TOPICS > Education

UN initiative tackles inequality of educational opportunity around the world

April 10, 2014 at 6:28 PM EST
There are 200 million children worldwide who do not attend school. A new U.N. initiative led by former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown aims to get 57 million more children into school by the end of 2015. Judy Woodruff interviews Brown, now a U.N. special envoy for Global Education, about overcoming ingrained social practices around the globe and mobilizing the children themselves.
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TRANSCRIPT

JUDY WOODRUFF: Next, a pair of education stories, one about too few children around the world going to school, the other on a promising pilot high school in the U.S.

Let’s start with a major global problem, especially pronounced in developing countries. There are more than 200 million children who should be attending school, but simply do not because of a variety of barriers. That problem is at the center of a new U.N. initiative to get 57 million more children in school by the end of 2015.

Former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown is spearheading that effort as a special U.N. envoy for global education.

I met up with him earlier in Washington today, before he spoke at the World Bank to make his case.

What is at stake in this initiative you’re now deeply involved in?

GORDON BROWN, U.N. Special Envoy for Global Education: I think it’s the future of a whole generation of young people.

If we cannot provide today’s young people in Asia and Africa with the opportunity of education and then the chance of employment or starting a business or whatever, we are going to have the most discontented youth. We’re going to have a generational problem, because they know the opportunities that people have in other countries. They can learn about it through the Internet and through mobile phones.

And they’re aware that the inequality of opportunity that they face is unfair. And I think we have seen the makings of a civil rights struggle amongst young people to get education, to stop child marriage, to stop child labor, child trafficking and sex — and discrimination against girls.

And if we don’t do something about it, there’s a whole sort of welter of discontent that is building up in the populations of Asia and Africa.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The numbers are almost impossible to comprehend. I think you have 250 million children not getting a primary education, and then you’re trying — you put down a number 57 million you would like to get into school.

How do you how — do you reduce that to something you can actually make a difference?

GORDON BROWN: Well, 57 million children are the numbers of children who are not going to go to school today or any other day. Some of them are in child labor. Some of them are girl brides. Some of them have simply not got schools they can go to. Some of them are girls who the Taliban is preventing from going to school.

But it is relatively inexpensive to pay for the education of a young child. For $6 billion, if we could find the extra funds next year, we could get almost all of these children to school. And there is no technical or scientific breakthrough that’s needed to do this. We know what it is we have got to do.

We have got to get teachers, and have the buildings, and have the educational equipment. And, of course, we want to increase the quality of education very quickly, but, at the moment, we have set a goal that, by the end of December 2015, every child should be at school. That’s the Millennium Development Goal. Everybody promised it.

And we could deliver it if we could provide these extra resources. So it is both manageable, and it’s also in my view necessary. If you make a promise, you should try to redeem it.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But even before you talk about the money, there are the cultural, the ingrained practices in countries where child marriage, for example, is considered — young girls married off at a very young age, other countries or places where families see children as an economic necessity to have them working out in fields or doing whatever they’re doing to bring money in for the family.

GORDON BROWN: And…

JUDY WOODRUFF: How do you change all that?

GORDON BROWN: And you’re absolutely right.

There are 10 million children who are married off before the age of 14 or 15. There are 15 million children who are working full-time at the moment, and they’re under 14. But I see great change in the attitude of young people.

I have just been in Pakistan. And a year-and-a-half ago, I went after Malala Yousafzai, who was the young girl who was shot, and I found a population that was cowed, it was worried, it was anxious, it was fearful of the Taliban. And then I went back a few days ago, and I found girls in Pakistan, 12, 13, 14, 15, determined to fight for their education.

And they no longer wanted Pakistan to be seen by the rest of the world as a country that was failing to get girls to school, but they want to be known by their successes and girls getting into school and getting qualifications.

So, girls themselves are fighting for their civil rights. This is a huge change from a few years ago. And once this change happens, you can’t — you can’t hold it back, because these are girls who are aware of their rights, aware that they can stand up against the patriarchs who try to marry them off, aware that there is discrimination being practiced by the Taliban, and they’re taking it on.

