International Day of Education: Asia-Pacific’s challenges ahead of 2030
A boy living on the Thai-Myanmar border, one of millions of migrant children worldwide at risk of being deprived of an education, instead is enrolled in a mobile learning programme and achieves the top score in Kayin State exams. A higher education student does not have a bachelor’s degree or prior formal qualification, yet is able to enroll as a master’s candidate because of extensive experience as an NGO manager in a former conflict zone. A single mother, working multiple jobs to support her young children, is inspired by a non-formal education notice on the street, which leads her to the completion of her law degree and a career in legal advocacy.
As the world marks the first International Day of Education on 24 January 2019, UNESCO Bangkok is acutely aware that education as a human right affects all of us, defining our opportunities to earn livelihoods, the peace and safety of our societies, and individual development in every aspect. As UNESCO staff, we are also profoundly aware of the privileges and responsibilities associated with our own educational opportunities and that it is incumbent upon us to give back.
The Asia-Pacific is a region of extraordinary diversity, representing both monumental potential and challenges. Remarkable progress has been made in recent years, with just few examples illustrating the breadth of the field. Across South-East Asia, countries have made major strides enrolling tens of thousands of migrant children in formal education systems and community learning centres. Countries such as Nepal are leading education reforms for least-developed country relying on a data-driven approach derived from national assessments. More and more countries are signing on to the Tokyo Convention, enabling cross-border mobility in Asia-Pacific higher education. The list goes on.
Yet in other areas, progress has stalled. There are more than 262 million children and youth out of school worldwide, including 18 million in South Asia alone. While 58% of the world’s youth between the ages of 15 and 24 resides in the Asia-Pacific, about 21% are not employed or enrolled in education or any other form of training. Although the statistics vary by country, girls and women are often woefully underrepresented in the STEM disciplines. About 40% of children worldwide are not taught in their mother tongue, undermining their learning potential, with special significance in the Asia-Pacific, home to more than half of the world’s living languages.
The International Day of Education is both a recognition of the work to be done and an urgent call to action. Sustainable Development Goal 4 on Education is a promise and our shared responsibility. UNESCO is reaching out to you and your community to take action and promote quality education for all. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is undoubtedly ambitious, but it is also a commitment to present and future generations. At every stage of life, inclusive and quality education is fundamental to that goal.