Human Rights Council Holds Panel Discussion on Technical Cooperation to Advance the Right to Education

MORNING

The Human Rights Council this morning held its annual thematic panel discussion on technical assistance and capacity building with a focus on technical cooperation to advance the right to education and ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and lifelong learning for all.

Mahamane Cissé-Gouro, Officer-in-Charge of the Field Operations and Technical Cooperation Division of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, stated that education was not only a fundamental human right in itself: it also enabled access to all other human rights. Investing in education was the most cost-effective way towards recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic had had a profound impact on the right to education across the world, creating the largest disruption of education systems in history. Nearly 1.6 billion learners in more than 190 countries had been affected by the pandemic, but some had been affected more than others.

Rongvudhi Virabutr, Deputy Permanent Representative of Thailand to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said the COVID-19 pandemic had disrupted education, including school closures and exacerbating the digital divide, and it had had a disproportionate effect on girls and already vulnerable populations. Today the panel would discuss how governments, United Nations agencies and partners were working to address the impact of the pandemic.

A video was played providing testimony of children to show how the pandemic had impacted their daily life.

Esi Sutherland Addy, Former Minister of Education and Culture of Ghana and former Chair of the Board of Trustees of the Voluntary Fund for Technical Cooperation in the Field of Human Rights, said that the COVID-19 pandemic threatened to reverse 30 years of work on education. Meeting the Sustainable Development Goal 4 demanded a sustained commitment to partnerships and the pandemic had given cause to re-examine the state of partnerships as much between governments and their people as between the global north and south.

Stefania Giannini, Assistant Director-General for Education, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, stated that the focus on the right to education was welcomed. Today, however, the achievement of this right was under threat. Unless measures were taken, 12 million primary school children would never set foot in school. The COVID-19 pandemic had amplified pre-existing inequalities, making this situation worse. Over 1.5 billion learners had been affected at the peak of the crisis, and over a third of these students could not access remote learning solutions. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization was working on a declaration on connectivity and education to stress the need to centre the most marginalised, and to transform pedagogies.

Fahad Al-Sulaiti, Chief Executive Officer, Education Above All, stated that technical cooperation and capacity building through higher education could play a role in the recovery and capacity building of post-conflict countries. Without proper support and assistance, higher education instituted in a post-conflict society could not supply the skills and knowledge required for a secure and sustainable social economic recovery. Early primary education and secondary education were critical to any society as well.

In the ensuring discussion, speakers noted that investment in education was the least costly way to ensure economic development, prevent conflicts and maintain peace. School closures had disrupted learning worldwide with more than 90 per cent of all learners impacted at the peak of the crisis. Millions of girls worldwide were at risk of dropping out of school. The enhancement of international cooperation was instrumental for the implementation of the 2030 Agenda, including Sustainable Development Goal 4, and the Office of the High Commissioner had to continue providing technical assistance and capacity building to States.

Speaking were Bahrain on behalf of the Gulf Cooperation Council, Finland on behalf of a group of countries, Brunei Darussalam on behalf of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Azerbaijan on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, Cameroon on behalf of the Group of African States, Bahamas on behalf of a group of countries, European Union, Egypt on behalf of the Group of Arab States, Venezuela, Sierra Leone, Costa Rica, Cabo Verde on behalf of the Community of Portuguese-speaking Countries, Indonesia, Togo, India, Georgia, Philippines, Cambodia, International Organization of la Francophonie, Vanuatu, Colombia, Libya, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan.

The following civil society organizations also took the floor: Save the Children International, and The International Organisation for LDCs.

The webcast of the Human Rights Council meetings can be found here. All meeting summaries can be found here. Documents and reports related to the Human Rights Council’s forty-seventh regular session can be found here.

The Council will next meet at 11 a.m. to hold an interactive dialogue with the High Commissioner for Human Rights on systemic racism and violations of international human rights law against Africans and people of African descent by law enforcement agencies, especially those incidents that resulted in the death of George Floyd and other Africans and people of African descent. This will be followed by the presentation of the High Commissioner’s oral update on the human rights situation in Georgia under agenda item 10 on technical assistance and capacity building.

