The UN Transforming Education Summit: Not a Tempest in a teapot
The Sustainable Development Goals have found their way into every office landscape and daycare institution, but with only a few years to achieve them, there is still a long way to go for goal 4 on quality education.
The UN Secretary-General had, as one does, made a big deal of the event. In the days leading up to the marathon of diplomacy, the UN General Assembly, young people, students, civil society, foundations, and world leaders had to meet to solve the global education crisis. To call it a crisis is no understatement. With the pandemic still taking its toll, conflicts forcing girls out of school, and student activists being arrested in the fight against repressive regimes, the need for solutions is great.
Now it was here, the Transforming Education Summit in the UN’s finest premises.
The UN had put young people in focus. The future had to find solutions for the future. Students were moderators in panels and had designed the program.
Involving students far too often means that you have carefully selected a young person who can give an inspiring, pre-approved speech about how happy they are that education is being prioritized. Although such speeches are often good and followed by much applause, they can rarely be called representative or constitute the voice of students.
The Transforming Education Summit only fell a bit into this old problem of tokenism, but not as much as one might fear. The young people were critical and honest about the need for fundamental investment, decolonization of curricula and the need for action rather than only good intentions.
The good intentions were, however, undoubtedly present. Without having kept count, the thing that was said most times was: that now was the time for action and that this summit was the place where it had to happen. But the major commitments did, in the end, not materialize.
One of the most tangible results that the days in New York produced was a Youth Declaration. The fear among many participants seemed to be that it would end up as hopes and dreams without substance. Whether it ends up as just hopes and dreams, the future must tell, but the substance was copious.
Specifically, the declaration points to the legitimate role of student representatives and their unions. This was a significant reference to the global student movement, where students have fought for democracy, quality education and better living conditions for decades. Student representatives have long had influence, but this recognition can help push a world in crisis in a more inclusive and democratic direction, where students do not have to fight for just the smallest of influence but are guaranteed it as a right.
Now we just need world leaders to act. If not, the Transforming Education Summit will end up as just a tempest in a teapot.
Steering Committee Member of the Global Student Forum