It’s Up to Us to Deliver for Malala
Posted by Ram Kumar Shrestha on October 17, 2012
By Gordon Brown, Former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom; UN Special Envoy for Global Education
Medical experts say that Malala, fortunate to escape death from the assassin’s bullet, faces a long haul to recovery. I know the Birmingham hospital where Malala is to be treated. I have visited patients, doctors and nurses there on a number of occasions and I have seen at first hand their expertise in dealing with injuries caused by gunshot wounds.
I have also spoken this morning to Pakistan’s High Commissioner in the UK, who is travelling to meet Malala when she arrives in Birmingham. I have assured him of whatever help is needed for Malala and her family.
As Malala fights for her life, a worldwide campaign continues to grow around her in support of her demand for education for every girl.
In Pakistan, as well as India, Bangladesh and Afghanistan and along with the West, Malala’s courage is inspiring revulsion against the Taliban. She is becoming for millions of children their adopted sister and for millions of parents their adopted daughter.
This week leaders and celebrities are now joining the thousands of young supporters in signing the new ‘I am Malala’ petition on: www.educationenvoy.org.
The petition will be presented to the Pakistani President and the UN Secretary-General, demanding that Malala and every girl, is granted their right to education.
If leaders are now offering welcome support, it is children and young people who have led the waves of protest — and by demonstrating in droves, this new generation has done more to assert the right of every child to education than the leaders who promised to deliver it.
Behind the headlines, the protests are giving birth to a campaign of young people who are no longer willing to tolerate the gap between the promise of opportunity for all and the reality of millions of boys and girls shut out from even the most basic of primary schooling.
Our modern world has been dominated by one central idea of progress, that if a young person has merit and works hard, then she can make the most of her talents. Indeed in recent decades the pillar of ‘education’ has carried the whole weight of the belief that every child will have the opportunity to rise as far as their potential can take them.
We have assumed the inevitability of the forward march of educational opportunity, that there will be irreversible and inexorable year-on-year, continent-by-continent progress towards universal education.
However, new figures to be published by UNESCO in the annual Global Monitoring Report, will show that for 61 million children denied the right to school, opportunity through education is still an empty promise. Written off at aged five or six, millions of girls and boys will never be able to bridge the gap between what they are and what they have in themselves to become.
Their plight reveals the extent to which it is still birth and background — where you come from and who you were born to — that matters far more in deciding your prospects than your talent or merit. Altogether 32 million girls like Malala are excluded from school, many like her discriminated against because of their gender. Millions more are offered an inferior education to their male counterparts.
Every year ten million girls — most of them younger than Malala – leave education to become child brides and never return to school. An even higher number, fifteen million children under 14, who should be at primary school, are working full time and often doing hazardous work.
The Global Monitoring Report will also highlight the shameful neglect of millions of refugee girls and boys, displaced children living in the camps, tents and shacks of broken down regimes and conflict zones with no access to teachers or school books.
When we should be investing in education to bridge the opportunity gap, we still allow girls to be excluded from school and do little to complain; we continue to tolerate child labour and child marriage; and, while in the West, we are willing to pay upwards of $100,000 to school our children to the age of 16, the world invests just $400 — 250 times less — in the schooling of her African counterpart.
World leaders made a historic set of promises set down in the Millennium Development Goals. Central to these was the pledge that that every young child would be in primary school by 2015. With only three years to go and with aid to education now falling, there is but one chance to turn the tide and meet the deadline.
The United Nation’s new Education First initiative is designed to remove the bottlenecks that prevent every child getting a quality education. The idea is that by bringing together every UN and World Bank institution to focus on shortages in teachers, books and classrooms, and on child labour, child marriage and discrimination against girls, we will attack the obstacles to delivery.
In the next few months each country in need will construct a national plan for universal education — setting out its exact needs in terms of teachers, classrooms and financing requirements. Then, next April at a joint summit between national governments, the World Bank and UN agencies, new agreements will be signed on precise targets timetables and budgets.
Resources have to be better used, coordinated and leveraged up with private and voluntary sector support. I will urge the richest parts of the world to do more to help ensure that children like Malala have the best chance of a good education.
Education alone can break the cycle of poverty for an individual and for a country and I have always argued there are moral and economic reasons why we should contribute more than 25 cents a week to educating the poorest girls and boys in the poorest countries of the world. There are also security reasons for investing in schooling. Education in schools that are free from extremist dogma is our best antidote to the doctrines of hatred that the Taliban peddle among the world’s youth.
Malala’s plight has unleashed an unprecedented outpouring of public support. Now all of us must make that support count — and deliver on the cause she has been fighting for — her dream of education for every child.
Gordon Brown is the UN’s Special Envoy for Global Education and will visit Pakistan next month. The petition he will take to President Zardari and to Ban Ki-moon calling for justice for Malala and education for all girls can be signed on www.educationenvoy.org or on iammalala.org.