We can overcome challenges to deliver quality education for every child

The promise of delivering quality education for every child in the world faces huge challenges — but it can still be achieved in time for a 2030 goal set by the United Nations.

That was the powerful message from a high-level event hosted by Theirworld and the Global Education Coalition for Education. The gathering featured Theirworld chair Sarah Brown, United Nations Special Envoy for Global Education Gordon Brown and Roger Federer, former tennis star and early childhood education champion.

At the event to mark the halfway stage of the 15-year Sustainable Development Goals, UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed said: “It’s all hands on deck.”

UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed addresses the event (Theirworld/Ilya Savenok)

The event was held during the UN General Assembly in New York. International leaders, businesses, heads of UN agencies and activists gathered at a crucial time for global education and at the halfway point of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Federer called for action on early years learning, backing Theirworld’s Act For Early Years campaign on the importance of early years childcare and education.

The goals include inclusive and equitable quality education for all — but latest UN figures show the scale of the challenge. One in six children, about 250 million, is still out of school. If countries are to reach their national targets, they need to enroll an additional 1.4 million children every year in early childhood education.

Sarah Brown said: “What gives me the greatest hope is that everyone here is a partner in a great enterprise to get every child the best possible start in life.”

The event featured several crucial announcements, including:

  • Widespread commitment to investing in the early years, which is critical to ensure all children are ready for school and able to fulfil their potential
  • Jutta Urpilainen, European Commissioner for International Partnerships, revealed the EU will give 25 million euros to support girls’ education in Afghanistan
  • Government minister Andrew Mitchell announced the United Kingdom is giving £180 million to the International Finance Facility for Education (IFFEd). The support will help to unlock up to $1 billion in new financing for education in lower-middle-income countries in Asia and Africa.

Speakers at the event included UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed; Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley; Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Director-General of the World Trade Organization; and Nelly Cetera, a Theirworld Global Youth Ambassador from Argentina.

Sarah Brown moderates a pale discussion featuring Nelly Cetera, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Gordon Brown and Roger Federer (Theirworld/Ilya Savenok)

Sarah Brown moderates a pale discussion featuring Nelly Cetera, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Gordon Brown and Roger Federer (Theirworld/Ilya Savenok)

Attendees included:
Leaders who prioritize education – among them First Lady of Brazil Janja de la Silva and government ministers from Ukraine, South Sudan, Jordan, Canada, Denmark, Ireland and the European Commission.

Leaders of the three major education funds – Laura Frigenti of the Global Partnership for Education, Yasmine Sherif of Education Cannot Wait and Pedro Alba of IFFEd, together with UNICEF Chief Executive Catherine Russell and UNESCO Assistant Director-General Stefania Giannini.

Organizations that have partnered with or supported Theirworld and our Global Business Coalition for Education – including Sesame Workshop, HP Inc., Microsoft, People’s Postcode Lottery and the Dutch Postcode Lottery.

Federer told how 20 years ago he launched the Roger Federer Foundation, which supports education projects in southern Africa and Switzerland. As a father of four children, he said he “learned a lot through them”.

Federer added: “Early learning is so important because 90 percent of brain development happens before they are five years old. We know that early learning has a problem with under-funding, so I’m giving my voice to that cause. We are trying to have systemic change in some of the countries so that as many children as possible can go to school and have quality early learning.”

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said she grew up in a village in Nigeria and saw what education can do to transform people’s lives.

She added: “I did not go to school from 12 to 15 during the civil war. I know what it’s like to go to school. I know what it’s like not go to school. When it’s personal you begin to value education that much more.”

The issue is especially pressing in the United States, which is facing a sudden and unprecedented crisis in childcare. As the New York Times reported this month: “For the past two years, the U.S. has been effectively running an experiment in federally funding childcare providers,” thanks to $24 billion in pandemic relief that has been invested so far in childcare. Providers have used the money in part to raise teachers’ pay.

Now those funds are expiring, and that could lead to tuition hikes, layoffs and closures. In all, childcare could be disrupted for three million children, close to a third of those in childcare across the country, according to a report released Wednesday by the Century Foundation.

The effects are showing: Poverty among children in the U.S. more than doubled last year, to more than 12 percent from a record low of just over 5 percent the yer before.Those figures are from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Brown and Justin van Fleet, leaders of the Theirworld and the Global Business Coalition for Education, visited Ukraine several days before the dinner. Van Fleet thanked two companies, HP and Microsoft, for “big pledges about what they were going to do for children and young people to prioritize education.”

Theirworld's President Justin van Fleet and Chair Sarah Brown meet Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy during the third Summit of First Ladies and Gentlemen hosted in Kyiv, Ukraine on 6th September 2023.

Theirworld’s President Justin van Fleet and Chair Sarah Brown meet Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy during the third Summit of First Ladies and Gentlemen hosted in Kyiv, Ukraine on 6th September 2023.

He noted that 70,000 laptops and learning devices to given to children and teachers in Ukraine and the diaspora. By the end of this year, he said, these donations will have reached 1.5 million Ukrainian children.

Your company can give back to education – in your backyard or across the world. Go here to see how to join the nonprofit Global Business Coalition for Education today.