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EI puts free education high on UN Summit agenda on Financing for Development

published 15 July 2015 updated 20 July 2015

An Addis side event, which included UNESCO and the governments of Ethiopia, Norway and the Republic of Korea, focused on investing in education gave Education International the perfect opportunity to argue for free public education.

When the governments of Ethiopia, Norway and the Republic of Korea joined UNESCO to discuss The Investment Case for Education at the Financing for Development Conference in Addis Ababa on 14 July, one important issue was absent from the conversation: free education.

The side event was organised around the conclusions of both the World Education Forum in Incheon, Republic of Korea, in May, as well as this month’s Summit on Education for Development in Oslo, Norway.

“Education is the most transformative source of any society,” said UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova, who praised the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon for making education a priority. “We need to assert education as the core of the new sustainable development, whether it is gender equality or skills.”

Although it was acknowledged that education was barely a blip on the new development agenda radar two years ago, Education International (EI) raised concerns that free public education is not being given the focus it deserves. When asked about prioritising free education, Bokova reiterated that “education is a public good” and that “Incheon declaration extends free education to secondary,” but did not get into further details.

Also on the panel was the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) Chair Julia Gillard, who stressed that more needs to be done to adequately finance education, including greater partnerships in advocacy because “education needs its moment now.”

Each of the ministers representing the three countries made it clear how important education is to development, all echoing Gillard in expressing that the moment to invest in education is now.

“We have to step up our investment,” said Norwegian Minister of Foreign Affairs Borge Brende, adding that “training is crucial; of course you end up with kids not learning if the teachers aren’t trained! Access to quality education is a basic human right.”

"investing in girls crucial," said Ethiopian Foreign Minister Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. "Focus on Technical Vocational Education and Training and 21st century skills."

Meanwhile, the Rep. of Korea Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se said that his country is experiencing "education fever," and that "teachers are eager to teach," as it's one of the most sought-after jobs in the country.

Brende also said that the conference creates a realistic roadmap on how to finance Sustainable Development Goals and that he hopes to see a consensus.