There is no shortage of candidates for inclusion in a list of challenges facing humanity at the start of the twenty-first century. Over the past two decades, globalisation has contributed to impressive gains in poverty reduction. Yet we live in a world of unprecedented disparities in wealth. Progress towards the international development goals in areas such as poverty reduction, nutrition, child survival and maternal health has fallen far short of the targets set for 2015, even in many of the countries that have secured high economic growth. Youth unemployment has reached record levels. While global economic integration and the spread of technology, capital and ideas have increased prosperity, growth has been uneven and unbalanced. Building a new globalisation will require not just new mechanisms for curtailing the power of financial markets, but also a more equitable pattern of economic growth and a new approach to ecology. Climate change and the growing body of evidence on environmental stress point unequivocally towards an economic system that has overstepped the ecological boundaries, with potentially devastating consequences for future generations.
So why put education on an already overcrowded agenda? Partly because education is a fundamental human right, but also because without progress in education any attempt to address the wider challenges facing governments around the world will be in vain. In an increasingly knowledge-based world economy, deep disparities between nations in education will reinforce an unequal and unsustainable pattern of globalisation. Education inequalities within countries will similarly reinforce social and economic fault lines. And without improved education there is little prospect of humanity confronting the technological and social challenges posed by the global ecological crisis.