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News & Analysis

Education Can Promote Global Citizenship and Help the SDGs Succeed

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage

UNITED NATIONS (IDN) - Since its inception, the United Nations has highlighted people-centred development. This is echoed in the newly adopted Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which aim to leave no one behind. But how can this be achieved?

This question was posed at an event on November 10 to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the UN Academic Impact (UNAI) that focused on ‘The Next Generation of Global Citizens’. [P27]  GERMAN | JAPANESE TEXT VERSION PDF

UNAI, a global partnership between academia and the UN, underscores the model of global citizenship in not only creating an inclusive, unified community, but a community that is committed to achieving the well being of all.

“What started as just an idea has now become a well-established network of more than 1,000 institutions in more than 120 countries. Collectively, their field of study covers every issue on the international agenda,” said UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in his address delivered by Chef de Cabinet, Susana Malcorra.

While discussing the theme of the event, President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of ELS Educational Services, Mark Harris stated: “Global citizenship is a way of thinking about oneself as part of a global community…a way of thinking that has been described…as shared intellectual and social responsibility.”

Harris and his fellow participants particularly highlighted the critical role of education in fostering global citizenship. Education helps build cross-cultural understanding, create dialogue, and provide essential humanisticvalues and problem-solving skills to address global challenges, participants noted.

“Educating more people and educating them better is simply the best bet a society can make,” said State University of New York Chancellor Nancy Zimpher in her keynote address. 

This view was shared by Ban at the opening of the Academic Impact Forum on May 21, 2015 during which the Korean Association in Support of UNAI was launched. Ban emphasized the importance of education to encourage youth to become global citizens.

“There is a very important role for educators to teach [youth] what would be significant to become a global citizen, to become a leader in the future,” Ban remarked. “Educated young people are our greatest hope to defeat global threats,” he added.

Just before the Academic Impact Forum, 160 countries attending the World Education Forum in the Republic of Korea adopted the Incheon Declaration titled Education 2030: Towards inclusive and equitable quality education and lifelong learning for all.

The SDGs, endorsed later in September 2015, included the strong commitments on education reflected in the Incheon Declaration.

During UNAI’s Fifth Anniversary event, Principal Assistant to the Director of the Rockefeller Institute Robert Bullock also highlighted the role of youth in the SDGs. “The UN cannot achieve the global goals if only policymakers know about them,” he said.

There have been significant achievements in education around the world, including increases in primary school enrollment and decreases in the gender gap in schools.

However, the international community continues to struggle with the provision of universal education.

Approximately 60 million children of primary school age are not in school, more than half of whom are girls. Since the Millennium Dev Education Can Promote Global Citizenship and Help the SDGs Succeed

elopment Goals (MDGs) focused solely on primary education, access to secondary and tertiary education also remains limited, especially for girls and women, hindering the ability to participate in the global community. 

The inaccessibility of education has only been exacerbated due to conflict and the world’s biggest humanitarian crisis since World War II.

According to the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), 34 million children and adolescents in conflict-affected countries are out of school. In Nigeria alone, 10.5 million children are not attending schools. Most of them are from the Northern war-afflicted region of the country.

Almost half of the world’s forcibly displaced people are also children, making the idea of sitting in a classroom a dream for many.

The lack of education opportunities for refugee and displaced children is not simply due to the complexity of the situation, but also the result of neglect and underfunding. In 2014, less than 1.7 percent of humanitarian funding went to education.

Pakistani education activist Malala Yousafzai exposed the issue during the Oslo Summit on Education for Development in July 2015, stating: “Thirty-nine billion dollars is spent on [the world’s] militaries in only eight days.”

“If the world leaders decide to take one week and a day off from war and military work, we can put every child in school,” she continued.

Ban also urged for more attention to education and noted its greater societal role at the Oslo Summit by recalling his personal experience fleeing from the Korean War and receiving textbooks from UNESCO.

“They taught us more than math and reading. They taught us the meaning of global solidarity,” Ban told world leaders. “When we put every child in school, provide them with quality learning, and foster global citizenship, we will transform our future,” he said.

There has been growing awareness of the importance of education and the creation of global citizens.

The Global Citizen Festival, which not only brought celebrities such as Beyoncé and their thousands of fans together in New York this year, also raises awareness and promotes action among youth on key global issues.

“Don’t stand by. Don’t stand back. Stand up. Stand up for justice. Stand up for dignity. Stand up for a better world,” Ban told the 60,000 attendees in Central Park in September 2015.

These sentiments were echoed during UNAI’s event as Director for Education Initiatives at the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) Chandrika Bahadur told participants: “It is you students that are either going to make the SDGs succeed, or make the goals fail.”

Though education alone cannot solve all of the world’s development challenges, participants in the UNAI’s fifth anniversary event agreed that a humanistic and holistic approach to education can contribute to a sustainable, inclusive, and accountable global community as put forth by the SDGs. [IDN-InDepthNews – 13 November 2015]

Photo: World Bank/Dana Smillie

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