Irish Congress

World Vision Education Statement to the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence of Ireland

By Ana Tenorio, Global Education Director, World Vision

Distinguished Deputies and Senators, it is an honour to speak with you today on a topic as critical to the wellbeing of children and adults around the world as Education. Education is a fundamental right and an essential foundation for prosperity and peace. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and all of our aspirations for an equitable global society cannot be achieved without inclusive and equitable education, especially for the furthest behind. 

I am personally so hopeful to have Ireland leading as Co-Chair because Ireland is an example of how prioritising investments in education can ignite transformational change. I am Honduran and I am very fortunate to be married to an Irishman from the Curragh in Kildare. My husband’s father was an exemplary hard-working farmer who could only complete primary education. But thanks to the Irish government's progressive policies in education, his son was able to complete a Masters in Rural Development. A big leap in just one generation. This is the kind of commitment and leadership in Education that Ireland can bring to the SDGs. 

Ireland’s leadership is greatly needed because global progress toward realizing children’s and young adults’ right to education is suffering unprecedented setbacks. COVID-19, climate-induced disasters, and increased crises experienced across the world threaten to undo decades of progress. 

We were experiencing a global learning crisis before COVID. In 2019, the learning poverty rate in low- and middle-income countries was already 57 percent. In other words, nearly 6 out of 10 children could not read and understand a basic text by age 10. In Sub-Saharan Africa, the rate was even higher at 86 percent. Nearly 9 out of 10 children. The World Bank now estimates learning poverty rate may have risen to 70 percent in 2022. Based on these estimates, all the gains in learning poverty achieved since 2000 have likely been lost.  UNESCO in fact stated we are facing a generational catastrophe if we don’t increase investments and global action to ensure children that are furthest behind realize their right to Education.    

Let’s just take a moment to reflect on what is happening in Afghanistan where it has been over a year since Taliban authorities banned girls from secondary school.  Hundreds of thousands of teenage girls remain barred from attending classes. In nations affected by conflict and crisis, girls are more than twice as likely to be out of school than boys. In South Sudan, for example, where World Vision is implementing Irish Aid funded education programmes, climate induced flooding is resulting in school closures and increasing the risk of girls being kept away from education and prosperity. 

This Committee knows these realities well. So, how can we change this trajectory? How can we return to positive progress toward the SDGs? We would like to suggest three actions. 

First, as my fellow speakers highlighted, we must reach the furthest behind first. This includes girls, children with disabilities, refugees, IDPs, and the youngest children. These children are most at risk of dropping out or not being able to access education. This is why increasing investments in formal and non-formal education that meets the needs of the furthest behind is fundamental to increasing learning equity. This would include catch up, bridging, and accelerated education programmes to get out-of-school children back on track and on equal footing with their classmates upon entry into school. Investments in early childhood development and preschool programs have also been neglected despite the evidence on the lifetime equalizing effects of early interventions for most vulnerable children. We fully endorse the request to ensure the promotion of local and community-led programmes that are better positioned and informed to reach children that are furthest behind. We also need to promote laws like the one recently changed in Zimbabwe to ensure that pregnant girls and adolescent mothers are not expelled and can continue their education as is their right. 

Second, we have to recognize education as a life-saving intervention. When emergencies and crises hit, leaders and decision makers are faced with an overwhelming number of competing needs that can often obscure the life-saving nature of education. Attention and budgets are typically consumed by what is traditionally considered lifesaving needs without realizing the interrelated role that education plays in meeting those needs and re-establishing stability. Education, including early childhood development interventions, must be prioritized in all emergency and humanitarian planning and responses. Likewise, disaster risk reduction and emergency preparedness must be included in all education sector planning to ensure the sector is crisis resilient.

Finally, the Education SDG cannot be achieved without financing. This requires sufficient development assistance like meeting the 0.7% Gross National Income target. Furthermore, countries should implement the internationally agreed minimum benchmark of 15% of GDP investment in education. The 2022 Global Education Monitoring report revealed one in three countries is investing less than 4% of GDP in Education.  

The global challenges we face are great. At World Vision, we see these challenges in front of us and thank Ireland for your leadership in championing ‘A Better World.’ You exemplify what a relatively small country with a big heart and ideals can do to transform the world.  We expect great things from your role as co-chair and stand ready to support your efforts. 

Take a look at a snippet of Ana Tenorio's video through this Tweet from World Vision Ireland :