We believe that UNICEF is doing a great job in education. UNICEF has a unique mandate to work for children’s rights, has a clear voice on the inclusion of marginalized and excluded children, and is an important actor in fragile situations. We consider UNICEF our most important partner in this field and have chosen to channel a large part of our education support through the organization. Since 2009 Norway has channelled around 80 million USD per year to UNICEF’s global thematic education programme. And that is giving UNICEF flexibility and security in regard to fulfilling UNICEF’s strategic plan.
The last 10 years, the world has witnessed progress in giving more children access to school, and UNICEF has played a major part in this. We have the possibility to achieve the Millennium Development Goals regarding education and we need to stay on track towards 2015. This is also why this debate in the Executive Board is so important.
Never before have we seen as many children in school and we have narrowed the gender gap significantly. We are giving more attention and resources to education in crisis situations. And we are giving greater attention to the relevance and quality to the education that we provide.
Norway would like to highlight five areas we believe should be the priority focus for UNICEF, donors and other relevant partners:
1) Despite progress, millions of children are not given the opportunity to go to school. As the equity report underlines, it will require more targeted attention and intervention, and as the report shows, it is the most cost effective approach. UNICEF is well placed to be involved in the implementation of targeted policies to reach girls and marginalized groups- including children with disabilities. Countries and donors are looking for innovative policies that can be implemented as part of national plans, and UNICEF adds value where it is involved. We applaud that UNICEF has so clearly placed the focus on marginalized and excluded groups, and look forward to a discussion on how this focus might influence UNICEFs strategies in terms of country focus and working methodology.
2) Increased focus should be given to the quality of education. We appreciate that UNICEF is devoting more attention to this issue. We should help children learn what they need to learn to face the challenge of the new century. Another important role for UNICEF is increased advocacy directed towards national and local authorities supported by capacity building.
3) Continued attention has to be given to the girl child. This includes providing girls with safe learning environments free from violence, exploitation and discrimination. The benefits that education brings to a girl are many; educated girls are more likely to marry and have children when they are ready. The educated girl is less likely to suffer exploitation, and less likely to contract HIV/AIDS. She will have better economy, healthier children and contributes more to a stronger and thriving community. We expect UNICEF to be a leader in ensuring that gender equity is held high on the international agenda.
4) It is estimated that as many as 200 million children do not unleash their potential due to malnutrition, lack of proper care, stimulus and learning. Norway would therefore like to see a closer focus on the links between the MDGs, in particular MDG 2 and the health related MDGs. We would like to see better integration of interventions in different areas such as health and nutrition and education. We hope that new millions will benefit from the synergies between such interventions and that we will be more adapt in reaching poor and marginalized groups.
5) Education is an underfinanced sector in many countries, in the North as well as the South. This goes for both lack of priority in national budgets and in donor support. We encourage governments and donors alike to invest in education also in times of financial difficulty. Investments in education have proven cost effective and essential for a nation to prosper. How will UNICEF be reporting and “telling the story” of education to increase attention and donor support to education? We also encourage the development of relevant mechanisms for innovative financing, and continued focus on the most effective incentives. We also encourage UNICEF to continue to lead in making the case for education in cooperation with the World Bank and UNESCO.
In addition to these overarching challenges, other issues such as urbanization, migration and climate change, are prone to crave attention and resources from the organisation. We are pleased to note that UNICEF intends to integrate these cross-cutting issues in approaches and interventions targeting the most vulnerable, and we look forward to learning more about how UNICEF plans to carry this out in practice.