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European Commission


European Commissioner for Development

Opening Remarks at EU Conference on Education

EU Conference on Education/Brussels

23 May 2013

Your Royal Highness, Special Envoy, Baroness Ashton, Commissioner Vassiliou, Commissioner Georgieva, Ministers, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Welcome to this High-level Conference. We have come together today to step up our efforts in education, turning from challenges into opportunities.

Universality and aims

Delivering education is a universal principle requiring universal involvement. That’s why we’re gathered here today. I hope to see us break new ground in pinpointing specific areas of consensus and lines of action. We have two main aims: first, to look at how countries, with support from international partners, can overcome barriers to equitable and good quality education; and second, to reflect on how we can secure a strong place for education in the on-going debate around the post-2015 global development framework.

Education state of play

Education matters, for millions of reasons: for the 61 million children with no schooling; for the 250 million children who fail to reach grade 4 or lack basic reading and numeracy skills by that grade; and for the 775 million adults who are illiterate.

And education matters to people worldwide. When asked about their aspirations and priorities for the post-2015 development framework the world is seeking to shape, they put education top of the list.

They are right to do so. Education is the best possible investment against exclusion, inequalities and poverty. It is estimated that if all children in poor countries could read, global poverty would fall by 12 per cent. Every dollar invested in education and skills generates returns at least 10 times greater for economic growth. Education is key to nation-building, conflict prevention, democratic development and active citizenship.

We know all this. But knowledge won’t make the many education challenges we face go away. Building opportunities in education requires complex solutions tailored to national education systems. Meanwhile, donors have cut funding for education in the on-going financial crisis. Further commitments are needed, but the ministers present here today will be the first to tell you that we can’t achieve the impossible with limited resources, and with other development priorities to pursue.

EU commitment

Hence the need for concerted action. For its part, the EU is serious about tackling education and development challenges.

As a member of the UN High-level Panel on the Post-2015 Development Agenda I have stressed the EU’s commitment to education, especially as it relates to poverty, sustainability and equity, and the priority that education figures centre stage in the Post MDG Agenda. We need to get things right, within the education community and beyond. This will mean linking our work on education to areas like broader governance, health and employment and supporting reform efforts, especially in difficult circumstances.

Your Royal Highness, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am confident that all of us at this timely conference have what it takes to move the international debate on education and development forward, in the lead-up to the September 2013 UN General Assembly and with the post-2015 framework in our sights. So let’s get to work.

Thank you.

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