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An Education Oversight in Obama’s State of the Union: The U.S.’s New Role as a GEFI Champion

U.S. President Barack Obama winks up at first lady Michelle Obama as he arrives to deliver his State of the Union speech on Capitol Hill in Washington

In his State of the Union address, President Obama spoke about the necessity of preparing tomorrow’s workforce by guaranteeing every child access to a world-class education, including high-quality early education. What he didn’t say was that the United States also announced yesterday its designation as a UN Global Education First Initiative Champion Country, meaning that the United States will now serve as an advocate for strategic investments in global education to achieve and sustain national and international development goals. 

Launched by the UN secretary-general in 2012, the UN Global Education First Initiative (GEFI) is an international effort to raise the profile of education to the top of the public agenda. The United States joins twelve other countries as GEFI Champions: Australia, Bangladesh, Benin, Brazil, China, Croatia, Denmark, Ethiopia, Guyana, Mozambique, South Africa and Tunisia. These countries lead by example and serve as advocates to advance GEFI’s three priorities: put every child in school, improve the quality of learning, and foster global citizenship.

GEFI provides a global platform to emphasize the importance of education to achieve national and international goals, and the United States and other champion countries should use this platform more visibly and forcefully in the coming year as the international community seeks to accelerate progress towards the Millennium Development Goals, while also shaping the post-2015 development agenda. Indeed, the education community has received sobering news with today’s launch of the Education for All Global Monitoring Report (GMR) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The figures in the Global Monitoring Report highlight a continued problem in not only equitable access to school for tens of millions of children around the world, but also poor quality of education, which means that children are not learning the basics. The number of children out of school was 57 million in 2011, half of whom lived in conflict-affected countries. Moreover, 250 million children were not learning the basics of literacy and numeracy, even though half of them have spent at least four years in school.

Given these statistics, it is vital for the global post-2015 development agenda to set a goal and monitor associated indicators, which by 2030 will ensure that all children and youth, regardless of their circumstances, are in school and acquiring foundational skills with recognized and measurable learning outcomes, especially in literacy and numeracy. The United States and other GEFI champion countries should begin to galvanize support for this goal in high-level post-2015 development agenda fora, such as the Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals and with Heads of State and relevant ministers negotiating their country’s post-2015 positions.

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