Elias Bou Saab, Lebanon’s Education Minister 2014-2016, is among an expert group of former Education Ministers and heads of government that have written an open letter to G20 heads of government calling for international education aid to be enshrined in law to combat a global education crisis.It follows a meeting of 15 former education ministers and world leaders of the ‘Atlantis Group’ in London (21st – 22nd October), including Elias Bou Saab, for a “root and branch” review of global education systems – ranging from political leadership to school leadership, teacher leadership and innovation and education technology leadership.
As former education Ministers and heads of government, these leaders are in a unique position to provide frank and bold ideas at a moment when global education has never been more under threat. In their open letter to the G20 leaders, Elias Bou Saab and his fellow Atlantis Group members say: “It is not often reported in the newspapers, but there is a crisis in global education. Shamefully, the number of children out of school in the developing world is rising again: on the latest UNESCO data, the number stands at 263 million globally: equivalent to a quarter of the combined population of Europe and the United States. In addition, over half of the 22.5 million refugees around the world are children under the age of 18, and millions more are stateless and do not have the ability to access education services.
“Investing in a safe, high quality education for every child is not just a moral imperative; it is the most hard-headed decision we can make. For developing countries, poor education stifles innovation and discourages the inward investment they need. And, for the international community, a lack of education can weaken already fragile states. If frustrated young people lack opportunities they are more prone to irregular migration, conflict and extremism. The costs of this failure will only be compounded by the march of automation, which will cut deepest in those developing world economies with high numbers of low skill jobs.
“It is true that not all investments in education in the past, as the OECDs Development Assistance Committee has set out, have been as effective as they might. But the answer to that is more effective targeting of spending, not just reducing the amount. And regrettably, although the urgency of the situation is clear, we feel the international community has not paid sufficient heed to the issues in global education in recent years. Investment in education through aid and other assistance is lower now than it was in 2009 – and is not concentrated on those countries most in need. Sub-Saharan Africa, home to half the world’s out-of-school children, receives less than half the aid it did in 2002. And whilst we recognise – and share, as politicians ourselves – that world leaders wish to address this, the right to an education for every child cannot be left only to those in power who may be buffeted by political headwinds and the short-term needs of the electoral cycle. To give backing to those who are determined to address this issue, the Atlantis Group calls on the G20, as leaders of the major industrialised and emerging economies, to take a lead by enshrining in law a commitment to education investment and assistance as a percentage of their GDP. We also call on the G20 to lead negotiations with governments whose domestic spending on education falls below the level required to provide a satisfactory education to all their children.
“Over the last two decades, the world has rightly mobilised to transform global public health. Enormous efforts are bringing under control such historically devastating illnesses as tuberculosis, malaria and HIV. However, perhaps because the corrosive impact of a lack of education – on a child, their family, their society - is harder to capture, too many of the world’s leaders have allowed the global education crisis to go unnoticed.”
The signatories of the letter are:
Nicky Morgan (Former Secretary of State for Education UK), Lord Adonis (Former Education Minister UK), Rosalia Arteaga (Former President and Vice-President Ecuador), Elias Bou Saab (Former Education Minister Lebanon), David Coltart (Former Education Minister Zimbabwe), Nuno Crato (Former Eduation Minister Portugal), Arne Duncan (Former Secretary of State for Education USA), Luis E. Garcia de Brigard (Former Education Minister Colombia), Stefania Giannini (Former Education Minister Italy), Zlatko Lagumdzija (Former Prime Minister Bosnia and Herzegovina), Armin Luistro (Former Education Minister Philippines), Silas Lwakabamba (Former Education Minister Rwanda), Bálint Magyar (Former Education Minister Hungary), Steve Maharey (Former Education Minister New Zealand), George Papandreou (Former Prime Minister Greece), Remus Pricopie (Former Education Minister Romania), Maia Sandu (Former Education Minister Moldova), Srdjan Verbić (Former Education Minister Serbia).
Former Lebanon Education Minister Elias Bou Saab added: “I was delighted to come to the UK to work with some of the brightest and best minds in education, with a wealth of experience behind them, to tackle the present education challenges we face. We must get this right because the future is at stake.
“While part of the world is trailblazing through the educational field, focusing and funding educational technologies, and integrating the latest advancement into their school systems, we forget that a significant part of children in the world still do not have access to the most basic education. My mission in Lebanon and the Middle East is to raise awareness and battle the dire consequences for future generations should this digital divide not be urgently addressed.”
Sunny Varkey, Founder of the Varkey Foundation, which runs the Global Teacher Prize, and provides the secretariat for The Atlantis Group, said: “Current governments are besieged by education challenges that only seem to be getting worse. We need radical ideas now that can help turn round deep-set problems that have gone unsolved by successive generations of politicians – no matter how many speeches made, targets formulated and reports issued.
“That is why this ‘root and branch’ analysis and advice from The Atlantis Group is so important. Their members have long and direct experience of what works and what doesn’t. They have the battle-scars from trying to reform their education systems. Most importantly, now they are free from the shackles of office, they can be candid about what needs to be done without any political agenda. Their recommendations on the various leadership themes will be vital for years to come”.
Andreas Schleicher, Director for the Directorate of Education and Skills at the OECD and expert contributor to the Atlantis Group, said: “Seventeen years ago, The UN’s Millennium Development Goal of achieving universal primary education was missed, and unless we dramatically change course we will be 50 years late meeting the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) commitment of a good education for every child.
“Many of those children who are in school are learning very little. Around 175 million young people in poor countries – equivalent to one quarter of the youth population – cannot read a sentence.
“More funding is desperately required – but just as important is a ‘system rethink’ to ensure that every leader – from Government ministers to classroom teachers – can learn from the successes and failures of their predecessors. We can’t afford to waste more time as failure will be catastrophic for an entire generation on whom the hopes of the world depend”.
Combining their personal experience as ministers of education along with 65 years of expertise as policy makers and education experts from all over the world, the Atlantis Group make recommendations on how education systems – in both the developed and developing world – need to adapt in the face of these unprecedented challenges. This advice is then passed on and discussed with governments and education authorities around the world to strengthen education policy and delivery.
The Atlantis Group was launched at the Global Education & Skills Forum (GESF) 2017 – established by global education charity The Varkey Foundation – when it initially convened on 18-19 March 2017 in Dubai.
The founding principle of the group is “to bring together the skills and experiences of former Ministers of Education and interested former heads of government across the world to help address ongoing challenges in global education.”
The UK meeting saw the members convene from Saturday 21 October to Sunday 22 October. The group is scheduled to meet at the GESF every year and on at least one other occasion annually. In addition, individual members and small sub-groups may be asked to conduct further work throughout the year – such as visiting countries at the request of education ministries. The Varkey Foundation, which established the GESF and the US $1M Global Teacher Prize, provides the secretariat for the group.
The Varkey Foundation believes every child deserves a vibrant, stimulating learning environment that awakens and supports their full potential. The foundation believes nothing is more important to achieving this than the passion and quality of teachers. They support global teaching capacity and seed excellence and innovation in the next generation of educators. They also founded the Global Teacher Prize to shine a spotlight on the incredible work teachers do all over the world.