Opening Remarks by the President of the Council

NAZHAT SHAMEEM KHAN, President of the Human Rights Council, explained the proposed modalities for the in-person voting process for the forty-seventh session, which were then agreed on by the Council.

Annual Thematic Panel Discussion on Technical Cooperation and Capacity Building

Keynote Statement

MAHAMANE CISSÉ-GOURO, Officer-in-Charge of the Field Operations and Technical Cooperation Division of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, stated that education was not only a fundamental human right in itself: it also enabled access to all other human rights. Investing in education was the most cost-effective way towards recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic had had a profound impact on the right to education across the world, creating the largest disruption of education systems in history. Nearly 1.6 billion learners in more than 190 countries had been affected by the pandemic, but some had been affected more than others. School closures made girls and young women more vulnerable to child marriage, early pregnancy, and gender-based violence – all of which decreased their likelihood of continuing their education. The Call to Action for Human Rights, launched by the Secretary-General in February 2020, placed human rights at the centre of sustainable development and set up an ambitious agenda for all parts of the United Nations system.

The Secretary-General had also outlined the need for a New Social Contract, underpinned by a New Global Deal of Solidarity. The background report prepared for this panel highlighted many actions taken by the Office, the United Nations system and its partners to support the efforts of States in promoting and protecting the right to education, including in the context of the pandemic, such as: the Human Rights Office of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq documented the impact of conflict on education; in Mozambique, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization provided technical assistance for the strengthening of the education system; in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Office supported a civil society platform to monitor and assess the commitment by the Government to provide free universal primary education; in the Republic of Moldova, the Office conducted an assessment of the human rights situation of Roma people in the Transnistria region; and in Guatemala and Cambodia, the Office worked with youth-led organizations to create space for dialogue and awareness raising.

Statements by the Moderator and Panellists

RONGVUDHI VIRABUTR, Deputy Permanent Representative of Thailand to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said that the idea of the discussion was to advance the right to education and ensure inclusive and quality education pursuant to the Council’s resolution. The COVID-19 pandemic had disrupted education, including school closures and exacerbating the digital divide, and it had had a disproportionate effect on girls and already vulnerable populations. Today, during the panel, they would discuss how governments, United Nations agencies and partners were working to address the impact of the pandemic. A video would be played that provided the testimony of children to show how the pandemic had impacted their daily life. The policymakers were invited to hear the voices of youth.

The video was played.

ESI SUTHERLAND ADDY, Former Minister of Education and Culture of Ghana and former Chair of the Board of Trustees of the Voluntary Fund for Technical Cooperation in the Field of Human Rights, said that during her tenure, the Office of the High Commissioner had advanced strategies aimed at entrenching education as a basic human rights. In the matter of education, issues of gender parity, access and performance had been recognised and led to innovative interventions. Policy making in education did not escape the gender lens. The COVID-19 pandemic threatened to reverse 30 years of work. In the African continent, World Vision International estimated that over a million adolescent girls might have been blocked from returning to school due to pregnancy during school closures. As for technology development, Ms. Addy said that the dividends of the exponential growth in mobile telephony in the global south had to be adapted for learning. Learning platforms in Nigeria and Tanzania were good examples. Meeting the Sustainable Development Goal 4 demanded a sustained commitment to partnerships and the pandemic had given cause to re-examine the state of partnerships as much between governments and their people as between the global north and south.

STEFANIA GIANNINI, Assistant Director-General for Education, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, stated that the focus on the right to education was welcomed. Today, however, the achievement of this right was under threat. Unless measures were taken, 12 million primary school children would never set foot in school. The COVID-19 pandemic had amplified pre-existing inequalities, making this situation worse. Over 1.5 billion learners had been affected at the peak of the crisis, and over a third of these students could not access remote learning solutions. How to get back on track? Monitoring the right to education was key. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization was working on a declaration on connectivity and education to stress the need to centre the most marginalised, and to transform pedagogies. Putting education at the top of public policies was crucial, as multilateral cooperation was needed more than ever. Adequate financing was critical, as education received less than one per cent of stimulus packages worldwide, and budgets were decreasing - they had to be protected.

