While the speeches by President Obama, Iranian President
Ban's initiative, called Education First, could have been by far the most important event of the
Ban announced the formal start of the
"It's probably the first really high-level campaign that is being supported by the U.N. secretary general himself, rather than just one particular U.N. agency or government,"
The idea of launching a global plan to improve education standards couldn't be more timely.
"In our knowledge-based world, education is the single best investment countries can make towards building prosperous, healthy and equitable societies," Ban said in his introduction of Education First.
The plan's top priorities will be putting every child in school, improving the quality of learning, and promoting values such as peace and environmental responsibility.
Education First will "rally together a broad spectrum of actors" over the next five years to achieve that goal, Ban said. The No. 1 actor must be governments, followed in descending order by donor nations, teachers, families, students, civil society, multi-lateral organizations such as U.N. agencies, the business community, academia, and the media.
"There is no substitute for national political leadership, policy and resources," the Education First mission statement says, referring to the governments' role in improving education standards.
My opinion: The problem with Education First is that it believes that governments will make it their priority to improve education standards.
They won't, for the simple reason that political leaders think in electoral time frames - three or four years - whereas investments in teacher training and other key tasks to raise education standards pay off in 15 or 20 years.
It wasn't a coincidence that so few heads of state attended Education First's launch. Unless there is a huge social pressure from the bottom to improve education standards - like we are seeing now in
Education First should take its lead from what happened in
Once education became a national priority, the government listened and ended up adopting the group's entire education improvement plan while claiming it as its own creation.
In order to make the new U.N. plan work, it should turn its list of key actors upside down. Instead of relying primarily on governments, it should first team up with big media companies, multinational firms,
Otherwise, without pressure from the bottom billions, Education First will be one more concoction of international bureaucrats that's doomed to fail.
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(c) 2012 Tribune Media Services, Inc.