G20 leaders need to speak out for education and skills

By Pauline Rose, director of the Education for All Global Monitoring Report

With the deadline for the Millennium Development Goals and the Education for All goals just four years away, some questions about the future of global development efforts are becoming urgent. Where will the development agenda be in 2015? How will education fit into it? Who will be the political champions for the post-2015 development agenda? And who will be speaking up for education?

These questions have become even more pressing in the light of the outcomes of the recent G20 summit in Cannes, France.  Discussions at the summit understandably focused on the Eurozone crisis. Unless this crisis is sorted out, there are likely to be dire consequences globally. But the final communiqué of the summit, which called for a “global strategy for growth and jobs,” was missing a key ingredient:  serious attention to skills for employability.

The focus in Cannes on job creation reflects broader trends recognizing that the frustrations of young people in the Middle East and elsewhere are driven by a lack of jobs. The words of President Jacob Zuma of South Africa, before the G20 summit, echo these sentiments: “Our efforts must be channelled towards finding innovative ways to create jobs in most economies in the world – particularly the need to give hope and opportunities for the unemployed youth.”

The need to create more jobs is undoubtedly a core part of dealing with the root of young people’s frustration in many countries. But creating more jobs alone is not enough.  Young people also need to be equipped with the right kinds of skills so that they can get jobs that allow them to lead fulfilling lives.  And the current generation of young people cannot wait until efforts to create more jobs have been realized. They require secure work now that pays enough for them to meet their basic needs. They also need the right kind of skills so that they are resilient to the kinds of shocks that the world has been facing, and that G20 leaders are seeking to address.

We will examine the complex and difficult challenges of strengthening skills for improved work opportunities now, while recognizing the importance of a longer-term perspective on job creation, in the 2012 Education for All Global Monitoring Report on youth, skills and work.

The invisibility of education and skills in the G20 development agenda this year leads me back to the question of  political champions for education. During the G20 summit, Bill Gates came forward as a leading voice for development. He sought to promote innovation, including through science and technology to develop new seeds and vaccines. But his lack of attention to education is a cause for concern, as former GMR director Kevin Watkins argued in The Guardian.

As a global philanthropist who has done a considerable amount to promote health and support innovation for the world’s poorest people, Bill Gates should be applauded – and, of course, we would welcome him paying greater attention to ensure the same can be achieved for education. But we would also ask him to think carefully about his contentious claim that private schools “have the potential to pay back the original capital invested – and sometimes provide market rates of return.” The evidence base for this is at best extremely thin, and at worst the research available shows that an education model promoting greater reliance on private schools for the poor can lead to further widening of social inequalities,  as we found in the 2009 EFA Global Monitoring Report.

An even greater cause for concern is that Bill Gates appeared to be a lone voice in pushing forward development issues at such a major international event as the G20. Current political leaders, including those in the G20, need to speak up more loudly on behalf of the 140 million children and adolescents who are not in school. Until then, yet another generation of young people will be denied the opportunity to realize their aspirations and to fulfil their potential.



  1. The Gates Foundation’s role in American education reform has turned toxic and corrupt. They’ve essentially bought out the research community, bought out non-profits down to the level of parent teacher organizations (they’re cheap!), and promoted think tanks and astro-turf organizations to completely crowd out all dissent to their agenda of privatization and data-driven standardization.

    It is a disaster for the US.

  2. I agree, the lack of opportunities for youngsters in my country, Mexico, will produce young people who don´t find work, and the result in many cases is that they become gangsters.

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