When the UN Secretary General gets the chance to crack a smile, and even the odd joke, during a speech, you know it’s a rare day, and he takes full advantage of the moment.
Free from his usual schedule of high-level political meetings to avert wars, secure nuclear arms agreements, and respond to controversial referendums, Ban Ki-moon’s mood was light and even comical when he stepped to the podium to address global education goals in Washington, DC April 10. Although he was surrounded by the who’s who in the world of education, it was the packed audience of youth leaders that let Ki-moon relax his shoulders and embrace a room full of optimism.
“We’ll give you the torch soon, but first let me finish my job,” he said with a sly smirk, reassuring the new generation that their time at the top would come soon enough.
Speaking at the launch of UN Envoy for Global Education Gordon Brown and A World at School’s Sarah Brown’s Emergency Coalition event to mark the final 500 days of the Millennium Development Goals, the UN chief also delivered a serious message focused on the conflict in the Central African Republic (CAR), but could have been applied anywhere to illustrate why education is worth fighting for.
“The fight for education is deeply personal,” he said, referring to his challenging childhood during the Korean War. “No child should be denied education because their country is at war.”
The world’s top diplomat shared stories from his childhood to highlight the importance of access to quality education during times of violent unrest, noting that it was UNESCO that provided him with the textbooks he needed to get through school.
Ki-moon’s presence, along with the Browns and Education International’s General Secretary Fred van Leeuwen, among other major international faces and voices in education, rallied the dozens of youth leaders in Washington for the countdown event hosted by A World at School.
With inspirational talks to start the day, the new generation broke into working groups where the issues of today and tomorrow were intensely debated and discussed. The exchange of diverse ideas gave all in attendance the chance to learn how other organisations, big and small, are approaching both the 2015 deadline, and beyond.
Along with Van Leeuwen, Education International’s (EI) team of Antonia Wulff, Steve Snider, and Andrew King took part in the workshops to learn from others, share EI’s role, and to aim the spotlight on the “Unite for Quality Education” campaign.
In his countdown address, Van Leeuwen had the chance to share the purpose of EI’s one-year global campaign with an engaged, young, and campaign-orientated audience, but one perhaps not as familiar with the trade union movement. However, his message “to exert maximum political pressure on governments, funding agencies and international institutions, in order to generate the funding that is required to train and recruit enough teachers and to equip and enable our schools to welcome the millions of children that today are still left behind,” struck the same campaign cords of the organisations at the event.
As part of the Brown’s Emergency Coalition, van Leeuwen pledged the support of EI in the countdown toward 2015, and will target three countries – Nigeria, Haiti and Lebanon – where extra efforts need to be made in order to achieve Education for All (EFA) by the end of next year. Education International will help its member unions in Nigeria and Haiti to mobilize their members, organize rallies and increase pressure on their governments to get all children into school.