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  • Writer's pictureEn Kelly

United Nations Transforming Education Summit 2022

Updated: Sep 19, 2022

This year, the United Nations hosted its Transforming Education Summit at the UN Headquarters in New York City, convening youth change makers, dignitaries, excellencies, non profit and private stakeholders, academics, and government representatives from around the world in response to advancing global education crises.

What were the takeaways?

Education is the great equalizer. It's the door we walk through to earn higher paying jobs, support our families, expand our careers, and develop our networks. It is a fundamental human right and an overdue necessity.

Unfortunately, it is a resource that is not equitably accessible, even in the United States where the average cost of college is $20K per year, in Afghanistan where girls are prohibited from attending secondary school, or worldwide where girls miss weeks of school or drop out altogether due to period poverty.

"When one group has a 'right' others' don't have, it is not a right. It is a privilege." - Leonardo Garnier

Listening to this weekend’s collective of world leaders, public and private sector stakeholders, youth representatives, and advocates, a number of insights could be gathered.

Where do education needs stand today?

The number of refugees is growing. In 2021, the world’s forcibly displaced population reached the highest on record, with 26M+ refugees and 50M+ internally displaced people. Half of Syria’s population is displaced. Roughly 48% of refugee children remain out of school, and refugees at large go a lifetime without access to higher education. Some barriers driving marginalization are lack of statehood, work visas, and financial support.

Localized education materials remain a critical global need, as UNESCO estimates 40% of school-aged children don't have access to education in a language they understand.

Education costs are skyrocketing across institutions. Domestically in the United States between 1980 - 2020, the average price of tuition, fees, and housing for undergraduate degrees increased by 169%. Placement competition at higher education facilities is increasing worldwide. Student financing remains tied to those with access to institutional credit.

There is a critical necessity for the application of innovative technologies in evidence based, results driven agendas such as

  • EdTech software solutions that meet children where they are – in low / no bandwidth environments, across all manner of devices – example the LearningPassport from Microsoft + UNICEF.

  • Supply of hardware such as laptops & tablets to displaced students – acutely needed in high conflict regions. Today, Polish and Ukrainian government representatives shared an *acute need for 165K laptops and 202K tablets* to enable continued education for displaced children across Ukraine and Poland alone.

  • Energy innovations (solar, wind) to power tablet / projector kits – such as those used by OneBillion in Malawi.

  • Digitalization of curricula & transcripts – today we heard from a medical student who fled Ukraine. She was unable to recover her transcripts and therefore unable to continue studies today in her host country of Romania.

  • Digital identification solutions – to enable student verification and access to academic resources worldwide.

  • Artificial intelligence applications translating curricula into local languages – such as Microsoft Translator.

… to name a few.

Stories in the room...

Over the course of two days, we heard from...

António Guterres, UN Secretary General as he advocated for education as a fundamental human right in need of youth led transformation. He highlighted the diminishing need for global competition and the growing need for cross functional, international collaboration.

Amina J. Mohammed, UN Deputy Secretary-General who called on constituents to think of education as an investment versus a consumable, and the necessity for an educational dividend.. a return in terms of economic productivity and prosperity.

Csaba Kőrösi, President of the 77th General Assembly, challenging youth stakeholders to push their proposals forward and engage local leadership.

Tymofiy Mylovanov, President of the Kyiv School of Economics, Andrii Vitrenko, First Deputy-Minister of Education and Science of Ukraine, and Justyna Orlowska, Polish Minister of Educations’s High Representative for Digital Transformation as they shared urgent donation needs for hardware (165K laptops and 202K tablets), school busses (1947), and bomb shelter funding requests to enable continued education for displaced children across Ukraine and Poland today.

UN Afghan Youth Rep 2019, Aisha Khurram discuss the grassroots work she is driving to fund girls education in Afghanistan through internet based technologies, and the importance of the world not viewing Afghan women's education as a lost cause.

Former UK Prime Minister & UN Special Envoy for Global Education Gordon Brown, on the United Nations global, billion-dollar fund for education in emergencies and protracted crises, Education Cannot Wait (ECW).

