UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has warned that inequalities in education access and quality worldwide are rapidly becoming the "great divider" and called for action in five areas to transform education.
Roughly 70percent of 10 year-olds in poorer nations are unable to read basic texts, and in developed countries "education systems often entrench rather than reduce inequality, reproducing it across generations," the UN chief said at an education summit at the UN's New York headquarters on Monday.
"Too often, curricula are outdated and narrow, education systems take little account of lifelong learning, and teachers are under-trained, under-valued and under-paid," he added.
Guterres said that the crisis will not be resolved by maintaining the status quo, calling for transformation of education systems across the globe, and urging world leaders assembled for the 77th UN General Assembly to take heed of his warning.
"Let us ensure that the students of today and future generations will be able to access the education that they need in order to create a more sustainable and more inclusive, just and peaceful world for everyone, for girls and boys," he said.
Calling for action in five areas to transform education, Guterres stressed the need to protect the right to quality education for everyone, especially girls, everywhere.
"Schools must be open to all, without discrimination. We must recover the years of education lost around the world because of the pandemic," he said. "From this platform, I appeal to the authorities in Afghanistan: Lift all restrictions on girls' access to secondary education immediately. Girls' education is among the most important steps to deliver peace, security and sustainable development, everywhere," the UN chief added.
Today's teachers need to be facilitators in the classroom, promoting learning rather than merely transmitting answers, he said. "We also need to tackle the global shortage of teachers, and look at increasing their quality by raising their status and ensuring they have decent working conditions and continuous training and learning opportunities, and receive adequate salaries."
Schools must become safe, healthy spaces, with no place for violence, stigma or intimidation. Education systems should promote the physical and mental health of all students, including their sexual and reproductive health, said Guterres.
The digital revolution must benefit all learners, he said. "I urge countries to improve connectivity for students and educational institutions."None of the above will be possible without a surge in education financing and global solidarity, he warned.
"During these difficult times, I urge all countries to protect education budgets and ensure that education spending translates into progressive increases in resources per student and better learning outcomes. Education financing must be the number one priority for governments. It is the single most important investment any country can make in its people and its future."
Development partners should reverse cuts and dedicate at least 15 percent of official development assistance to education. International financial institutions should make resources and fiscal space available for developing countries to invest, he said.
Guterres urged international financial institutions to draw on the newly launched International Finance Facility for Education, a new tool that aims to mobilise 10 billion U.S. dollars to help 700 million children in lower-middle-income countries to access quality education.
Education is in a deep crisis. Instead of being the great enabler, education is fast becoming the great divider, said Guterres. Displaced people and students with disabilities face the highest obstacles of all. The COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on learning worldwide. But the education crisis began long before, and runs much deeper, he said.
Education systems are failing students and societies. Too often, curricula are outdated and narrow. Education systems take little account of life-long learning. Teachers are under-trained, undervalued and underpaid. The digital divide penalises poor students. And the education financing gap yawns wider than ever, said Guterres.
"We will not end this crisis by simply doing more of the same, faster or better. Now is the time to transform education systems," he said.
Quality education must support the development of the individual learner throughout his or her life. It must help people learn how to learn, with a focus on problem-solving and collaboration. It must provide the foundations for learning, from reading, writing and mathematics to scientific, digital, social and emotional skills.
It must also develop students' capacity to adapt to the rapidly changing world of work. It must be accessible to all from the earliest stages and throughout their lives. And it must help us learn to live and work together, and to understand ourselves and our responsibilities to each other and to our planet, said the UN chief.