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A universal challenge

Updated January 08, 2015
The writer is Secretary General’s Special Adviser on Post-2015 Development Planning at the UN.
The writer is Secretary General’s Special Adviser on Post-2015 Development Planning at the UN.

EDUCATION has been recognised as a fundamental human right for more than half a century now. Yet, millions of children still can’t go to school, and some risk their life when they do.

Beyond the outrage and just condemnation, stories such as those of Malala Yousafzai are clear manifestations of a complex crisis. Education can help address it, but only if we consider the many interrelations that exist between education and development.

If Pakistan is to provide all children between five and 16 years free and compulsory education, as embedded in its Cons­titution, it must recognise the full potential of education as a catalyst for development — and act as such.

Education is not only about learning; it is a multi-dimensional process that ultimately aff­ects our people, our economy, and our planet. Indeed, education is the foundation for peaceful societies.

To produce tolerant citizens capable of competing in the labour market, the public education system must provide quality teachers, schools and institutions. Education is not only an end in itself; it is a means to achieving a sustainable development agenda.

After 18 months of intense inter-governmental negotiations among UN member states, the outcome document of the Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals has recognised the many different ways in which education can advance the future sustainable development goals. It acknowledges quality education not only as a top priority, but also as a cross-cutting issue by reflecting it under three other critical stand-alone goals related to health, economic growth and climate change.


Education is the foundation for peaceful societies.


In a major departure from MDGs, the proposal of the Open Working Group also insists on the imperative to leave no one behind — no matter their gender, age, disability, ethnicity, wealth or geographic location.

This has particular importance in countries like Pakistan, whose education system suffers from tremendous disparities between regions, gender, public and private schools, children with and without disabilities.

In that regard, the special focus on disability of this year’s ASER (Annual Status of Edu­cation Report) Pakistan survey is also welcome.

Persons with disability, who account for one billion people throughout the world, are often considered as the world’s largest minority that suffers from far too many violations of their rights. Denying them access to basic public services such as education is not only a violation of fundamental human rights, it is a profound mistake that affects all.

Indeed, persons with disabilities are both beneficiaries and agents of development. No country can reach its full potential if whole segments of its society are excluded from participating in, contributing to, and benefiting from development.

To address the universal challenge of leaving no one behind, data disaggregation is absolutely key. By making visible the invisibles, it helps reaching the most vulnerable, track progress and make sure that decisions are evidence-based.

As further demonstrated in the report of the Secretary General’s Independent Expert Advisory Group on a Data Revolution for Sustainable Development (A world that counts: Mobilising the data revolution for Sustainable Development), traditional and non-traditional data as those collected in this survey contribute to accountability and ensure citizen’s involvement in policymaking.

All of these elements — education, sustainable development, data disaggregation, accountability, inclusiveness — will be essential to the success of our future development agenda. The soon to be published synthesis report of the UN secretary-general (The road to dignity by 2030: Ending poverty, transforming all lives and protecting the planet) carries all of them while at the same time conveying the ambition expressed by member states during the Open Working Group.

As the world stands at a historical juncture, it calls for a transformational, universal approach that integrates the three dimensions of sustainability (economic, social and environmental) in all activities, addresses inequalities, respects and advances human rights, and that is based on credible data and robust means of implementation. It also reiterates that all children and adolescents have a right to quality education and must have a safe environment in which to learn.

2015 will be a turning point as the directions we will take then will determine whether or not we will succeed in our promises to make the world a better world — for our children and youth.

We have a shared responsibility to engage on this challenging path and hold each other accountable for our successes and failures. It will therefore be critical that civil society in particular, through initiatives such as this one, continues to push for an ambitious agenda that lives no one behind.

A Nigerian proverb says “it takes a village to raise a child”. So let’s all work together to ensure a life of dignity for all our children.

The writer is Secretary General’s Special Adviser on Post-2015 Development Planning at the UN.

Published in Dawn January 8th , 2014

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