Reaching For The High Hanging Fruit

So how do we make the giant leaps from impossible to achievable to probable?

Having just returned from the United Nations annual meetings and learning about the massive global challenges facing the new Secretary General, it is easy to be overawed by the scale of the task as well as recognising the sheer vulnerability of humanity today.

But this is exactly the time to make things happen. We’ve spoken, we’ve debated, we’ve agreed and we’ve disagreed. Now we need to act.

The next days and weeks are critical. Time to prove to the world that each crisis has a solution and so many of them can be met by investing in ourselves — not in protection for millionaires or building higher walls, but turning dreams of fairness and opportunity into vivid reality.

The Global Goals form the shopping list of dreams and the one to shape our future is number four — education. This is the golden moment to make education and learning for every child a probable.

Syrian children waiting to start the second shift at school in Lebanon. Theirworld/Hussein Baydoun

It is not enough when all the evidence points to the need to invest in children under five yet 85% of children in low-income countries do not have any access to pre-primary education.

It is not enough when the average time a child spends as a refugee is 17 years, her whole childhood taken away and her future compromised.

It is not enough when we face the prospect of over 2 billion jobs becoming obsolete by 2030 and experts sit back and estimate that half of our youth will lack the basic skills and innovation required for employment.

It is absolutely not enough when we know that every child in school is safer there than when at risk of attack, child labour, trafficking, abuse, married off when young or simply left without hope.

Girls learning to computer skills and coding at Theirworld Code Club in Kibera, Kenya. Theirworld/Adriane Ohanesian

The impossible only becomes probable when we dare to reach for the high-hanging fruit and hold on tight until it is safely clasped in our hand. Dare to believe, not dream.

National governments everywhere need to prioritise education, donor governments must commit 15% of their aid budget to education (as they already do on health) to add to domestic spending, and donors, businesses, philanthropists invest in the new innovative financing facilities to cater to all need.

The Global Partnership for Education is undergoing its replenishment and needs support to have a strong offer for education funding next year.

The new Education Cannot Wait fund, newly created for fast action to support education in emergencies, has started well and has huge capacity for growth as it acts to help Rohingya and Bangladeshi children this week already helping in Syria, Chad and Yemen. And the immense potential of the International Financing Facility for Education (IFFEd) proposed by the Education Commission for a learning generation is the highest hanging fruit of all.

And if we are at all serious about keeping the promise to children to achieve inclusive and equitable quality education for all by 2030, the greatest urgency is an increase in pre-primary education. Children are missing out on crucial learning and development in their earliest years, putting them at a massive disadvantage before they have even set foot in a primary school.

The evidence now shows us that 90% of the brain’s development occurs in the first five years, yet despite the evidence less than 1% of education aid goes to pre-primary education.

Maya*, 4, Syrian refugee in Kindergarten Jnah Public School, Beirut, Lebanon. Theirworld/Hussein Baydoun

So our task isn’t simply getting kids through the school gates, our job is to ensure children arrive at school confident and ready to learn, and leave equipped ready for the world at large. We must be unwilling to settle for small wins or easy fixes. We must always reach higher.

This week children’s charity Theirworld has published a new donor scorecard, Setting Targets for Success, recommending every government and aid donor puts 10% of its education budget to pre-primary. This call was echoed by UNICEF in its new report, Early Moments Matter For Every Child. Next week Theirworld starts to push for funding to all the key education pots and scales up for a 2018 campaign calling on all its partners and friends to add their support.

Theirworld will do what it does best with our moonshot mentality, working with our allies from civic society, business and government to step up our campaigns, our research, our pilot projects and our actions. It’s time to reject empty promises and not let anybody off the hook, holding ourselves and others accountable.

We need to move forward with urgency and call governments to account for their investment in education and skills development.

It is now time for the global movement of activists, young people, businesses, experts and teachers to come together on global education. It requires us to lead with the heartfelt passion of an activist and mobilise with the skill and organisation of a strategist.

We are determined to find solutions, — however, wherever, whenever — making the impossible not just achievable but probable and helping every child have a fair start in life.

Sarah Brown is President of children’s charity Theirworld and host of the podcast Better Angels with Sarah Brown

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