FAHAD AL-SULAITI, Chief Executive Officer, Education Above All, stated that technical cooperation and capacity building through higher education could play a role in the recovery and capacity building of post-conflict countries. Without proper support and assistance, higher education instituted in a post-conflict society could not supply the skills and knowledge required for a secure and sustainable social economic recovery. Early primary education and secondary education were critical to any society as well. The international community should work with governments and non-governmental organizations to support local capacity building to jump start higher education to ensure that any lost capacity was quickly recovered. In realising the right to education, States should protect the education system, including ensuring availability, accessibility, accountability and adaptability of education on a non-discriminatory basis. Countries would succeed only if they would all come together, as key stakeholders, to unite and protect all aspects of education, and strengthen monitoring to better inform decision makers to adopt a rights-based, inclusive approach to their legal and policy frameworks.

Discussion

Speakers noted that investment in education was the least costly way to ensure economic development, prevent conflicts and maintain peace. Education was essential in enabling rights-holders to demand respect for their human rights and for the achievement of the 2030 Agenda with human rights at the core. School closures had disrupted learning worldwide with more than 90 per cent of all learners impacted at the peak of the crisis. Millions of girls worldwide were at risk of dropping out of school. How could countries best leverage the potential of new technologies in ensuring quality education for all? The enhancement of international cooperation was instrumental for the implementation of the 2030 Agenda, including Sustainable Development Goal 4, and the Office of the High Commissioner had to continue providing technical assistance and capacity building to States. Today, 258 million children were not going to school and 773 million adults were illiterate. Countries without supportive and well-resourced environments were especially affected and lack of sufficient digital capabilities had exacerbated the digital divide between students.

Speakers noted that education was not merely a fundamental human right in itself but allowed the attainment of other rights. Technical cooperation support to States must take into account the social and cultural realities of those States, reflect national development objectives, and be transparent. Technical assistance and capacity building must be pursued only in consultation and consent with the concerned State, prioritising the implementation of those Universal Periodic Review recommendations that the State had accepted. Speakers noted that some terrorist organizations used inclusive education as a banner issue for soliciting funding support from unsuspecting international donors. Guaranteeing access to education to children suffering from a lack of Internet access was a significant challenge to some developing countries during the pandemic. Girls faced intersectional discrimination even before the pandemic, but up to 11 million girls may never return to schools as a result of COVID-19 measures - States had a responsibility to take specific measures to support the most marginalised children, especially girls, by removing financial barriers, including through cash transfers.

Closing Remarks

RONGVUDHI VIRABUTR, Deputy Permanent Representative of Thailand to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said valuable comments were heard from the floor. As highlighted, technical cooperation was the key to address the right to education.

ESI SUTHERLAND ADDY, Former Minister of Education and Culture of Ghana and former Chair of the Board of Trustees of the Voluntary Fund for Technical Cooperation in the Field of Human Rights, directed participants to the documents of the Office of the High Commissioner to see efforts they were doing to promote education and how they were providing technical assistances. The issue of girls’ education was highlighted by many participants and many interventions in this regard had been developed by multilateral organizations as well as regional ones. These interventions could be upgraded and scaled up, so there was no need to reinvent the wheel. The role of higher education was underscored, and as emphasised by youth in the video, pedagogic materials had to be improved. Research and development in higher education should be promoted. It was important that youth provided their input and young people had to be consulted because this transformation required the full participation of youth. Technical cooperation in tracking innovative interventions was needed. Supporting education transformation required resilience and long-term support. The provision of budgets nationally and multilaterally should be a priority.

RONGVUDHI VIRABUTR, Deputy Permanent Representative of Thailand to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said this was the first time that the right to education was drastically challenged by a pandemic. The digital divide had to be closed and innovations had to be developed to support education. Resources directed towards education should be amplified. There was still a lot of work to do to ensure lifelong learning for all and education to all and the Council’s determination was a key factor for success.

Source: UN Human Rights Council

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