London (UK), November 2017 - An expert group of former education ministers and heads of government, including former U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and former UK Secretary of State for Education Nicky Morgan, has written an open letter to G20 heads of government calling for international education aid to be enshrined in law to combat a global education crisis.
It follows a meeting of fifteen former education ministers and world leaders of the Atlantis Group in London (21-22 October) for a “root and branch” review of global education systems, ranging from political leadership to school leadership, teacher leadership, and innovation and education-technology leadership.
As former education ministers and heads of government, these leaders are in a unique position to provide frank and bold ideas at a moment when global education has never been more under threat.
In their open letter to the G20 leaders, the Atlantis Group members say,
It is not often reported in the newspapers, but there is a crisis in global education. Shamefully, the number of children out of school in the developing world is rising again: on the latest UNESCO data, the number stands at 263 million globally: equivalent to a quarter of the combined population of Europe and the United States. In addition, over half of the 22.5 million refugees around the world are children under the age of 18, and millions more are stateless and do not have the ability to access education services.
Investing in a safe, high quality education for every child is not just a moral imperative; it is the most hard-headed decision we can make. For developing countries, poor education stifles innovation and discourages the inward investment they need. And, for the international community, a lack of education can weaken already fragile states. If frustrated young people lack opportunities they are more prone to irregular migration, conflict and extremism. The costs of this failure will only be compounded by the march of automation, which will cut deepest in those developing world economies with high numbers of low skill jobs.
It is true that not all investments in education in the past, as the OECDs Development Assistance Committee has set out, have been as effective as they might. But the answer to that is more effective targeting of spending, not just reducing the amount. And regrettably, although the urgency of the situation is clear, we feel the international community has not paid sufficient heed to the issues in global education in recent years. Investment in education through aid and other assistance is lower now than it was in 2009 – and is not concentrated on those countries most in need. Sub-Saharan Africa, home to half the world’s out-of-school children, receives less than half the aid it did in 2002.
And whilst we recognise – and share, as politicians ourselves – that world leaders wish to address this, the right to an education for every child cannot be left only to those in power who may be buffeted by political headwinds and the short-term needs of the electoral cycle. To give backing to those who are determined to address this issue, the Atlantis Group calls on the G20, as leaders of the major industrialised and emerging economies, to take a lead by enshrining in law a commitment to education investment and assistance as a percentage of their GDP. We also call on the G20 to lead negotiations with governments whose domestic spending on education falls below the level required to provide a satisfactory education to all their children.
Over the last two decades, the world has rightly mobilised to transform global public health. Enormous efforts are bringing under control such historically devastating illnesses as tuberculosis, malaria and HIV. However, perhaps because the corrosive impact of a lack of education – on a child, their family, their society - is harder to capture, too many of the world’s leaders have allowed the global education crisis to go unnoticed.
The signatories of the letter are
Elias Bou Saab
Luis E. Garcia de Brigard (Former Education Minister Colombia)
Brother Armin Luistro (Former Education Minister Philippines)
Maia Sandu (Former Education Minister Moldova)
Srdjan Verbić (Former Education Minister Serbia)
"This is why this 'root and branch' analysis and advice from The Atlantis Group is so important. Their members have long and direct experience of what works and what doesn’t. They have the battle scars from trying to reform their education systems. Most importantly, now that they are free from the shackles of office, they can be candid about what needs to be done without any political agenda. Their recommendations on the various leadership themes will be vital for years to come."
Sunny Varkey, Founder of the Varkey Foundation, which runs the Global Teacher Prize and provides the secretariat for The Atlantis Group, said, "Current governments are besieged by education challenges that only seem to be getting worse. We need radical ideas now that can help turn round deep-set problems that have gone unsolved by successive generations of politicians – no matter how many speeches made, targets formulated, and reports issued.
Andreas Schleicher, Director for the Directorate of Education and Skills at the OECD and expert contributor to the Atlantis Group, said, "Seventeen years ago, the UN’s Millennium Development Goal of achieving universal primary education was missed, and unless we dramatically change course we will be 50 years late meeting the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) commitment of a good education for every child.
"Many of those children who are in school are learning very little. Around 175 million young people in poor countries – equivalent to one quarter of the youth population – cannot read a sentence. More funding is desperately required – but just as important is a ‘system rethink’ to ensure that every leader – from government ministers to classroom teachers – can learn from the successes and failures of their predecessors. We can’t afford to waste more time as failure will be catastrophic for an entire generation on whom the hopes of the world depend."
Lord Adonis, Former UK Education Minister and supporter of the Atlantis Group, said, "The costs for children, their families, and their societies of educational failure will only be compounded by the march of automation. A billion young people are due to join the global workforce over the next decade, and only forty percent are predicted to get jobs that exist now, according to the World Bank. Education systems must be able to keep up to ensure that we do not betray the life chances of an entire generation who otherwise will face years of unemployment and poverty, breeding frustrations that could destabilise entire societies."
Combining 65 years of expertise as policy makers and education experts from all over the world, the Atlantis Group make recommendations on how education systems – in both the developed and developing world – need to adapt in the face of these unprecedented challenges. This advice is then passed on and discussed with governments and education authorities around the world to strengthen education policy and delivery. Using their personal experience as ministers of education, they identify examples of successful approaches, key areas where reforms are needed and make recommendations on what should be done in the future about each issue in both domestic and international terms.
The Atlantis Group was launched at the Global Education & Skills Forum (GESF) 2017 – established by global education charity The Varkey Foundation – when it initially convened 18-19 March 2017 in Dubai. Among the members of the globally diverse group who met in the UK this weekend to analyse the leadership needed for workable education solutions were former Greek President George Papandreou; former Lebanese Education Minister Elias Bou Saab; former New Zealand Education Minister Steve Maharey; former Italian Education Minister Stefania Giannini, former Rwandan Education Minister Silas Lwakabamba; and former Columbian Education Minister Luis E. Garcia de Brigard.
The group was joined by expert contributors, advisers and supporters, including Andreas Schleicher, Director of Education and Skills at the OECD, Fernando Reimers, Director of the International Education Policy Program at Harvard University, and former UK Education Minister Lord Adonis.
The founding principle of the group is "to bring together the skills and experiences of former ministers of education and interested former heads of government across the world to help address ongoing challenges in global education."