And there are many, many hundreds of courageous girls in Pakistan who are saying, we demand our right to be educated now. And that’s going to happen in the rest of world, too.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But over a long period of time, isn’t…

GORDON BROWN: But the change in the last year-and-a-half has been, in my view, very big indeed.

We had a petition after Malala was shot, and we had three million people signing that. And it looked as if we had support. But now you have got girls agitating for education. You have got child-marriage-free zones being created by girls themselves in Bangladesh, where they are saying, we, the girls, will refuse to married off. Even if our fathers tell us we’re going to be sold into marriage, we’re going to refuse.

And these movements of opinion, the anti-rape protests in India, the big anti-child labor campaigns that have been mounted by young people themselves, something is changing around the world. And we are too slow to react to that and to help these children with the resources to get them into education.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You mentioned $6 billion. You said relatively a small amount of money. But how do you get governments that we see have been reducing the amount they have been spending on education, how do you get them to understand it’s a priority? And I’m talking now about the recipient countries.

GORDON BROWN: Yes.

I think, first of all, the governments of Pakistan, Nigeria, Afghanistan have got to do more themselves. So, nobody is going to just throw money at a country that’s not prepared to take action itself. So I’m trying to persuade them. And I think we have been successful in persuading Pakistan and Nigeria that that they have got to spend more themselves.

Then we can incentivize them spending more by saying, if you do this, we will do more to help you. And I think what people are looking for is results in development aid. And if we can show that we can get results, children enrolled, teachers actually turning up, the quality of the curriculum, results in terms of qualifications, I think the world will be prepared to donate the necessary sums of money to make this happen.

It is after all incredibly small in relation to the overall budget.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But how do you — when you look at what donor countries have been spending, though, they have cut back the amount they have spent on education.

GORDON BROWN: Some have, and some haven’t.

There are new donors coming into the field, so, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia. There are many new donors. And China is starting to donate money into education for the first time. Korea is coming in. So, yes, I would like America to do more. And I would like the rest of the West to do more.

But there are many potential donors in the future. And they — they begin to see that, if you back a country that is educating its children, you have got a skilled work force, as well as having met the moral requirement that every child should have opportunity.

JUDY WOODRUFF: How much of this depends on the persuasive powers of someone who’s internationally known, like, as you are, Gordon Brown…

JUDY WOODRUFF: … and how much — and your — the force of your personality, and how…

GORDON BROWN: Well, I wish I could be more successful.

But the truth is that I know, from being a leader in recent years, that if there is not public pressure, and if there is not a demand from the rest of the world, then there are other priorities that you’re going to address.

We have got to persuade these leaders that no country in the poorer parts of the world will ever be a rich country, will ever be a high-income country if it doesn’t invest in education. And I think we are getting that argument across to the leaders.

So, on the one hand, you have got this great civil rights struggle that is now starting, in my view. On the other hand, you have got a recognition that, no matter what else you have got to do as a country, you have got to invest in education if you’re going to be a successful economy.

And I can persuade them that this is a necessary element of their economic policy.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, you believe they are feeling this kind of pressure and feeling there are consequences if they don’t make these changes?

GORDON BROWN: What I believe is, they’re going to feel more pressure in the next year, because we have just launched a campaign. And over the next 21 months, until this deadline of the Millennium Development Goal, we will be pressing governments around the world.

We have got hundreds of youth ambassadors who were actually themselves appointed to put pressure on governments. We have got what is called youth takeovers of parliaments, which sounds quite radical, but these are young people who are agreeing that, on a particular day, they will be the parliamentarians and they will speak out for the case of education.

We have got national petitions in individual countries. So the pressure is building. It’s not there strong enough yet, but it will become very strong over the next few months. And this is an opportunity to help countries develop their educational opportunities for children in a way that they have not done before. But it’s also an opportunity for us to show that development aid can be incredibly effective.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Special Envoy Gordon Brown, thank you.

GORDON BROWN: Thank you.

JUDY WOODRUFF: That conversation discusses online, where we discuss moves to get Syrian children displaced by the civil war into school.

And on our World page, we spoke with two young girls who were sitting beside Malala Yousafzai when Taliban gunmen attacked their school bus about their fight for access to education for all boys and girls.