Innovation leaders such as Justin Spelhaug, Vice President & Global Head of Tech for Social Impact at Microsoft Philanthropies, who partnered with UNICEF and worldwide leaders for seven years to create the Learning Passport, an online, mobile, and offline platform that enables continuous access to education.

Additional comments worth noting...

“Activism is not part time.. we never give up..there's always a gap between what is and what needs to be.”– Amina J. Mohammed, UN Deputy Secretary-General
“Be bold. Be loud. Be provocative… Think in terms of interconnected challenges.” – Csaba Kőrösi, President of the 77th General Assembly
“I just came from Ukraine where 2000 schools were destroyed.. This is all of our problems..”– Dominic Cardy, Minister of Education and Early Childhood Development, Canada
“People say, ‘if you build (technology solutions), they will come…’ Well if you come, we will build it…” – Justin Spelhaug, Vice President & Global Head of Tech for Social Impact, Microsoft
You cannot define what good learning is without asking ‘How do you learn? What makes you want to learn?' We need more project based learning.

The Challenge

...facing the international community is massive. Today we must learn not only to process and store information; we must learn how to learn. Change is the 21st century constant. This is as true of our personal lives as it is for the technological waves transforming the world.

There is a need for of engagement from teacher’s unions, educational institutions, the public and private sectors in governmental academic conversation.

Billions in funding will not solve the skyrocketing cost of education.

Funded education does not mean a quality education.

College degrees and college debt is a net negative if jobs for those degrees do not exist in the market.

It can be counterproductive to focus on singular symptoms, if we fail to acknowledge, design for, and address the interconnected challenges.

Across every vertical, there is a chronic need for donation funding, materials, facilities, educators, devices, and more. Leaders estimate 1% of the world’s GDP is needed to close today’s education gap.

There is an equally chronic need for donation transparency. Contributors expect accountability and inevitable results when donations are made. They should be afforded such by the organizations intaking these resources.

There is incredible work happening everywhere...

For all the demands, we are making progress. Extraordinary work is happening through efforts like OneBillion, a nonprofit devoted to educating children through the use of effective technology. OneBillion provides hardware (onetab, a low cost tablet) and software (onecourse) to deliver literacy and numeracy instruction to children in their native language. OneBillion's solutions are being used in West and Central Africa, Uganda, Malawi, Tanzania, and the United States.

Commendable investment is being made by corporate citizens such as Microsoft Philanthropies, created in 2015 to realize the promise of technology. It has to date donated $1 billion+ in cloud services to over 90,000 nonprofits. The Learning Platform is a part of this agenda, also being leveraged in Malawi. Efforts from have donated millions to fund 4-H programs connecting young people in rural and underserved communities to technology, resources and training. Apple's ConnectED initiative has pledged $100M for teaching and learning solutions to serve 114 marginalized schools across the United States.

We have come far, and we have far to go. With privilege comes responsibility.

Processing the enormity of the challenges posed at the Transforming Education Summit begets the question, what can individuals also do to to address growing societal needs.

What can you do?

  1. Donate to high impact non profits with results driven, data based agendas.

  2. Advocate for employer donation matching programs funding accessible, equitable education through impactful nonprofits.

  3. Proactively advocate for corporate social responsibility in your company.

  4. Involve youth in policy making & academic investment decisions, whether you are a parent, educator, representative, or citizen.. Youth are not passive bystanders..they are active stakeholders and should be treated as such.

  5. Teach what you know. We all have something to give back. Volunteer to mentor someone. Donate your time. Share your expertise with those around you.

  6. Vote for education reform. Elect representatives vested in not just forgiving student debt, but tackling the root cause of skyrocketing education costs and unequal opportunity.

  7. Go beyond traditional recruitment institutions to hire inclusively if you are a hiring manager. There are large numbers of highly educated displaced professionals looking for work opportunities (example,

  8. Consider sponsoring a refugee if you have available housing and resources. Millions of refugees (Ukrainian, Afghani, etc) need homes.

  9. Involve your child in The Civics Bee, an annual competition encouraging children to engage in civics and contribute to their communities if you are an American parent concerned about growing polarization.

“You are as young as your faith, as old as your doubt; as young as your self confidence, as old as your fear; as young as your hope, as old as your despair.” Samuel Ullman

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