I have just returned from a short visit to Norway to join a discussion at the Norwegian Association of Folk High Schools annual conference in Molde (set on a breathtaking fjord landscape with a view of 222 mountain peaks – yes 222!). The famous Norwegian folk schools offer an opportunity for young people to board and share time learning together about a wider world beyond their immediate academic education. Their popularity has grown and the shared vision to see an interconnected world may go some way to explaining Norway’s strong stance and significant financial commitment (a full 1% of GDP) to international development.
The folk school debate on global education raised lots of issues familiar to GBC-Education members. A keen discussion centred on the question of how to motivate and mobilise countries with high out-of-school numbers, and poor learning outcomes, to address their own challenges. Countries like Nigeria and India are well placed to contribute substantially but clearly need both incentives and a powerful catalyst to launch an accelerated drive to better education and learning for all their children. For external donor countries or private sector partners alike, there is a need to bring in assistance and/or investment. This firmly demonstrates that our economic interdependence and shared cultural ties bring us closer together when we share the burden of challenges – and a shared investment in a positive outcome has a benefit to everyone.
Norway has been one of the strongest participants in the international development donor space and has established a strong reputation for its innovative thinking, bold ‘front runner’ commitments, and for its successful emphasis on communications in mobilizing governments to meet their own country’s development challenges.
Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg has made a substantial difference to global health in recent years and his Co-Chairing of the UN Commission on Life-Saving Commodities highlights the importance of the tangible and practical ‘products’ needed to implement on-the-ground results. His early advocacy for maternal health as the once-neglected element of the maternal, newborn and child health co-ordination required to build healthy communities has yielded terrific gains across the sector.
Norway is now engaging in a productive debate as its approaches an Autumn election. Across the political spectrum, there is a call to build on Norway’s well-earned reputation in health development and to expand its investment in global education. The Norwegians all share an open partnership approach and their aid agency NORAD has always welcomed collaborations for shared goals.
Former Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik, now President of the Oslo Center, has also demonstrated a continuing leadership role and serves on the High Level Panel for Education focused on conflict-affected and fragile states. His frequent visits to Burma, South Sudan and Somalia bring him face to face to children and parent cruelly displaced from their own homes often permanently. 28 million children have no schooling at all because of the effects on war and natural disaster. He remains committed to universal education as a key tool in the necessary conditions for peace and inter-faith cooperation.
While in Oslo I also called in to the ReddBarna/Save the Children Norway offices to meet the education team there, and share an update on GBC-Education and its activities. The Save the Children International team has just produced a new report on global education that has had a huge impact across NGOs as it sets out, in a very digestible way, the challenge for getting every child into school and learning. As the Post 2015 Agenda is set, this report provides a valuable guide to the future landscape and is attached here – if you are looking for a way to share the challenge with colleagues who want more background without the jargon this is a good place to start. Read the full report here.
Just to return to the folk school debate for a moment, I have the words of the young Ghanaian speaker, Ato Owuasu-Addo still with me. Ato shared his personal story of a father with modest means who placed such an importance on the education of his two boys (and only children so this is a not a tale about girls missing out – this time!) that the family sacrificed everything else to keep these two at school. He can still remember how his many friends did not stay the course at school leaving to work, to care for other children, to miss out on a future. He shared the pressure of seeing how his former school friends have fared as they lack work and opportunity now as adults, many succumbing to alcoholism and the sad effects of long term unemployment. When we asked him why his father has been so committed he quoted something his father had often said to him: “My son, if you own a small farm someone can take it from you, but if you get an education no one can take that from your head”.