He said this at the opening of the 2016 Global Education & Skills Forum (GESF) last Saturday, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates to honour teachers.
The forum, orgainsed by the Varkey Foundation and held under the patronage of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, hosted over 1,600 delegates from 110 countries, and featured 61 sessions and 145 speakers, including 20 education ministers.
Among them was Professor Naana Jane Opoku-Agyemang, Ghana’s Minister of Education.
“At current rates of progress in education, it will take until 2072 to end youth illiteracy. That’s several more generations who will miss out on the chance of a decent life for themselves and their families,” he said.
Mr. Varkay expressed disappointment that governments around the world had featured education as Goal Four of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, instead of Goal One.
According to him, governments had treated education as a second order issue, adding that without education, the problem of poverty, health and hunger could not be solved.
He said there could be no end to poverty, disease and climate change without education.
“I fear that unless we make education our number one priority, governments will not give it the importance that is required. We must be clear that we have a global education crisis on our hands,” he stated.
Mr Varkey said a new threat to education had emerged in recent years, stating conflict and chaos in the Middle East as key factors preventing a whole generation of young people from going to school.
“Education has been the silent casualty of the civil war in Syria, where at least a quarter of the schools have been damaged or destroyed and almost three million Syrian children are out of school. So far, the world’s response has been totally inadequate.
“It is not only important to find more money to overcome the crisis, but my belief is that by pooling our creativity, generosity, and persistence, we can collectively overcome this education crisis.”
He stressed the need to treasure teachers for their effort, explaining that “teachers build a bridge from the present to the future”.
Andreas Schleicher, Director of Education and Skills, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), France, who also addressed the forum, discussed the collective responsibility for public education.
He called for innovative approaches to address the challenges of how “we share the cost and benefits of education, and how the smartest kid – and not the wealthiest – get access to education and how to make reforms happen”, in an environment where there was resistance to change.
From Agnes Opoku Sarpong, Atlantis, Dubai