Address at the conference 'Equal rights – equal opportunities'

Published under: Solberg's Government

Publisher Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Oslo, 8 May 2014

'We need events like this to discuss and find new and innovative approaches to provide education for children with disabilities. We need to strengthen our knowledge base in order to make smart policy decisions', said State Secretary Hans Brattskar in his address at the Global Campaign for Education conference.

Minister Kachaje,
distinguished guests,
ladies and gentlemen,
friends and education enthusiasts,

Good morning. It is a pleasure to see you here today to discuss this important topic.

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Investing in education for all is an important aspect of the fight against poverty, and is vital for human dignity. Equality in education is a key to economic growth and decent work. Education for girls and women is also effective in combating child marriage and reducing mortality in early childhood. Investment in education, if done right, is one of the best investments we can make. It is particularly important for the most marginalised and vulnerable children and young people. Children with disabilities tend to be overrepresented in this group.

Never before has the world seen such a rapid increase in the number of children attending school. There has also been major progress in reducing the gender gap in primary school attendance. Great progress has been made in the education sector globally, especially on Millennium Development Goals 2 and 3 on universal primary education and gender equality.

Still, we must face up to the reality that 57 million children are not enrolled in primary school. Most of these children are poor, live in conflict-affected countries, in rural areas – and a disproportionate number are disabled. If we continue at the current pace, it will be 70 years before all children are in primary school. We cannot accept this.

Moreover, many girls are still denied the opportunity to get an education. The Education for All Global Monitoring Report shows that although the aim was to achieve gender parity by 2005, in 2011 only 60 % of countries had reached this goal in terms of primary education, and only 38 % at the secondary level.

In addition, it is alarming that 250 million children of primary school age throughout the world cannot read or write, whether they are in school or not. Unfortunately, in recent years the quality of education has declined in a number of countries.

To help boost efforts towards achieving the MDGs and the Education for All goals by 2015, this Government will increase the focus on development aid for education considerably. Already this year, we are scaling up our investments in education in developing countries by 15 %. In the coming years, with parliamentary approval, we are planning to significantly increase our spending on education.

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Human rights lie at the heart of Norway’s international efforts. The basic underlying principle is that human rights are universal. And Norway takes a rights-based approach to development assistance: we promote human rights for all, including – of course – people with disabilities.

As most of you are well aware, Norway ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2013. Norway is thus required to fulfil its obligations under the Convention at the national level. We must also ensure that the principles of this Convention are adhered to at the international level.

It is the responsibility of each individual country to protect its citizens’ rights. Norway’s foreign and development policy seeks to emphasise this.

The promotion of human rights is a key component of the Government’s development and foreign policy. We plan to present a white paper on human rights later this year. This will be the first white paper on this topic to be presented to the Storting for 15 years. We are further intensifying efforts to promote human rights through a more systematic use of our tools and channels of influence in foreign and development policy. In the white paper, we will also show how our efforts can reach a wide range of vulnerable and marginalised groups, including people with disabilities.

Norway already supports efforts to promote the rights of people with disabilities, for example by providing funding for organisations working with disabled persons. Norway also gives priority to promoting the rights of people with disabilities in areas such as education, humanitarian efforts, health and gender equality.

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Providing educational opportunities for disabled people is crucial for realising their rights. In many countries people with disabilities are marginalised and overlooked – and are not included in decision-making processes.

In order to achieve our goals, we must have a stronger focus on marginalised and vulnerable children. Of the 57 million children not in primary school, it is estimated that about one third have disabilities. We cannot allow this to continue. Ethnic minorities, refugees and internally displaced children, girls, working children, and children with disabilities all have a right to education.

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Half of the children not attending school live in countries affected by conflict. Many of these countries are not making the desired progress in the area of education. Quite the contrary – five years ago, Syria was a middle-income country. Now it is on a par with poor developing countries, and experiencing a serious humanitarian crisis. War and conflict can wipe out decades of development in a matter of months. Preventing and resolving wars and conflicts is the most effective thing we can do to promote development.

The proportion of children with disabilities is higher in conflict and disaster areas. This makes it particularly important to focus on these children, who often suffer from post-traumatic stress syndrome.  School provides a secure and normal environment for these children.

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Education is a high priority for this Government. During the past eight years, the proportion of Norwegian assistance allocated to education was reduced. This Government is committed to reversing this trend.

Therefore, we will soon present a white paper on education for development that outlines future Norwegian policy in this area.

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The Millennium Development Goals have shown that the world can rally around ambitious goals – and achieve important progress if we work together. Now we must ensure that we do our utmost to reach these goals in the remaining 600 plus days. Norway’s Prime Minister, Erna Solberg, is co-chairing the UN Secretary-General’s MDG Advocacy Group, which is seeking to advance progress towards achieving the MDGs.

Ensuring education for all can only be accomplished in collaboration with other countries and partners. As I have already mentioned, each country has a responsibility for providing education to its citizens. Development aid should not be a substitute for education spending by the countries concerned, nor should it be used to prop up inefficient systems. We are pleased to note that between 1999 and 2010, at a time when donor contributions declined, low-income countries increased their education spending by 7.2 % per year, on average.

The right to attend school is also a right to learn something.

Key partners in our work to promote education globally are the Global Partnership for Education (GPE), UNESCO, UNICEF and the World Bank. All of them give priority to marginalised and vulnerable groups. UNICEF’s flagship report The State of the World's Children 2013 focused on children with disabilities.

Norway raises issues related to the rights of people with disabilities in various multilateral forums. UNICEF, for example, is a major partner for Norway in promoting education. We will continue to focus on children with disabilities in our cooperation with UNICEF.

The same applies to the World Bank, where Norwegian support was essential in establishing the Global Partnership for Disability and Development. It is encouraging to see that new partners are also following up on this. For instance, Kuwait has signed an agreement with UNESCO on inclusive education, which includes a prize for promoting education for people with intellectual disabilities.

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We are also seeking to ensure that the needs of people with disabilities are properly addressed in the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals. In this framework and 2030-targets, education should be included as a central goal.

A guiding principle in developing these new goals is to ensure that everyone’s voice is heard, regardless of where they live or their social status, and that everyone is given the opportunity to live a decent life and realise their full potential. Unfortunately, this is not the reality for millions of disabled children and young people. Often, they are hidden away and their needs are overlooked because of cultural traditions and poverty. Education is the tool that can change this situation.

Norway will work with its partners to develop a post-2015 agenda with universal, communicable, and measureable sustainable development goals – and targets – to support human rights for all. Norway also supports a post-2015 framework that recognises the resilience of vulnerable groups, including people with disabilities. We need to focus on the most marginalised groups and make sure their concerns are addressed. We must ‘leave no one behind’ in the new development agenda.

Insufficient data is a challenge in ensuring education for all. This is particularly the case for children with disabilities. I am encouraged to see that the UK is now highlighting this issue in the Global Partnership for Education, where Norway is one of the largest donors. We will work with the UK and others in this area.

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Ensuring the right to education for all is a joint responsibility.  Everyone – multilateral organisations, donors, partner countries, civil society, the private sector and teachers’ organisations – must unite around our common goal of education for all. This is urgent and of utmost importance. If we are to substantially improve education, the efforts of all organisations and institutions will be needed.

We need events like this to discuss and find new and innovative approaches to provide education for children with disabilities. We need to strengthen our knowledge base in order to make smart policy decisions.

I look forward to hearing the results of this conference and wish you a most constructive discussion.