our work and promising future business sectors; and our education, at global level, must also embrace this challenge and be capable of addressing it.
That’s why I believe investment in education is a priority – a priority, at any rate, of which France wants to take ownership in its own agenda. It’s a central dimension of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Education across all levels today accounts for 15% of official development assistance; there too, we must do more, as a proportion and in absolute value. And that’s why we’d like to draw on substantive cooperation with the United Nations agencies present here, which I welcome, and with the Global Partnership for Education, whose relevance and effectiveness I’d like to emphasize. The Partnership is a catalyst in the sector which no other organization can create at this stage.
An additional 620 million primary-age children will have to be schooled by 2030, 450 million of them in sub-Saharan Africa, and the funding gap for achieving the sustainable development target devoted to education is already $39 million a year. In this regard, I want to pay tribute to the work of the Education Commission, chaired by Gordon Brown. Partner states must increase their national funding and donors their commitments to the sector. So it’s up to us to guarantee access to good quality education for all, and I’ll therefore be engaging alongside Senegal in 2018 to mobilize the whole international community to increase its effort to finance the development of long-term, resilient education systems.
President Macky Sall and I have great ambitions together: to mobilize $3.1 billion over three years, from 2018 to 2020, and I’m counting on you, European partners, G7 and G20 members and, more broadly, all countries and civil society players, including foundations and businesses that are ready or will be ready in the coming months, to commit to education.
But I’d also like us to be able to adopt new methods during this conference – i.e. set out our priorities, assess and also report back. To assess the needs, because they’re changing every year, and assess what we ourselves do, because we can’t make do with merely providing figures or sums in the face of this challenge: it’s a daily task which requires responsibility on the part of us all.
I’ll leave it to President Macky Sall to share with you the project that testifies to our joint commitment to this more caring humanity; but this challenge for education, as you’ve understood, is in my view one of the key battles of our societies; it’s what will enable us to take up, in part, nearly all the challenges we face today. But above all it’s the moral duty we owe to you, the new generations; because we’ll have made this choice, this investment, and taken these decisions, you’ll have the opportunity in our place in 10, 15, 20, 30 years’ time to have the luxury of choosing your destiny. We still have this luxury today; there are too many regions on our planet which no longer have it, and they no longer have it because education is no longer there. So what we owe you isn’t to tell you what destiny you’ll have or choose it for you, but to do everything to ensure you can choose it yourselves.