Ministers of Education of 96 countries declare vital importance of quality education to equitable and sustainable economic development

23 October 2007

On 19 and 20 October, the Director-General of UNESCO, Mr. Koichiro Matsuura, held a Ministerial Round Table on “Education and Economic Development”. The meeting brought together 96 Ministers of Education, and more than 300 participants and observers overall.

The Secretary-General of OECD, Mr Angel Gurría, delivered a keynote address. A representative of the 5th UNESCO Youth Forum, which met prior to the 34th session of the General Conference, also delivered a statement.

In his opening speech, the Director-General placed the debate on education and economic development within the context of efforts to achieve international development objectives, including the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and Education for All (EFA). At the halfway point towards the 2015 target date for achieving these goals, Mr.Matsuura called on Ministers to provide leadership in “identifying proven public policies for unlocking education’s potential to act as a force for economic growth and equality.” He defined poverty eradication and EFA as closely related agendas that had to be addressed together. He also urged the importance of adopting a holistic approach to education that encompasses all six EFA goals.

The Director-General then moved on to introduce the four main sessions of the Round Table. The first session focused on the normative or rights-based foundation of both education and development. “This emphasis is important because it reminds that the international community has pledged to promote and support equitable economic development that is oriented towards the needs of the poor, the marginalized and the disadvantaged,” Mr.Matsuura undermined.

The second session focused on the direct and indirect contributions of education to economic growth. Here, Mr.Matsuura called on Ministers to focus on the criteria and strategies shaping policy choices and priorities in educational expenditure. This issue, he said is growing in importance, with success in expanding primary education creating new demands for secondary and even higher education, as well as with the renewed interest in technical and vocational education and training in many parts of the world. Yet Mr.Matsuura also underscored the need “not to forget those girls and boys who still do not yet have access to quality primary education, or who drop out before they complete their schooling, [nor] the needs of youth and adult literacy and of early childhood care and education. Governments and aid agencies must not ignore these concerns, which are important in their own right, but also for the achievement of other educational goals.”

The Director-General further reminded Ministers that “the provision of education is itself predicated upon the availability of economic resources. Thus, while education is a means of promoting economic development, the reverse is also true. An increasing economic base enhances the possibility of increased tax revenues and thus enables governments to raise their investments in education, providing their citizens with a higher quality of education. In this way, a virtuous circle of progress may be established.

“It is impossible to consider the relationship between education and economic development without addressing the question of sustainability”, Mr.Matsuura said, turning to the theme of the third session, education and sustainable development. This question, he went on, “presents a challenge of learning how to live differently. Education is key to this. But the issue is not just one of putting education for sustainable development into the curriculum and teaching materials, important though this is. It is also about cultivating capacities of critical understanding, careful analysis, respect for others and forward-thinking, capacities, which enable people to reflect upon and change their behaviour, values and life-styles.”

The final session addressed partnerships. “Education and economic development are of global concern and can only be pursued as a collective global enterprise, with mutually supportive commitments and through effective collaboration”, Mr.Matsuura stressed. He went on to highlight the particular importance of South-South, South-North and triangular cooperation for combining resources and sharing good practices and innovations.

In conclusion, the Director-General enjoined ministers to “develop a consensus around a firm commitment to support, develop and implement inclusive pro-poor public policies in education,” and stated, “the outcomes of our deliberations will help to set the stage for renewed efforts over the coming – decisive – years.”

Following the four sessions of thematic debate, the Director-General brought Ministers together to discuss the Communiqué. Adopted unanimously, the final text provides a powerful statement on the importance of quality education to sustainable and equitable economic development.

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