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UN’s Education Summit: An Opportunity to Create a Bottom-Up Global Governance

Credit: United Nations

KATHMANDU, Nepal, Aug 10 2022 (IPS) - The upcoming summit on Education, part of the UN Secretary General’s ambitious agenda, can truly bring accountability and participation to the inevitably new ways education will be imparted in the future.

With scorching temperatures, uncontrolled flames and floods devastating our planet, millions of people are realizing that we are all going to pay a high price for climate inaction.

The current climate crisis is furthering compounding the other emergency that is still affecting all of us, a public health crisis fully exposed by the Covid pandemic.

Amid this gloomy scenario, the international community cannot forego its duties not only to strengthen the global education system but also its moral obligation to re-think it and re-imagine it.

While it is easy to criticize the UN as a system incapable of effectively tackling these multidimensional challenges, we cannot but praise Secretary General Antonio Guterres for his far sighted vision encapsulated in his global blue print, Our Common Agenda.

It’s a bold statement that contains multiple proposals including the ambitious goal of reinventing the global education.

In this context, and on September, the UN will host the most important forum to discuss how education can emerge as the thread that can equip the citizens of the world with the right tools to thrive in a truly sustainable and equitable planet.

The Transforming Education Summit, scheduled to take place at the UN September 19, should be seen as a stand-alone effort while it is intended to be the beginning of an ambitious global brainstorming. It is also the culmination of several other major events in the past few years.

In 2015 the Incheon Declaration and Framework for Action provided the vision for implementing the SDG 4, the global sustainable goal focused on inclusive and quality education.

We know how brutal the effects of the pandemic were on learners worldwide especially in developing and emerging nations.

In face of these challenges, with the global headlines focused on the public health emergency and the futile attempts at negotiating a breakthrough climate change agreement at the COP 26, few noticed that the international community tried to take action.

In November 2021, it gathered in Paris for a Global Education Meeting’s High Level Segment hosted by UNESCO and the Government of France. The outcome was the Paris Declaration that building on the work of a previous summit, the Extraordinary session of the Global Education Meeting (2020 GEM), held in October 2020, provided a clear call for more financing and a stronger global multilateral cooperation system.

The fact that our attention was totally focused to other existential crises should not deter us from reflecting on how such events were neglected by world media and, as a consequence, how little discussion about the future of education happened.

I am not just talking about discussions among professionals on the ground but also a debate that involves teachers and students alike. The upcoming Transforming the Education Summit will try to revert this lack of attention and overall weak engagement among the people.

The Secretariat of the event, hosted by UNESCO, one of the agencies within the UN system that lacks financial support but still proves to be real value for money, is trying its best to enable a global conversation on how the future of education should be.

It is in this precise context that UNESCO has set up an interactive knowledge and debate hub, the so-called Hub that, hopefully, will become a permanent global platform for discussing education globally.

Imagine a sort of civic agora where experts, students, parents, policy makers alike can share their best practices and bring forwards their opinions on how to follow up on the decisions that will be taken in September.

It is also extremely positive that a Pre-Summit event at the end of June in Paris, laid out some grounds for the September’s gathering especially because youths also had a chance to speak and share their views.

It is not the first-time youths are involved, but the full involvement of the Office of the Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth in the preparation of the Transforming the Education Summit could be a turning point, shifting from mere and tokenistic engagements to real shared power with the youth.

That’s why the existence of a specific process within the preparation of the summit, focused on youth, is extremely important and welcome not just because it will generate a special declaration but because it could potentially become a space where youths can have their voices and opinions heard permanently.

Let’s not forget that the ongoing preparations were instrumental to revive the outcomes of the “Reimagining our Futures Together: A New Social Contract for Education” developed over two years by the International Commission on the Futures of Education, a body chaired by President Sahle-Work Zewde of Ethiopia, and published in 2021.

It is truly transformative because the title itself is aligned to the aspirational vision of Secretary General Guterres to establish a new social contract.

A new social contract in the field of education really needs to rethink the domains of learning and its established but now outdated goals. Learning should become, according to this report, a holistic tool to create personal agency and sustainable and just development.

For example, education for sustainable development and lifelong education together with global citizenships should stopped being considered as “nice” but burdensome adds on.

Today’s challenges, the report explains, must be focused on “reinventing education” and the knowledge it provides must be “anchored in social, economic, and environmental justice.”

Wisely, Guterres intends the summit in September to be the starting point for a much longer conversation that will build on the insights and knowledge emerged in these last few years.

Governance of the global education system will also be central and with this, we will have an opportunity to find creative ways, ways that just few years ago were imaginable, to include people, especially the youths.

No matter the efforts now put in place to create awareness and participation for the summit, no matter how inclusive the Youth Process will be, the fact that there is still a very long way before creating spaces where persons on the ground can truly participate.

Too few are aware of the existence of a Global Education Cooperation Mechanism led by the SDG4-Education 2030 High-Level Steering Committee that also includes representatives of youth and teachers and NGOs.

While there is no doubt that such inclusive format is itself innovative, the challenges ahead require a much more accessible and holistic set-up.

The existence of a global accountability mechanism was one of the key points discussed and emerged in the Youths Consultations during the Pre-Summit in Paris.

The High-Level Steering Committee needs not only more visibility because of its “political” aim of galvanizing global attention and energizing and influencing global leaders so that education can become a global priority at the same levels of climate action and public health.

It should also have a stronger representation of youths, teachers and NGOs and it can evolve into a real permanent forum for discussions and even decision making.

As difficult as it to imagine a new global governance for education, what we need is a space, virtual and as well formally established as an institution, where not only experts and governments’ representatives gather and decide.

A space for accountability but also for enhanced participation.

There is still a long way before reaching a consensus on how education will look like in the years to come but there is no doubt that bold decisions must be taken also to reimagine its governance.

The Transforming the Education Summit can herald the beginning of a new era.

Media will have a special role to play: not only on reporting on the summit and its following developments but also for giving voices to the youths and for bringing forward the most progressive ideas that should define how education will shape this new era.

Simone Galimberti is the Co-Founder of ENGAGE, a not-for-profit NGO in Nepal. He writes on volunteerism, social inclusion, youth development and regional integration as an engine to improve people’s lives.

IPS UN Bureau


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