To fix the global education crisis, leaders must listen

This week, Theodore Agnew, the UK’s parliamentary under secretary of state for the school system, joined the G20’s discussions in Mendoza, Argentina. This is the first time in the near two-decade history of the G20 that education ministers have met to discuss global education trends and policy challenges.

The fact that, under Argentina’s presidency, education ministers had a place at the table for the first time is deeply significant. It is an overdue recognition that matters of economic growth, trade and development are inseparable from education.

For the first time ever, a group of leading education-focused civil society organisations (CSOs) from around the world also convened on the fringe of the G20, meeting ministers as well the president of Argentina, Mauricio Macri, to discuss how to solve the world’s deepening education problems. This group presented the G20 ministers with four papers on how to create a highly motivated and professional teaching force; issues around education, equity and inclusion; how to match the future labour market with the right youth skills; and how education, young people and social media interact.

Education ministers that attended the meeting will have had no air of triumphalism. They will be acutely aware that despite a blizzard of summit communiques, soaring rhetoric and ambitious promises, there is a deep global education crisis that among many other pressing demands often finds itself too far down the in-tray of the world’s governments.

In many developing economies, teachers and facilities are lacking – and even where they are provided, pupils are not gaining the skills they will need for the future. The damning statistics should be burnt into our consciousness. It is a scandal that in 2018, more than 260 million children are out of school globally, and of the 650 million primary school-age children in school, 250 million are not learning the basics. In order to meet the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal of quality education for all, we will need to recruit 69 million teachers by 2030.

That education ministers have met to address these problems is a vital first step. However, equally important is another group that is too often missing from global economic discussions: the independent civil society organisations that devote their work to education. It’s time for governments to accept that to solve the global education crisis, they need to take notice of the views of civil society organisations.