UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova participated in the first G7 Education Ministers’ meeting held in 10 years that closed on 15 May in Kurashiki, Okayama (Japan) with the adoption of a Declaration committing to implement the SDGs and raise the attention of G7 leaders towards education as a priority policy agenda.
“Education is a human right, a force for gender equality, poverty eradication, sustainability and peace,” said Ms Bokova at the opening session. “Whether in Tokyo, New York, Beirut, Kathmandu or Nairobi, educating a child is the smartest investment a society can make in its future.”
She stressed the importance of the comprehensive vision set out in Sustainable Development 4 (SDG4) that focuses on equity, quality and lifelong learning, and encompasses the skills societies require for the 21st century.
“This is about nurturing the values we need to empower young women and men to make the most of cultural diversity and to change mindsets,” she said, highlighting the role of education for sustainable development in taking forward the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, and Japan’s leadership in this field. In a conviction shared by all G7 representatives, she asserted that “education is the most powerful tool to prevent radicalization and violent extremism.”
Japan’s Minister for Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, Mr Hiroshi Hase, set the tone for the meeting by asserting that in any age the role of education is important, but with terrorist attacks in France and elsewhere, solidarity and collaboration to harness its power for mutual understanding and full participation in society is crucial for overcoming divides. “We have to solve the question of marginalization and inequality and create a society where everyone can have hope,” he said.
How to make education a force for inclusion, social advancement and intercultural understanding was a thread running through the discussions. All representatives insisted on the imperative of policies to address disadvantage, cater to the increasing diversity of populations, bridge the digital divide, support teachers and nurture cultural and global competencies, including by encouraging critical thinking and debate on difficult issues.
Several called for increased participation of girls in STEM and for proactive measures to counter violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity, a concern singled out by Mr Hase. They stressed the importance of pre-school for future academic achievement and of attention to basic skills, noting that 1 in 5 citizens in the European Union has serious issues with literacy, and 250 million children leave school without acquiring the basics after four years.
In a comprehensive approach aligned with SDG4, the Kurashiki Declaration places strong focus on inclusion, respect for diversity, human rights and comon values, active citizenship and the promotion of cultural and global competences. It affirms that "we will do our utmost to ensure inclusive and equitable learning opportunities an outcomes for all young people regardless of their background and circumstance It calls for gender equality, increasing the number of girls and women in STEM, better integration of ICTs for quality learning, and enhanced support to the teaching profession. It also recognizes the importance of public expenditure on education in line with the 2015 Incheon Declaration and commits to accelerate progress towards the SDGs.
The Declaration welcomes the Education 2030 Framework for Action adopted alongside UNESCO's 38th General Conference and also strongly supports UNESCO in the implementation of the Global Action Programme on ESD.
“To succeed we need political will, and more and better funding. The G7 can play a decisive role in supporting all countries, especially those least developed,” said Ms Bokova. Several G7 representatives stated that evidence on education’s high economic returns to society should be tapped to convince finance ministers to increase funding.
Minister Hase also highlighted the importance of reinforced cooperation with UNESCO, OECD, the European Union and other relevant organizations and stakeholders.
Italy, the host of the next G7, pledged to hold a dedicated meeting of education ministers in order to encourage joint action and sharing of best practice.
Heading delegations were Canada's Minister for Employment, Workforce Development and Labour MaryAnn Mihychuk; France's Minister of Education Higher Education and Research Najat Vallaud-Belkacem; Germany's DG for Quality Assurance, International and European Affairs and Statistics, Standing Conference of Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs of the Länder; Italy's Minister of Education, Universities and Research Stefania Giannini; UK's Secretary of State for Education, Minister for Women and Equalities Nicky Morgan; US's Senior advisor to Secretary of Education and Director of International Affairs Maureen McLaughlin; EU's Commissioner for Education, Training Policy, Culture, Youth and Sport Tibor Navracsics; OECD's Special Counsellor the Secretary General and G20 Sherpa Gabriela Ramos.