Gordon Brown: building the “Learning Generation”

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Gordon Brown, in New York, September 2016
17 October 2016

It is possible to ensure inclusive and quality education for all by 2030 (SDG 4) if we make changes in the way we finance education, Gordon Brown said at a roundtable on the 2016 Global Education Monitoring Report, in New York. On 18 October 2016, he presents at UNESCO a proposal for a groundbreaking financing mechanism for education. We have the means, the knowledge, and the tools to get all children learning, he says. Education for all is not a dream. It is an achievable reality.

Gordon Brown, UN Special Envoy for Global Education and Chair of the International Commission on Financing Global Education Opportunity presents at the UNESCO Executive Board the Commission’s report "The Learning Generation: Investing in education for a changing world.” Wide angle shares his arguments.

Watch Gordon Brown's speech in New York

We present today an agenda for action that will add up to the largest expansion of educational opportunity in modern history, he says in the preface of the Report.

Education is a catalyst for cutting child and maternal deaths, and lifting people out of poverty. Investing early and sufficiently, including everyone, and leveraging synergies with other sectors is the best way to reap the benefits of education. Indeed, in the absence of a major drive on education, we shall not complete the great social reform struggles of the 19th and 20th centuries – the struggles against child labor and child marriage. Inspired by examples of extraordinary educational advancement around the world, and challenged by the urgent need to continually reshape education to meet the needs of a new generation, the Commission on Financing Global Education Opportunity articulates a progressive way forward for global education.

Education for all is an achievable reality

Our vision of a world in which all children and young people are in school and learning is not a dream. It is an achievable reality already witnessed in some countries.

If we transform the performance of education systems, unleash innovation, prioritize inclusion, expand financing, and motivate all countries to accelerate their progress to match the world’s top 25 percent fastest education improvers, we can build the "Learning Generation."

Creating the Learning Generation requires closing the gap between 2016’s $1.2 trillion in annual education spending and the $3 trillion level needed in low- and middle-income countries by 2030. We expect national governments to lead in financing education, leveraging the dividends of growth and meeting realistic targets for education spending. Their commitment to reform and investment will be the most important driver in achieving the "Learning Generation". For those governments willing to substantially invest and reform, we believe the international community has a responsibility to provide concomitant financial assistance and support.

Innovative approaches to financing education

The Commission envisions a “Financing Compact” for the Learning Generation where one country’s pledge to invest in education will trigger the support of the international community. Mobilizing new finance will require innovative approaches to financing and new ways to leverage existing resources. In today’s world of economic insecurity and cynicism about the potential impact international spending, making the smart and evidence-driven case for more funds – louder and more effectively – is vital. But it simply won’t be enough. We need to find new and creative ways to shake up the global financing of education.

The Commission makes bold recommendations to bring together the one set of institutions that can make the biggest difference today – the multilateral development banks (MDB) that have the power to leverage up to $20 billion of extra funding for education annually.

Our proposal for a groundbreaking Multilateral Development Bank Investment Mechanism for Education combines the unique opportunity to leverage substantial additional MDB financing and scale financing for education with the key strengths of earlier proposals for a global fund for education. Raising international funding levels for education to match those already achieved by the health community is not just a moral imperative. In an inter-connected global economy, it is a smart and vital investment.

We must innovate in teaching and learning

We need more resources for education. But we must also utilize existing resources more effectively. We need to raise new resources, cut waste, and ensure that every dollar delivers real learning. A 21st century education should not just confer a credential. It must expand the capabilities of all.

Therefore, innovations in teaching and learning must move to the center of the education agenda. As factories are automated, hospitals digitized, and homes hardwired, what message do we send when classrooms today mirror those from centuries ago?

We need to invest in the education workforce and reimagine what it could become. We need to place the teacher at the center. This means thinking of the skills of the teacher in a new and most positive light — the guide by your side as well as the sage on the stage — and investing in the entire education workforce.

And we need to get all classrooms online with a scalable digital infrastructure. Under our plan, all classrooms – from the remotest village and the most desolate refugee camp to the most crowded city –will be online with a scalable digital infrastructure.

Priority for the most vulnerable

In all this, we need to give greatest priority to those children most at risk of being excluded from learning so unequal opportunities in one generation do not lead to unequal outcomes for the next. And we need to give greater emphasis to the needs of the rural child, the street child, the refugee child, and the child who is disabled or visually impaired. Each of them need more resources and a willingness to harness new technology to meet their needs. We can accomplish this only through a progressive universalism that will combine a commitment to every child with more resources devoted to those children who need most help.

Education is a human right and an economic imperative

We have the means, the knowledge, and the tools to get all children learning. Harnessing the reform momentum already underway in some countries, and working within the confines of expected growth rates and feasible budgetary expansions, the Commission’s recommendations are both radical and credible. But alarmingly, few governments are under sufficient public pressure to resolve education shortcomings where they exist. Rarely do leaders believe they might lose an election over their failures over education, even if their education systems are in a state of collapse. So this report, in part, endeavors to create a public opinion groundswell where parents, pupils, students, teachers, and all interested in the future of education demand that every child’s right to an education be honored.

To support this, we call for new action to ensure that all countries – developing and development partners – are held accountable for meeting their responsibilities to children, and for the United Nations to scrutinize countries’ educational advancement and draw attention to any who are failing to invest and improve. As parents and teachers – as influencers and change makers – we all can do a better job upholding this promise. We know learning unlocks hope, develops talent, and unleashes potential. Now, we must reaffirm education’s status as a human right, a civil right, and an economic imperative.