Education for the future

Harvard Graduate School of Education, 20 February 2015

'If we are to achieve the goals we have to bring in the voice of youth in the discussion on how to build education for the future. I am very much looking forward to your comments and advise on this important topic', said State Secretary Hans Brattskar in his speech at Harvard Graduate School.

Ladies and gentlemen

The Norwegian Government is giving strong priority to education in its foreign and development policy. Last year, we launched a white paper on education for development, and work to implement this policy is a under way.

Why this focus on education?

Firstly, education fosters development. In many ways, learning is the key to both individual and social development. Education gives people a stable foundation on which to build their lives, and is crucial for economic growth, business development and job creation in all countries. Education should be considered a global public good. Schools and universities provide the knowledge needed to meet the challenges we share in a world that is becoming ever more closely interlinked.

Secondly, education fosters democracy and is a universal human right. As Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Malala Yousafzai has said: ‘Education is neither eastern nor western. Education is education, and it’s the right of every human being.’ 

Our efforts to promote global education are closely linked to our work to strengthen children’s rights. Twenty-five years after the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child was adopted, the sad truth is that far too many children’s lives fall far short of the standards set out in the Convention. The authorities in each country must be held accountable for realising children’s rights. We believe that our global education efforts will have a positive effect to this end. Particularly the poorest and most marginalised children need a good, safe school to go to in order to learn how to promote their interests, define their needs, and find out what their rights actually are.

One of ten of all children do not have access to primary school

Many countries have made substantial investments in education since the Millennium Development Goals were adopted some 15 years ago. Much has been achieved. However, 10 % of all children still do not have access to primary school, certain groups are still being kept away from school and denied their right to learn, and in many countries there are still too few qualified teachers with the result that learning outcomes are generally poor.

It is then a paradox that global aid for education has declined in recent years. Unfortunately, Norway’s contributions followed the same trend. In 2005, funding for education accounted for 13.3 % of the aid budget. Eight years later, the percentage was just 7.2. It is this Government’s ambition to return to the 2005 level during the current parliamentary period. From 2013 to 2017.

The main objectives for Norway’s global education effort are to help ensure that:

  • all children have the same opportunities to start and complete school;
  • all children and young people learn basic skills and are equipped to tackle adult life; and
  • as many as possible develop skills that enable them to find or create gainful employment, and that improve the prospects of economic growth and sustainable development in the broadest sense.

I would particularly like to emphasise the importance of education for girls. In developing countries, a quarter of all young women aged 15–24 have not complete primary school. This means that they lack the basic skills that are necessary to find work. And of course this figure is an average for developing countries as a whole; in some countries the figure is much higher.

It is important to look at all levels of education here. In many poor countries girls tend to leave school at different stages. In industrialized countries many boys drop out of secondary education.

Girls who receive an education marry later, have children later, have a better chance of getting a job, and have better health – as do their children. A report from the United Nations Population Fund shows, for example, that the risk of child marriage can be six times higher for girls who have not completed lower secondary school.

Whole generations may be lost

While the number of children in the world who do not attend primary school was reduced from108 to 58 million during the course of just a few years in the 2000s, many children in the groups that are hardest to reach are still without education services. Half of those who do not receive an education live in areas of crisis and conflict. Girls and disabled children are particularly badly affected.

Whole generations may be lost if the opportunities for education are wiped out in complex humanitarian crises like those in Syria, Iraq and South Sudan. This is a huge injustice in itself; it also undermines the long-term prospects for stability, reconciliation, democracy and development. The Norwegian Government will step up its efforts to reach children who are displaced, or in other ways affected by natural disasters, wars, conflicts or persecution. We will work together with other donor countries, recipient countries and humanitarian organisations to ensure that greater priority is given to education in crises and conflicts.

The Government wants to be a driving force in efforts to protect education in armed conflicts. Humanitarian law must be respected in this area too. We are seeking to establish the draft international guidelines for protecting schools and universities from military use. More needs to be done to prevent schools from becoming military targets, as has been the case in far too many conflicts in recent years.

It is our ambition that our education effort will allow Norway to play a leading role globally in certain areas, such as education for girls and education in crisis and conflict situations. We will take a strategic approach, and seek to mobilise intensified efforts in areas where the needs are greatest and there are good opportunities for achieving results. We will build alliances with other countries, with multilateral organisations, with relevant experts, with civil society, and not least with the business sector.

We are facing at a funding gap of some USD 26 billion if we are to reach the target of ensuring that all children are able to attend primary school. According to the UN, this will take 70 years with the current level of funding. We cannot wait that long. Resources need to be mobilised from many different sources.

It is still both right and important to provide aid, particularly in the poorest countries, in areas affected by crisis and conflict, and in targeted efforts to reach marginalised children. A strategically focused and results-oriented aid policy can act as a catalyst. Together with the World Bank, Norway aims to develop a system for results-based financing for education. We want to be at the forefront in this area, just as we are with our climate and forest initiative.

The field of education is extremely complex

We know that the field of education is extremely complex. Even with huge increases in aid, the amounts provided will only be relatively modest compared with the needs for investment and the systems that need to be built up. Aid can help, but the countries concerned have to take the main responsibility. They need to give priority to education and to finance this sector through their government budgets. The challenges are particularly great in sub-Saharan Africa where the number of children and young people aged 5–14 is expected to increase by 35% in the period 2015–30.  

This work is also highly relevant given the need for more jobs. Worldwide there are more than 200 million people who are unemployed, a large proportion of whom are young people aged 15–24, many more are underemployed. The International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates that the world will need 600 million new jobs by 2020. And we can assume that the need for new jobs will be particularly acute in sub-Saharan Africa, where the population growth will be greatest.

Therefore, education should be geared towards creating local jobs and building capacity by promoting training opportunities for employees in cooperation with the local authorities and local business interests. This brings me on to the opportunities for cooperation on vocational training.

A number of Asian countries have shown that a transition from low- to high-productivity activities is important for reducing poverty. However, this transition can only take place with a sufficient level of knowledge at many levels. Several countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, have some catching up to do here. This is why we want to focus on making vocational training more relevant and market-oriented in our development policy.

Vast numbers of young people are without work in many of the developing countries we cooperate with. Yet when we talk to companies and employers in these countries, they often say that qualified labour is in short supply. There are many applicants for jobs, but few have the necessary knowledge and skills. There is a huge gap between the education many young people receive and the qualifications companies are looking for.

Besides, many young people have important gaps in their education, and don’t really have a chance in a modern economy. An important reason for this is that there are weakness throughout the education and training system. Vocational training has low status, lacks resources, and there is often little dialogue between the authorities and the business sector. This has resulted in many young people receiving vocational training that is of no use in the labour market.

We believe Norway has valuable expertise

We want to support vocational training that is based on closer links between the market and the education system. We want to promote useful training in skills that are needed. We know that this is a challenging task. It will require effort and resources on the part of the authorities as well as businesses. But we believe Norway has expertise and experience that could be valuable for our cooperation partners. 

Unless vocational training institutions are in continual contact with the labour market and representative from industy, it is difficult for them to keep up with the rapid changes that are taking place in the economy at both local and international level. The curriculum and the teaching methods will constantly lag behind. This in turn undermines the competitiveness of local companies, and impedes their opportunities for growth and greater productivity.

Finally, I would like to round of where I began. If we are to achieve the goals we have to bring in the voice of youth in the discussion on how to build education for the future. I am very much looking forward to your comments and advise on this important topic.

Thank you.